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When we think of the word home, it’s generally associated with warmth, family, a safe place. But we have to consider the dangerous toxins that might be lurking in our beloved homes. Whether it’s the potential for asbestos in its construction or BPA in the water bottles in your fridge, there are unfortunately numerous risks we face daily without even realizing.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), every 13 seconds a poison control center receives a call about a potential poisoning. More than 90% of these exposures occur in the home.
In honor of National Poison Prevention week, the National Poisoning Prevention Council is dedicating each day to a different theme to better raise awareness. Home Safe Home Day recognizes the need for us all to be more vigilant in our homes for any toxins we might be storing or the less visible toxins in the products we use.
Unfortunately, there are hundreds of toxins in the world that pose a threat to our safety. In observance of National Poison Prevention Week, we’re highlighting a few toxins to help prevent exposures and keep your homes safe.
Asbestos is a mineral that has been mined for centuries. It was once considered a miracle mineral for its fire resistance and durability, making it perfect for construction. Up until the 1980s, asbestos was widely used in homes—so if you live in an older home or apartment building, you can certainly assume asbestos is present somewhere. It’s been used in a variety of materials, including concrete, siding, and roof shingles. It’s also been used in some consumer products, like hair dryers and car parts.
Asbestos becomes a danger when it is disturbed; that is, if the fibers are released into the air for us to ingest or inhale. The fibers become lodged in the lining of our lungs and cause inflammation and scarring over time, eventually developing into mesothelioma.
Though it is a rare cancer, millions are at risk of developing it in their lifetime and no amount of exposure to the toxin is safe. Researchers have made some progress with clinical trials, but treatment options for mesothelioma are still limited, making prevention even more critical.
Asbestos is still not banned in the U.S., despite its known risk as a carcinogen, so learning about its health risks and how to avoid exposure can save a life.
Bisphenol A (BPA)
BPA has become a common chemical in plastics and certain resins. It’s been used widely in containers and packaging for our food and drinks. BPA has also been used as a coating inside cans to keep the metal from reacting with the food. Unfortunately, this so-called protective measure comes at a cost to our health.
BPA has estrogenic activity, meaning it mimics estrogen. This can make it particularly dangerous for pregnant women and their children during their development. It can have health effects on their brain, behavior, and prostate glands. This chemical has also been linked to cancer.
It’s more commonplace now to see products with the label “BPA free” to easily avoid the toxin. You can even spot products that might still contain BPA by looking for a recycle sign on the packaging with the number 3 or 7. If you are using plastic containers, remember not to heat your food in them. This can cause the BPA to break down and seep into the food. Researchers have their concerns over BPA substitutes as well, so using glass or stainless steel containers for food and drinks is the safest solution.
Phthalates are pretty unavoidable in our modern world. Phthalates are compounds most often found in plastics to make them more flexible, but have also been widely used as a solvent in fragrances and other products.
They can be found in almost everything. They’ve been used in detergents, toys, vinyls, food packaging—and in our actual food—and various personal care products like shampoos and soaps. Phthalates are a known hormone disruptor, and have other reproductive system harms. When exposed at earlier ages, they can also cause behavioral changes and allergies in children.
To help limit exposure to this toxin, be careful to check the ingredients in the products you’re buying. Similarly to BPA containing products, recycling labels with 3 and 7 might also contain phthalates. Using glass and steel containers for food and drinks can help cut back on exposure to this toxin as well.
Educating ourselves on what we consume and could be exposed to on a daily basis can make a huge difference for our wellbeing. For many of these harmful toxins, researchers are not yet even fully aware of all the risks associated with long-term exposure.
The best way to prevent poisonings is to not only acknowledge the risks we face, but take the time to educate ourselves and children about them and how to prevent exposure. With some simple precautions, we can all help make our homes safer.