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The Truth About Household Chemicals

By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

It seems like every time you turn on the television or log onto your computer, there’s a new warning that some seemingly harmless product that you use every day is actually lying in wait to kill you. But it’s hard to tell which warnings are rooted in reality and which ones are false alarms.

How hazardous are the products that surround us in our home? What’s so hazardous that you should eliminate it immediately, and what simply requires careful handling? And how can you protect your family without living in fear? Let’s take a tour of the house.

Household Chemicals in the Kitchen

Many of the products that we use in our kitchen, from the storage containers that keep our food fresh to the bottles we tote drinks in to the cans our soups come in, are lined with chemicals. Over the past several years, a lot of attention has been paid to one of these chemicals, bisphenol A (BPA), which some research indicates could pose a variety of hazards to human health.

Many sports bottles and baby products now boast that they’re “BPA free” -- but that doesn’t mean that they’re free of all chemicals.

“When something is phased out of a product, they have to substitute something else, and that substitute isn’t necessarily well studied,” says Tracey Woodruff, PhD, MPH, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology and director of the program on reproductive health and the environment at the University of California, San Francisco.

Many of these chemicals, Woodruff says, may be “endocrine disruptors,” just like BPA. “That means they affect our endocrine system, including the production of estrogen, testosterone, and thyroid hormones, which are all very important for the proper functioning of the body, and particularly important during pregnancy because they do the signaling that lays down certain architecture in the developing fetus.”

It’s impossible to eliminate your exposure, and your family’s, to BPA and other additives and plasticizers, says Woodruff. Instead, do your best to minimize the hazard:

  • Don’t use any plastic containers in the microwave. That upsets the chemical structure and can cause leaching.
  • Avoid canned foods as much as possible, whenever there is a non-canned alternative. For example, when you can’t buy fresh fruit or vegetables, opt for frozen over canned. Buy soups and sauces that come in glass jars.
  • Use stainless water bottles without plastic liners.
  • Wash plastic containers on the top shelf of the dishwasher, where it’s cooler and discard when they become scratched.
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