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The Hidden Chemicals in Your Home

Arsenic

Some 25 million American households use well-water systems that contain too much arsenic, especially in parts of New England, the Southwest, and the West, where this chemical occurs naturally in rocks. Unfortunately, consuming even small amounts speeds the spread of cancerous tumors, according to a recent study. "Over your lifetime, arsenic increases your risk of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer," Hamilton says.

Bottom line: If you're a well user, have your water tested for arsenic by your state environmental agency (to find yours, go to epa.gov). On a municipal system? Request an annual water report. If your water contains more than 10 parts per billion of this chemical, buy a filter for your kitchen tap (look for a brand with the NSF seal; these products are certified to remove arsenic). Or use only bottled water for drinking and cooking.

Mercury

Coal-burning manufacturing plants emit this chemical into the air; it then pollutes the water and wildlife that live there. So, if you eat a lot of fish (three or more servings a week), you may have mercury overload. In fact, one in five women of childbearing age has enough mercury in her blood to cause developmental problems in her baby, or miscarriage, according to a recent study. Mercury may also cause fatigue, headaches, and trouble concentrating.

Bottom line: Limit fish intake to about two six-ounce servings a week. Large fish absorb the most mercury, so avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish, and have white albacore tuna no more than once a week. Your best bets: shrimp, salmon, and catfish. If you have symptoms, ask your doctor to check your mercury level; side effects usually improve once levels are lowered.

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