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You stroll down a store's aisles scanning cleansers, bottled water, cosmetics. Now over to the produce section, pause at the meat counter, and then head to the checkout line. Count up the items in your basket: That's how many decisions you just made about the kinds of chemicals you're allowing into your house. O asked three women who monitor environmental toxins what they're most concerned about and how they minimize their own daily dose of chemicals.
I work on banning toxic chemicals from children's products, and I'm involved in U.S. and California chemical policy reform, so I'm aware of the hazards of plastics.
I avoid using food and drink containers made of clear, hard polycarbonate plastic (usually designated with a #7 recycling code—look for it on the bottom of the container). Bisphenol A, the chemical that makes this plastic tough, is a hormone disrupter linked to behavioral problems such as impaired learning and brain damage, early onset puberty, altered immune function, and prostate cancer. So I use a stainless steel water bottle and buy and store food only in glass or plastic containers with #1, 2, 4, or 5 recycling codes.
I stay away from polyvinyl chloride plastic, a.k.a. PVC (denoted by the #3 symbol), found in food packaging and vinyl plastic shower curtains, among other things. It contains phthalates, a class of chemicals used to make plastic soft and flexible. Phthalates, which are also hormone disrupters, have been linked to premature breast development, increased risk of testicular cancer, and decreased sperm levels.
I never put anything plastic in the microwave or dishwasher because heat degrades all plastic over time, enabling chemicals to leach out into foods and beverages.
Eileen Storey, MD, MPH, codirector, Center for Public Health and Health Policy, University of Connecticut
My research focuses on the impact of indoor environments on health, particularly respiratory conditions.
If I'm working on a renovation, I'll get the house inspected for lead paint before I start. Many homes built before 1978 have lead-based paint. The National Lead Information Center can direct you to qualified professionals who will do this evaluation. The store-bought lead-testing kits aren't always accurate.
I also avoid lumber that has been pressure-treated with CCA—a preservative that contains arsenic. The wood is stamped with the type of preservative used. Longtime exposure to arsenic can cause skin and lung cancer.
I'm careful with cleaning products: They can cause asthma and other respiratory illnesses. I especially avoid citrus-scented spray cleaners and air fresheners—even those touted as "green" or "organic." They may not contain petroleum-based solvents—degreasers found in polishes, waxes, spot removers, and all-purpose household cleaners that can cause neurological damage—but citrus compounds can make asthmatics sicker.
Spraying cleaning products into a shower stall and then turning on hot water aerosolizes all those chemicals into everything from bathroom walls to fabric. To avoid generating fumes, I'll pour household cleaners on a rag and then scrub.
Jeanne Rizzo, RN, executive director, Breast Cancer Fund, San Francisco
Since our work aims to reduce women's exposure to toxic chemicals, we focus on diet and personal care products. For me, eating organic food is a high priority.
I eat only nonfarmed fish. I had my blood tested for mercury and it came back positive, so no more predatory fish—shark, swordfish, or mackerel.
When it comes to personal care products, I regularly check the Environmental Working Group report "Skin Deep" at safecosmetics.org. It's a personal care product safety guide with in-depth ingredient information on nearly 15,000 products, such as lotion, toothpaste, shampoo, and soap, and it offers safe alternatives.
I gave up full manicures and pedicures because salons were using nail polish that contains formaldehyde, toluene, and dibutyl phthalate, chemicals linked to cancer and birth defects. Now I just get my nails buffed, but because brands like Sally Hansen have since banned the use of those toxins in their formulas, I would consider wearing polish again for special occasions.
From the April 2007 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
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