By Leah Zerbe, Rodalenews.com
Healthy home alert! To save money, protect your health, and help the environment, give these toxic tenants an eviction notice.
1. Coal Tar Driveway Sealant
If you plan to seal your blacktop driveway come spring, avoid coal tar-based sealants. They contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, which studies suggest can be toxic, causing cancer or other genetic mutations in your body. When rainwater and other precipitation hit your driveway, the toxic chemicals run off into your yard and into your local drinking water supply. In fact, this situation has been compared to dumping quarts of motor oil right down a storm drain.
Better alternative: Gravel and other porous materials are best for driveways because they allow rainwater to sink into the ground, where it gets filtered and doesn't inundate water treatment plants. But if you do seal blacktop, pick asphalt sealant and stay away from any product that has coal tar in its name (or products simply called "driveway sealant"). Lowe's and Home Depot have already banned the bad stuff, but smaller hardware stores may still carry it.
2. Synthetic Pesticides
Chemical weed, fungus, and bug killers all fit under this category and should be avoided both inside and outside of your house. Researchers have linked these pesticides to various forms of cancer, including non-Hodgkin's lymphoma; insecticides have been connected to brain damage in kids. "This is a good time of the year to resolve not to use pesticides on lawns and gardens," says Phil Landrigan, MD, director of Mount Sinai's Children's Environmental Health Center, and Rodale.com advisor. "A few dandelions or buttercups or other little flowers in the middle of the lawn are not unsightly." (Read more about the dangerous effects, in 10 Crazy Things Pesticides Are Doing to Your Body.)
Better alternative: Combating an indoor bug problem is as simple as cleaning up crumbs, sealing food in containers, and using wood shims and a caulking gun to fill pest entry points. If you're spending big bucks on chemicals for a turflike lawn, reconsider. Pesticides and chemical fertilizers kill the health of the soil and create a lawn that allows for little rainwater absorption, which contributes to flooding. Try replacing some sod with plants native to your area; they don't require as much water and maintenance.
If you're set on the idea of a perfect grassy lawn, practice proven organic lawn-care techniques, such as mowing with the deck set at at least 3 inches high.
3. Antibacterial soap
The dirt: The antimicrobial chemical triclosan, used in some toothpastes and antibacterial soaps, is believed to disrupt thyroid function and hormone levels in people; when it mixes into wastewater, it can cause sex changes in aquatic life. And health experts believe that overuse of this and other antibacterial chemicals is promoting the growth of bacteria that are resistant to antibacterial treatment.
Better alternative: Good old-fashioned soap and warm water will kill just as many germs, studies have shown. If you must use a hand sanitizer, pick one that's alcohol based and doesn't list triclosan, triclocarban (another related antibacterial chemical) or other chemicals described as "antimicrobial" or "antibacterial" on the label.
4. Synthetic Fragrances
Fragrance may be the most common type of chemical in your house. Used in laundry detergents, fabric softeners, dryer sheets, cleaning supplies, disinfectants, air fresheners, deodorizers, shampoos, hair sprays, gels, lotions, sunscreens, soaps, perfumes, powders, and scented candles--and dozens of other products you may not know about--fragrances are a class of chemicals that are well worth the time and effort to avoid. The term "fragrance" or "parfum" on personal-care-product labels can be a cover for hundreds of harmful chemicals known to be carcinogens, endocrine disrupters, and reproductive toxicants, even at low levels.
Better alternative: Go the unscented route whenever possible, especially with soaps and detergents. Avoid any kind of air freshener or deodorizer, including sprays, gels, solid disks, and oils, suggests Anne Steinemann, PhD, a University of Washington researcher who focuses on fragrances in consumer products. "These products do not clean or disinfect the air, but they do add hazardous chemicals to the air we breathe," she says. "Instead of chemical air fresheners, freshen the air with better ventilation and by setting out some baking soda," she suggests. You also can place a bowl of white vinegar in a room to dispel a funky smell.
5. Harsh Cleaning Products
Isn't it ironic that we actually contaminate our air when we use harsh chemicals--some of which are known to cause cancer--to "clean" our homes? Ammonia can trigger asthma attacks, and harsh oven cleaners and drain openers can cause respiratory damage or burn the skin of children who come into contact with them.
TRY THIS: 8 DIY Cleaning Recipes That Really Work
Better alternative: Take any cleaner with an ingredient list that reads like a chemistry textbook to a hazardous waste disposal center in your municipality and replace it with an ecofriendly one that has simple, natural ingredients. Better yet, save tons of money and pull out Grandma's homemade cleaning concoctions, including:
• A general cleaning solution of one part white vinegar and nine parts water will kill 90 percent of bacteria and many spores. Spray it on and let it dry to a nice shine on its own. The best surprise about distilled white vinegar? You can buy a gallon for less than $2 and make more than 10 gallons of cleaning solution. When you're finished using a vinegar cleaning solution, dump it down your garbage disposal or toilet for bonus odor control.
• For a window/glass cleaner, mix one part white vinegar with one part water, and spray. You even can use newspapers instead of paper towels to wipe the glass clean and save money.
• When cleaning in the kitchen after prepping meat, use hot, soapy water first (we like simple, unscented castile soaps) and then follow with the vinegar-water solution. For extra germ-killing power, following the vinegar spraying with a spritz of hydrogen peroxide.
