HAZ-MOM: One Mother's Strategy to Adressing Toxic Chemicals at HomeToxic chemicals, it seems, are everywhere.
By: Sarah Lerohl, Living North
Toxic chemicals, it seems, are everywhere.
Present in obvious items like pesticides and poisons, potentially toxic
chemicals may also be found in personal care products, fragrances, cosmetics, cleaning supplies, fabrics, food additives and more. The effects on environmental and personal health are not always clear and, what’s more, these chemicals are not always labeled or regulated.
Cursing the modern world, I warily eyed every surface in my home, feeling
hopelessly out of control – surely my old and cluttered Duluth home was a toxic death trap.
I am this dramatic. It is a curse.
It is important to note that this drama has legitimate roots. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Children’s Health Protection warns that children are especially susceptible to the negative effects of chemicals because their bodies are still developing and they eat more, drink more and breathe more in proportion to their body size. They explore their environment on hands and knees and use their mouths as extensions of their fingers. Concern about toxins in the home is logical, and I quickly learned to fashion strategies to understand, prioritize and take action without becoming paralyzed by anxiety.
I chose to tackle the proven dangers first. The most acutely hazardous
consumer product labels bear clear words: caution, warning, danger, poison,
flammable, reactive, corrosive and toxic. Take comfort in these unambiguous
statements, even the manufacturer agrees these materials pose risks, so use the product as directed.
Using more of a hazardous product won’t make it work better – and it could
make you sick. If you don’t use it, don’t need it, or have too much of it, get it out.
Duluth has a drop spot for these products at the WLSSD household hazardous
waste facility. It’s free.
Once the offending products are gone, seek less toxic alternatives such as
plant-based products, available at most retailers, or homemade solutions
concocted from common kitchen supplies.
Reducing toxic chemicals in your home is a behavior change and it can often
be overwhelming. To begin, choose just one thing to adjust. Dabble, experiment and try alternatives to see what will work best for your household. Once you’ve made a change successfully, it’s a lot easier to make others.
Remember, the idea is to reduce the exposure to chemicals over time. At our
house, if we absolutely must use hazardous materials, we use them as directed and take all precautions. Little by little, we’ve also gained the confidence to examine other consumer choices, those involving products that don’t bear a warning label but have lists of ingredients that leave us scratching our heads.
If you are concerned about toxic chemicals, take heart that many others are
too. Legislation addressing toxic chemical reform is being proposed at the state and national level. Government web sites from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (pca.state.mn.us) and the EPA (epa.gov) have a wealth of information, as do experts at your county health department. WLSSD staff can also provide a local perspective to reducing toxins in the home.
Use the ample resources available to craft a strategy you can live with, and may spring find your “nest” a safe and healthy respite.
Sarah Lerohl is an Environmental Program Coordinator for the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District.
So what are some of the hidden offenders and not-so-surprising causes
of indoor pollution?
1. PFCs: Perfluorinated chemicals are used to create the nonstick coatings on many pans. When left to heat on the stovetop with nothing in the pan, the PFCs can melt and be distributed into the air. PFCs can affect fertility in women and disrupt hormones in the body. They're also
highly toxic to pet birds.
2. Radon: A colorless and odorless gas, radon is a natural substance that is found in soil and water. What many people may not know is that those highly prized granite countertops may also emit radon. A homeowner should test whether their home has an unusually high level of radon. If radon tests high,determine if granite is the cause.
3. Cleaning supplies: If the cleaning product contains an extensive warning
label or the obvious skull and crossbones symbol for poison, it is likely chock-full of noxious chemicals. Using all-natural products or even common kitchen staples, such as vinegar and baking soda, to clean is healthier.
4. VOCs: That "new car smell" or the smell of carpeting or paint when one
enters a home signals newness and cleanliness. However, that distinct smell is actually the result of a number of building products off-gassing in the home. Even vinyl shower curtains can give off toxic fumes. Open the windows and bring in plenty of green plants to improve the indoor air.
5. Furniture and imported goods: Some countries do not have the same safety standards as those in North America. That means items shipped from
overseas may be sprayed with preservatives or other chemicals to improve their shelf life. Furniture from some warmer-climate countries is coated
in fungicides to inhibit growth of molds and fungus. Chemicals banned here might be legal in foreign countries.
Christopher Gavigan, author of “Healthy Child Healthy World” and
CEO of a non-profit organization by the same name, offers tips like