As consumers, we often assume that the products we buy are safe and healthy for our families, but unfortunately that's not always the case. On Thursday afternoon, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed a federal lawsuit against the EPA related to two hazardous pesticides that are banned for use in most household products because of their danger to children but are still used in flea collars for dogs and cats. Propoxur and tetrachlorvinphos (TCVP) are known neurotoxins that can have a similar impact on kid's brains as exposure to lead. They can also cause cancer. "We've been putting pressure on EPA for almost a decade on this," Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, a senior public health scientist at NRDC tells Yahoo Shine. Children are particularly susceptible to household toxins such as these pesticides. "Pound for pound, they eat more, drink more, and breathe in more air than adults," Dr. Leonardo Trasande, a pediatrician and expert in environmental medicine explains to Yahoo Shine. He adds that their developing organs are vulnerable and can be permanently damaged from exposure to certain chemicals. Children also play close to the ground where toxins settle and often put their hands into their mouths.
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"Our pets are mammals and their nervous systems are also susceptible to these pesticides," says Rotkin-Ellman. She says that low-level toxicity can be hard to spot in pets; it may manifest in lowered energy and cognitive function. In high doses, these chemicals can be deadly. The NRDC recommends avoiding flea collar brands that use them, including: Sergeant's Pet Care Products, Inc., Wellmark International, and Hartz Mountain Corporation. They have also published an updated Green Paws product guide, listing safer alternatives.
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"It's a good issue that that NRDC has brought forward," Sonya Lunder, senior analyst at Environmental Working Group tells Yahoo Shine. "We want to lower kids' exposure to organophosphates," the class of chemical that includes Propoxur and TCVP. She points to three studies released in 2012 that linked organophosphates to lower IQ.
Exposure to harmful chemicals in household products is an issue that goes way beyond flea collars. "Consumers get a lot of distracting advice from manufacturers," says Rotkin-Ellman. In order to lower our health risks, it takes a combination of demanding regulating agencies such as EPA phase out the most harmful chemicals and using common sense at the store. It's usually not that hard to find healthier substitutes. Here are potentiall harmful products that you can readily eliminate from your shopping list:
Antibacterial soap. Soaps that contain triclosoan and triclorcarbon don't clean any more effectively than conventional soap and water, but can disrupt hormonal function and may be linked to the increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria. They don't get completely broken down in sewage treatment and pollute rivers and streams harming plant and animal life. Just use plain soap or alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Fertilizer combined with weed killer. Avoid products labeled "weed and feed" which contain a carcinogenic agent-orange chemical called 2,4-D. You'll end up spreading the dangerous herbicide far more widely than necessary in this formulation. Instead, pull up weeds by hand and spot-apply weed killer sparingly.
Bisphenol A (BPA). This chemical is used in the linings of canned food and beverage containers and over 90% of Americans carry residues of it in their bodies. According to the NRDC, BPA is a hormone-disruptor that has also been linked to impaired development of the brain and nervous system, breast cancer, prostate cancer, and metabolic diseases including obesity and heart disease. While its been banned for use in baby bottles and baby-formula containers, children and adults can be exposed in many other ways. Dr. Trasande recommends reducing use of aluminum cans and avoiding microwaving food and beverages in plastic. He adds, "Don't wash plastics in the dishwasher and if plastics become etched or scratched, throw them away."
Harsh cleaning products. "This is an area where alternatives are readily available," says Rotkin-Ellman. "If you look at the ingredients label, and understand what they mean, that's a good sign. Always start with least toxic options before you reach for a heavy-duty cleaning product." As a rule of thumb, if a product carries the label "dangerous," "toxic," "poison," "may cause burns," or "fatal if swallowed or inhaled," don't bring it in the house. EWG has a convenient guide, Healthy Home Tips, which covers the basics of what chemicals to avoid in home and personal care products.
Flame retardants. Fire retardant chemicals are commonly found in foam furniture like couches, mattresses, carpet padding, and some children's products, especially those manufactured before 2005. They have been linked to a range of health problems such as cancer, male infertility, and lower IQ. The toxins flake off and settle into dust. Children are particularly vulnerable Lunder says. "Because of the way they play, a recent study found that 19 out 20 kids had more fire retardant chemicals in their blood than their moms." Obviously, you aren't going to get rid of all your furniture but you can reduce risk. A new standard is set to go into place next year, but to limit exposure now, vacuum frequently with a HEPA filter or damp mop to avoid spreading the dust.
Lunder says people, especially parents, can feel overwhelmed by what she refers to as a "laundry list" of shoulds when it comes to avoiding chemicals in everyday products. Both the NRDC and EWG websites offer a wealth of information on how to be a thoughtful consumer in a realistic way.
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