6. Nonstick Cookware and Bakeware
When you're cooking with nonstick pots and pans, you're essentially baking on plastic. That slick, shiny, enticingly nonstick surface is made from a synthetic material known as perfluoroalkyl acid, a class of chemicals that have been linked to ADHD, high cholesterol, and thyroid disease. They're also potent sperm killers and are suspected of contributing to female infertility.
Better alternative: Opt for safer cookware like made-in-America cast iron, glass or stainless steel. If you already cook with nonstick pots and pans, replace them with safer choices when you start seeing scratches and chips in the finish.
7. Roundup Ready Food
Roundup, the most widely used herbicide in the country, is sprayed on everything from cotton to canola, lawns to golf courses. So it stands to reason that the stuff winds up in our air and water. But when you're eating "Roundup Ready" food, as in, food that's been genetically modified to withstand all those dosings of Roundup, you're eating it too, according to plant pathologist Don Huber, PhD, professor emeritus at Purdue University. That's problematic because scientists are learning that Roundup affects defensive enzymes our bodies use to keep us healthy. Roundup also reduces a plant's ability to take up vital micronutrients that humans require for survival.
Better alternative: Corn, soy, and canola are common crops that have been genetically engineered to withstand heavy dousings of Roundup (or other glyphosate-containing chemicals), and foods containing these ingredients tend to contain higher levels of Roundup than other crops do. To avoid genetically engineered (GE) foods and Roundup in your food, buy organic.
Some environmental health groups have dubbed vinyl the "poison plastic," due to its harmful production process and its effects on humans. Vinyl is laced with phthalates, chemical plastic softeners linked to hormone disruption, stunted growth, obesity, and other health problems, as well as low IQs.
Better alternative: When it's time to replace flooring in your home, opt for wood, bamboo, or cork that's Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified or for real linoleum, instead of vinyl. Avoid plastic shower-curtain liners, as well as fake leather furniture, clothing, and accessories, to cut down on phthalate exposure. (Try hemp or organic cotton shower curtains.) Phthalates also lurk in anything with an artificial fragrance, including candles and many personal-care products.
Nasty indoor air-polluting culprits, volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, could be trashing your indoor air, especially in the kitchen, the basement, or even the laundry room. (Scented, petroleum-based laundry detergents contain high levels of VOCs.) These hazardous chemicals are linked to asthma and, in some instances, even cancer, and they add to indoor air pollution. Pressed wood and particleboard cabinets and other furniture are big emitters of the VOC (and carcinogen) formaldehyde in the home, too.
Better alternative: Choose unscented, plant-based detergents, or go old-school and use castile soap or washing soda and borax to clean your clothing. For new paint projects, choose readily available no-VOC paint, and avoid storing paint in your garage or basement--fumes can escape even tightly closed lids and enter your home. If you have leftover paint, take it to a waste-collection facility for recycling, or donate it to neighbors or a charity. Avoid plywood and particleboard when buying new household furnishings, and keep VOCs contained by sealing any plywood or particleboard furniture with a product like AFM Safecoat Safe Seal.
10. Flame Retardants
Flame-retardant chemicals can be found in electronics, carpets, carpet padding, and furniture foam. They've been associated with a wide range of health problems, including infertility, thyroid problems, learning disabilities, and hormone disruption. And the exposure to all these potential health threats could be for naught: Added to materials in the event they come in contact with a lit candle or cigarette, the chemicals only delay a fire, and for just a few seconds. When these flame retardants do burn, they release higher levels of carbon monoxide and soot, the two leading causes of fire-related deaths, than non-treated materials.
Better alternative: When shopping for new furniture, call the manufacturer and ask if it contains flame retardants. If you see a tag that says "complies with California Technical Bulletin 117," avoid bringing home that piece of furniture (California requires all upholstered furniture to be flame retardant, and nearly all furniture sold in the U.S. is made to comply with their law). And since flame retardants and other household toxins make their way into household dust, it's best to invest in a good vacuum. Take care when selecting electronics, too: Environmental Working Group lists electronics that are free of flame retardants.
11. Canned Food
Bisphenol A, or BPA, is a hormone-disrupting chemical linked to male infertility, diabetes, heart disease, aggressive behavior in children, and other ills. The chemical is used in some No. 7 plastic bottles and most canned-food containers, and although some manufacturers are phasing the chemical out of their cans, it's not clear that the replacements are totally safe either. In 2010, scientists discovered that we absorb BPA from cash-register receipts through our skin.
Better alternative: Opt for fresh or frozen fruits and veggies, and bypass cans as often as possible. Don't store food or beverages in plastic containers (see why even BPA-free plastics aren't safe). And say no thanks to receipts for minor purchases like gas and coffee, and at the ATM.
12. Dry-Cleaning Chemicals
Sure, it's convenient to drop your clothing off with a dry cleaner, but the cleaning chemical of choice in this country remains perchloroethylene, also known as PCE, or perc. This chemical is classified a probable carcinogen and is linked to kidney, liver, and central nervous system damage. It's not something you want to wear or have holed up in your home closet. Although many states and cities are phasing out perc, it's still among the most widely used dry-cleaning chemicals.
Better alternative: You can work around "Dry Clean Only" instructions on clothing tags. You just need to know how to treat different types of fabric. Check out our list of Cheap and Safe Dry Cleaning Alternatives for instructions on cleaning delicates like wool, rayon, and silk.