Skip to content
    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    The Hidden Chemicals in Your Home


    WebMD Feature from "Redbook" Magazine

    By Meryl Davids Landau

    Redbook Magazine Logo

    The Hidden Chemicals in Your Home

    So much for a healthy home-cooked meal: The recent identification of a chemical in Teflon as a "likely carcinogen" might make you feel as if we're simmering in a toxic stew. But while it's true that some chemicals are harmful, most don't warrant worry, says Joshua W. Hamilton, Ph.D., director of the Center for Environmental Health Sciences at Dartmouth College. Here, smart ways to stay safe.

    Perfluorooctanoic acid (or PFOA)

    Used to make nonstick Teflon pans, waterproof clothing, and even pizza-box liners, PFOA has long been on scientists' watch list. The reason: It causes liver cancer in lab rats, and traces of PFOA can be found in 95 percent of Americans' blood. However, PFOA is actually broken down when it's made into a product like a Teflon pan, so the pan itself doesn't contain the chemical, says James E. Klaunig, Ph.D., professor of toxicology at Indiana University in Indianapolis. Some experts suspect pollution may be to blame for PFOA in our blood, and eight major manufacturers recently agreed to reduce their factories' air emissions of this chemical.

    Bottom line: There's no proved link between PFOA and human cancer, so it's safe to use products made with this chemical.

    Phthalates

    Found in plastics such as garbage bags, storage containers, and shower curtains, as well as a variety of cosmetics, phthalates appear in the urine of most Americans. Animal studies have shown that very high levels can cause cancer and reproductive problems. And pregnant women with elevated levels of certain phthalates were more likely to give birth to sons with abnormal genitals, according to one recent study.

    Bottom line: Don't panic — most people have only very low levels of phthalates in their systems. "But we are troubled by their use in cosmetics, since scientists don't really know how much the skin absorbs," cautions Tim Kropp, Ph.D., senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit public-health watchdog in Washington, D.C. So check out the ingredients in your favorite brands at ewg.org. Also, before using a new plastic shower curtain, hang it outdoors for a day to air it out: That new-curtain smell is actually airborne phthalates. And avoid microwaving foods in plastic containers, since the high heat allows the chemicals to leach into food.

    Hot Topics

    WebMD Video: Now Playing

    Click here to wach video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

    Which sex is the worst about washing up? Why is it so important? We’ve got the dirty truth on how and when to wash your hands.

    Click here to watch video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

    Popular Slideshows & Tools on WebMD

    disciplining a boy
    Types, symptoms, causes.
    fruit drinks
    Eat these to think better.
    Balding man in mirror
    Treatments & solutions.
    No gym workout
    Moves to help control blood sugar.
    Remember your finger
    Are you getting more forgetful?
    acupuncture needle on shoulder
    10 tips to look and feel good.
    Close up of eye
    12 reasons you're distracted.
    birth control pills
    Which kind is right for you?
    embarrassed woman
    Do you feel guilty after eating?
    woman biting a big ice cube
    Habits that wreck your teeth.
    pacemaker next to xray
    Treatment options.
    Pink badge on woman chest to support breat cancer
    Myths and facts.

    Pollen counts, treatment tips, and more.

    It's nothing to sneeze at.

    Loading ...

    Sending your email...

    This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.

    Thanks!

    Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

    Women's Health Newsletter

    Find out what women really need.