According to the latest CDC report, 1 out of every 50 school-age children has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). While there are no definitive studies highlighting any particular toxin as a causative agent in ASDs or other developmental delays–there is mounting evidence that environmental influences play some kind of role in the increasing rates of ASDs.
The combination of genetic vulnerabilities, along with environmental toxins, may result in disturbances or imbalances in the immune, gastrointestinal, mitochondrial, hormonal and/or neurologic systems in some children.
This article addresses specific recommendations for reducing your family’s exposure to environmental toxins and creating a safe and healthy home.
- reduce your consumption and use of pesticides
- pay attention to the water that you drink
- improve your indoor air quality
- become familiar with indoor volatile organic compounds
- read labels on all cleaning agents
- underestimate the dangers of flame retardants
- trust nonstick cookware
- assume plastics are safe
- place anything on your skin that you wouldn’t eat
- create an environment where mold toxins can grow
To successfully decrease your consumption of pesticides, eat organic produce whenever possible. Always wash fruits and vegetables before eating.
Don’t allow your children to play in areas that have been recently sprayed with pesticides. Never spray or use pesticides in the house or on your lawn. Instead, try using mechanical means, such as fly paper and sticky traps, or low-toxicity chemicals such as boric acid, diatomaceous earth, fatty acid soaps and horticultural oils to kill pesky insects.
Additionally, you can cut down on bringing pesticides into your home by buying organic fibers whenever possible because conventional cotton is heavily sprayed with pesticides. And don’t use anti-lice treatments with lindane, malathion or other pesticides.
Drinking filtered water is safer than drinking tap or bottled water. If you choose to drink bottled water, spring water in a glass bottle is the best choice. Also use non-toxic water containers. Either glass, BPA free plastic or stainless steel bottles are good choices.
There are several things you can do to improve the air quality inside your home. These include: opening windows whenever possible to let in fresh air; removing your shoes before entering the house to minimize transfer of pesticides and chemicals; using a HEPA vacuum in your home; purchasing a good quality air purifier, such as a HEPA air filtration system; using a MERV 11-, 12-, or 13-rated filter on your air return system and replace your filters at least every 2 to 3 months.
Additionally, be sure to dust frequently, check radon levels in the home if you live in an area that is known to have high levels, and don’t use air fresheners with synthetic fragrances. Essential oils are a better choice.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. VOCs include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects. Concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher indoors (up to ten times higher) than outdoors.
VOCs are emitted by a wide array of products, such as paints and lacquers, paint strippers, cleaning supplies, pesticides, building materials and furnishings, office equipment (copiers, printers, correction fluids and carbonless copy paper), graphics and craft materials (glues, adhesives and permanent markers) and photographic solutions.
The rule of thumb is if something has a strong chemical odor, consider other options before bringing it into the house. If it is a necessary item, place it outside for a few days to outgas before bringing it inside.
Choose natural or organic dry cleaning over conventional dry cleaning. Professional wet cleaning and C02-based dry cleaning are the best choices. Avoid petroleum-based and silicone dry cleaning.
Buy solid wood furniture with natural fabrics and avoid formaldehyde, toxic finishes and glues. Perform home renovations with the windows open—and try to be away from the home during these renovations. Keep the house at a low temperature and relative humidity to minimize VOCs. And use wood, stone tile or natural fiber flooring in place of carpets.
Use only natural and perfume-free cleaning agents. Get rid of cleaners with the words: Danger, Warning, or POISON on the labels. Avoid cleaners with ammonia, bleach, chlorine, formaldehyde, hydrochloric acid, lye, naphtha, nitrobenzene, petroleum, perchloroetylene, sodium laurel sulfates, propylene glycol or trichlorethane.
Try making your own cleaning agents with baking soda, vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, lemons and essential oils.
Almost a decade after manufacturers stopped using certain chemical flame retardants in furniture, foam and carpet padding, many of these chemicals still lurk in homes. Consequently, it is vital to take precautions within the home.
When purchasing a new mattress, choose one that has not been treated with chemicals and is made from cotton, wool or latex foam. Because some ‘natural’ latex foam contains fire retardants, place an organic wool topper on your regular mattress to minimize exposure to flame retardants.
Make sure all bedding, including sheets, blankets and comforters are made from natural fabrics and are chemical free. Purchase car seats, high chairs and strollers from companies that are committed to not using flame retardants.
Ensure that children’s pajamas are free of flame retardants. Buy pajamas that are labeled free of chemical retardants and/or are 100% cotton. Also, prevent young children from placing materials with fire retardants in their mouths.
Several years ago, pots and pans with nonstick coating, such as Teflon, hit the market. Despite the clear advantages of using nonstick materials—its surface makes cleanup easy and allows cooks to use less oil and butter—nonstick coating has come under fire over concerns about toxic chemical emissions. Dozens of reports and studies—from both industry and outside sources—have turned up conflicting conclusions. As a result, it is important to play it safe in the kitchen.
Do not use aluminum or nonstick cookware. Glass and ceramic are the ideal cookware. Make sure that the ceramic is high grade and lead free. Stainless steel may be used occasionally. However, when acidic foods are cooked in stainless steel, some nickel is leached out of the cookware. Also, black cast iron may be used. Check what material the cast iron was seasoned and finished with, as it may contain chemicals. When storing foods, use glass containers, paper bags, and chlorine free wax paper in place of plastics
While our homes are filled with plastics, most of us don’t really know what they are made of or whether they are safe. The toxicity of plastics is not fully understood or adequately tested. What we do know is that most plastics contain chemical additives to change the quality of the plastic for its intended use (to make it softer or resistant to UV light), and some of these ingredients or additives are harmful. We also know that plastics chemicals routinely migrate, or leach, into the food and water they contain. While the amount may be small, it has not been proven to be safe.
The following are important tips for choosing and handling plastics: Avoid bispehol-A (BPA) and phthalates. Both are potent hormone disruptors.
Stay away from toys marked with a “3” or PVC, which are often mixed with phthalates. Avoid containers marked with a “7” or PC, as they often contain BPA.When you must use plastics, choose #1,2,4 or 5; don’t microwave foods in plastics; don’t place hot liquids in plastic containers; don’t reuse single use plastics as they can break down, and use wooden or glass cutting boards in place of plastic.
When it comes to beauty products and toiletries, use fewer products with minimal ingredients. Check labels and ingredients. Avoid the following: fragrances; parabens; mineral oil; PEG (polyethylene glycol); PG (propylene glycol); sodium laurel sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfates (SLES); triclosan and triclocarban; dyes; DEA (diethanolamine); MEA (monoethanolamine) and TEA (triethanolamine); Imidaolidinyl Urea and DMDM Hydanotoin; isopropyl alcohol; and toluene. Additionally, be sure to use fluoride-free and SLS-free toothpaste.
Mold in your home can pose a number of serious health problems that you may not realize are related to mold exposure. Mycotoxins, or the toxins that some molds produce, can cross into your brain from your nose and eyes, while some of the more neurotoxic molds can cause central nervous system effects.
Because mold grows in the presence of heat and excess moisture, you can prevent mold growth in the bathroom by turning on the ventilation fan whenever you shower or bathe. Use a dehumidifier in any damp spaces (attics or basements) and keep the indoor humidity less than 55% relative humidity. In addition, be sure to properly and promptly clean any water leaks, and examine any areas with excess moisture or leaks for mold growth.
To create a safe, healthy and happy home for yourself and your children, it is vital to reduce your family’s exposure to environmental toxins. The first step is learning about the toxins and their effects–and then following the recommendations to steer clear of these harmful toxins.