If you have small children in the house, are pregnant or are trying to conceive – or simply want to stay healthy – you are probably looking for ways to avoid toxic chemicals at home and outdoors. Harmful pollutants that can increase the risk of cancer and damage your developing child’s IQ can lurk in household dust, leach out of plastic containers and even contaminate tap water.
Here are five top tips to reduce toxic exposures and protect your family’s health.
1) Filter your water
The number one way to reduce toxic exposures in your home is to have a good water filter.
From washing kale, to cooking quinoa, to basic hydration, water is everywhere!
With the recent lead contamination crisis in Flint, Mich., and other communities, as well as the relaxing of regulations on pesticides and industrial toxins that run off into our water supplies, we can predict a huge rise in exposure to all kinds of toxic chemicals.
EWG has a great water filter guide so you can find the right one to fit your budget.
2) Stop using plastic bottles
Plastic bottles are really the ultimate lose-lose situation. Bad for you, bad for the environment.
First there was bisphenol A, or BPA. It’s an endocrine disruptor extraordinaire. Leaching of the chemical is worse when heated – whether that is in the microwave or your car in the Texas heat.
Then came BPA-free. So full of promise. But soon we learned BPA-free plastics contain other additives that are as bad as BPA!
I could go on about the evils of the plastic bottle and talk forever about its enormous carbon footprint, which hurts the environment and increases our dependence on fossil fuels.
There are rare exceptions when you can't avoid plastic containers, most ironically for breast pumps. But for daily use, tote your own filtered water around in a glass or stainless steel bottle.
3) Get a vacuum with a HEPA filter
Sofas are loaded with flame retardants, household items such as shower curtains emit VOCs, and plastics leach phthalates. Replacing everything immediately might not go with the decor or your budget.
As an immediate solution, you can vacuum with a HEPA filter to get contaminants out of your house, while avoiding inhaling toxic chemicals.
4) Wash your hands before eating
It's not just about the germs!
There are many chemicals that don’t belong in your body, such as heavy metals that damage the brain and phthalates added to plastics to keep them soft.
You can't avoid touching everything, but you sure can try to keep it from getting into your mouth.
No sink nearby? The Neurotic Neurologist suggests pouring some water from your water bottle onto your hands, and rubbing vigorously with a napkin.
Avoid hand sanitizer before meals, since it can leave your hands coated with something you don't necessarily want to be eating.
5) Take shoes off in the house
Your shoes bring in contaminated dust from nearby construction, pesticides recently sprayed near public parks, and bacteria and viruses. In the house, babies may lick the floor, crawl on the floor and put their fingers into their mouths, while older kids find floor-blueberries to be the most delicious of all.
Thankfully, you are not left alone to figure all of this out. EWG is ramping up its work just as the federal government is backing off from protecting children’s health. More EWG consumer guides are available here.
Dr. Jane Tavyev Asher is a board certified child neurologist and director of the Division of Child Neurology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. You can follow the Neurotic Neurologist on Facebook