Toxins to Avoid
Toxins are everywhere in your environment, the air you breathe, the water you drink, and the foods you eat. Many are dangerous chemicals that may cause significant health risks with daily or repeated exposure. In today's modern society, it is not practical to try to avoid all exposure to toxins. But you can minimize your exposure to the most harmful toxins by paying special attention to the following compounds.
Volatile Organic Compounds
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are a major class of both indoor air pollution and outdoor smog. Indoors, they can be found in paints, carpets, furniture, glues, stains, finishes, copy paper, printers, cleaning products, air fresheners, and craft supplies.
VOCs can cause immediate reactions like eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, and nausea. They have also been linked to more serious health effects such as neurological disorders, liver and kidney damage, and even certain kinds of cancer. Babies and children, because of their developing immune systems, are especially susceptible to VOCs.
According to the EPA, VOC concentrations are generally ten times higher indoors than outdoors. You can significantly reduce your exposure to VOCs by using nontoxic cleaners, paints, and rugs in your home and office and airing out your indoor space whenever possible.
Dioxins are a group of environmental pollutants that are known to affect a number of the human body's organs and systems. They are released into the environment by a number of human activities; most notably, the manufacture and disposal of chorine. They are also highly persistent in the environment, meaning they stick around and accumulate rather quickly in both the air and water.
If you use cling wrap to store your foods, you may be exposing yourself to polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a toxic chemical known to release dioxins. Look for nontoxic cling wrap like Glad Cling Wrap, Saran Cling Plus, and Saran Premium Wrap, which use low-density polyethelyene instead of PVC. Butcher paper, wax paper, and reusable containers are even better alternatives.
Lead exposure can be extremely harmful to an unborn baby. It can cause premature birth, low birth weight, and permanent damage to a baby's developing nervous system. If your home was built before 1978, the walls may still be covered in lead-based paint. Chips from lead paint can be tracked along floors and kicked up during dusting.
If you think your house may contain lead paint, contact a certified lead abatement contractor before removing or sanding the old paint. You can also test for lead using a test kit available at your local hardware store or from the National Safety Council.
Chlorine is present in the environment as both a liquid and a gas. The majority of chlorine that you are exposed to is found in your water supply as it is used in water treatment facilities to clean water and remove the presence of harmful bacteria. The EPA regulates the amount of chlorine that may be present in treated wastewater discharges. However, there is still likely chlorine present in the water that comes out of your tap. Not only will you be exposed to chlorine when you drink and cook, but also when you shower or take a bath. You can purchase a simple at-home water filter to remove chlorine from your home's water supply.
If you are concerned about chlorine in your water, you might also want to pour your water into a pitcher of water and allow it to sit uncovered in the refrigerator overnight. Most of the chlorine will evaporate (unfortunately into the air) reducing the content of the chemical in the water and improving its taste.
Thirty-five percent of the chlorine used worldwide is utilized to make PVC, or polyvinyl chloride. PVC is used in plastic packaging, cling wrap, bottles, credit cards, records, imitation leather, window frames, cables, pipes, flooring, wallpaper, and window blinds. Looking for PVC-free products can help reduce the amount of chlorine and other toxic byproducts found in the environment.
Chlorine is also released into the environment through manufacturing processes. For instance, chlorine is used to bleach paper and to produce some types of plastic packaging. When chlorine is used in manufacturing, the process can also result in the formation of harmful chemicals such as dioxins and furans, which are known to cause cancer in humans. You can minimize the amount of chlorine that is released into the environment by purchasing unbleached or chlorine-free paper products and avoiding any packaging or products made with PVC (#3) plastic.
Asbestos is the name for a family of mineral fibers that occur naturally in certain types of rock. It is strong, durable, noncombustible, and an efficient insulator, so for many years it was used in and around homes in products such as vinyl flooring, vinyl tiles, insulation, shingles, siding, textured paints, ceiling tiles, and certain types of insulation.
Today, the health risks associated with asbestos, namely lung cancer, are well known. But homes built or renovated between 1930 and 1970 may still contain asbestos products.
If you think your home or workplace may contain asbestos, talk to your health care provider immediately about the potential health risks to your pregnancy. You may also need to consult an asbestos removal professional about getting the asbestos out of your home. Minimize your exposure to asbestos by staying away from household or workplace renovations, especially when asbestos-containing materials are known to be present.
If you smoke, now is the time to quit. Check out one of these resources for help and support: Smoke Free, Quit Now (1-800-QUIT-NOW), and the American Legacy Foundation. Do whatever it takes to get the help you need, for your own health as well as your baby's.
By far, one of the most dangerous toxins that you and your baby can come in contact with is tobacco smoke. The list of health problems associated with smoking during pregnancy is long. The most devastating side effect is the strong link between smoking and SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). Smoking during pregnancy, and when a child is first born, doubles the baby's risk of dying from SIDS. And you don't even have to be the one doing the smoking. Exposure to second-hand smoke during pregnancy is linked to lower birth weight and increased risk of cancer in both mothers and babies.
Don't smoke when you are pregnant or after your baby is born, and avoid those who do. At work, try not to hang out in a breakroom that is commonly frequented by smokers. And don't let anyone smoke in your home, near your work space, or in your car.
Mercury is a cumulative heavy metal that is extremely toxic to both humans and the environment. It can be absorbed the through the skin, ingested through eating, or breathed in through the lungs.
How can I safely dispose of mercury?
Mercury is found in a number of household items like electronics, watch batteries, old-style glass thermometers, and fluorescent light bulbs. Because of its toxicity and persistence in the environment, you should never toss any products containing mercury into the waste stream. Instead, contact your local waste management service to find out how to safely dispose of mercury-containing items in your area.
Mercury destroys the central nervous system and many other organs. Sufficient exposure can result in brain damage, insanity, and death. Mercury is also a persistent toxin in the environment.
It's important to avoid nitrates that are found in processed meats. But that's not the only place that nitrates are found. Approximately 4.5 million people in the United States have drinking water that exceeds the EPA's maximum allowable contaminant levels for nitrates. So it is a good idea to check your local water quality report and make sure the level of nitrates is at an acceptable level.
Nitrate contamination in water occurs due to fertilizers, animal waste, and septic tank waste. So it is more prone to occur in agricultural areas. If your water does test positive for nitrates, you can install an ion-exchange water softener, reverse-osmosis, or distillation filtration system to reduce the levels of nitrates in your water.