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    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.

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