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Are You Being Exposed to Toxins at Home?


The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines toxicity as:

  1. The quality, state, or relative degree of being poisonous
  2. An extremely harsh, malicious, or harmful quality

Hmmm.  We’ve all known people like that.  (I can think of one or two myself.)  But what about environmental toxicity.  What is it?  Where does it come from?  What does it do?


Environmental Toxins

Our world abounds with toxic elements.  Some are from industrial waste, some from household waste, and some from sources that many people wouldn’t suspect, including items found in most households.

CarpetsThe American Lung Association warns that some carpets, carpet pads, and the adhesives used to install them contain high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as benzene, formaldehyde, and toluene.  VOCs have been associated with respiratory ailments, nausea, irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, bone marrow dysfunction, damage to the central nervous system, and other diseases and disorders. 


I don’t know about you, but personally I like having a nice plush carpet to sink my tootsies into.  There are some ways to enjoy carpeting while minimizing the risk.  Choose a carpet with low VOCs and have it unrolled and aired out in a non-populated area such as a clean, dry warehouse, before delivery and installation (The American Lung Association recommends airing the carpet for 72 hours prior to installation.)  Use glues that are non-toxic and have a low VOC content.

Flea Control Treatments.  Many of the off-the-shelf flea and tick treatments for pets contain pesticides with unpronounceable names.  These pesticides work by disrupting the central nervous system of insects.  That’s nice, but what’s it doing to Fido and Fluffy and you?  The manufacturers of these products claim that they are not toxic to pets or humans, but you have to wonder if there’s any such thing as a safe chemical pesticide.

Speaking as the mother of two of the world’s most indulged cats (please don’t tell them they’re adopted; they don’t know), I’m totally with you on getting rid of fleas and ticks but prefer to use natural repellants and treatments such as citrus juices (the actual juices, NOT the oil extracts as those can irritate their skin).  PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) also has several safe solutions for flea control.

Antibacterial Cleansers.  And, speaking of pesticides, most antibacterial cleaners contain a pesticide, along with water and a soap or detergent. Many of the antibacterial pesticides are of the quaternary ammonium or phenolic chemicals variety. 

Antibacterial agents are not inherently bad; in fact, they are indispensable in some applications (bacteria in medical settings is a very bad thing).  But a wise precaution is to wear latex gloves when using them.  If you do happen to get some on your skin or in your eyes, wash it off immediately.

Air Fresheners. According to the information provided by The Cleveland Clinic, air fresheners ought to be on everyone’s “thanks, but no thanks” list.  They contain an alarming list of highly toxic substances such as formaldehyde, petroleum distillates, para-dichlorobenzene, and aerosol propellants.  These substances are suspected of causing cancer and brain damage, and are known irritants to eyes, skin and throat. 

If you really must have solid air fresheners, be sure to keep them out of the reach of pets.  If your fur babies are inclined to chew on whatever they can get their little paws on, the solid air fresheners can be fatal to them.  (Same caution for mothballs, which also contain para-dichlorobenzene).

Are you looking for an effective, inexpensive and non-toxic air freshener?  They exist and they’re probably sitting in one of your cupboards.  Granny knew what she was doing when she put an open box of baking soda in the fridge to remove and absorb odors.  Put some baking soda in a bottle with water and spray.  You can even jazz baking soda up a bit with a few drops of vanilla extract.  Distilled white vinegar (one of my all-time favorite go-to’s for all sorts of non-toxic cleaning) can also be used.

Phthalates.  This is a biggie!  Phthalates are a group of chemicals that are used to soften plastics and vinyl and make them more flexible and durable.  Good for the plastics industry, definitely not good for humans.

Phthalates are hormone disrupters.  They mess with your hormones (and who needs that!)

A National Academy of Sciences report details some of the health concerns around phthalates.  They note that “their adverse effects on development of the reproductive system of male animals have led to particular concern. Those effects include infertility, decreased sperm count, cryptorchidism (undescended testes), hypospadias (malformation of the penis) and other reproductive tract defects …”  Additionally, they have found that “children exposed to phthalates commonly found in personal care and plastic products … have an elevated risk of asthma-related airway inflammation”.

Phthalates are to be found in a number of common household items including plastic food and beverage container, cosmetics and personal care items such as perfumes and some shampoos, vinyl shower curtains, vinyl mini-blinds, some toys and crafts and even infant care products.

Phthalates can be ingested through the skin, through inhalation, and through swallowing food or beverages that have been stored or heated in many types of plastic storage containers.

There are steps you can take to avoid phthalates to the degree possible (because it’s not likely that you’re not going to be able to eliminate them from your home entirely).  For instance, you can switch over to chemical-free organic skin and body care products, use a nylon or polyester shower curtain, replace your vinyl blinds with wooden or paper blinds, ditch the air fresheners, and replace your plastic food and beverage containers with glass or stainless steel.   (But don’t throw your plastic food containers out – they’re great for storing cotton balls, bits of hardware, paper clips, and any other odd items that you’re not going to eat).

Is it a nuisance having to replace your food containers, shower curtains, and window blinds?  You bet it is!  But it’s so worth it.


Toxic Overload

Toxic overload is that condition where you’ve ingested so many environmental toxins that your body’s organs and glands don’t function properly and the damage to your elimination organs such as the kidneys and liver is such that their ability to rid the body of toxins is reduced.

Some of the many symptoms of toxic overload are brain fog, constipation, fatigue, aches and pains, skin problems, headaches, dizziness, digestive problems, and trouble concentrating.  It’s probably more common than we think.

If you suspect you have a toxic overload that’s affecting your health, your best bet is to consult a qualified healthcare practitioner such as a naturopathic doctor for testing and a systematic and supervised detoxification program.



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