Your home is your sanctuary - the one place where you can relax, unwind, and forget about the troubled world outside. If you're not careful, however, your home can become contaminated and dangerous, through the introduction of household chemicals and other unsafe products. In order to make better decisions for yourself and your family, it's important to understand why these chemicals are dangerous and find safe working alternatives.
Whether it's exposure to cleaning chemicals or associated household dust, certain products may be doing more harm than you think. While there are government safety checks on many household products, not only do standards differ around the world, they also differ over time and are not capable of measuring long-term effects. Cleaning products are a common hazard in the modern home, as are non-stick cookware, flea and tick products for pets, air fresheners, and even some soaps. Building products can also be harmful, including lead-based paints, PVC, and halogenated flame retardants that contain lead and mercury.
One recent study by Duke University in North Carolina found that even the smallest particles can cause harm, sometimes in unexpected ways. Published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, researchers tested the effects of 44 common house dust contaminants. While some of the chemicals tested were already known to cause serious health effects, amazingly, it was also discovered that they can prompt cells in the body to accumulate fat. That's right, your dust may be making you fat, with the strongest fat-producing effects made by the pesticide pyraclostrobin, the flame-retardant TBPDP, and a commonly used plasticiser known as DBP.
While links between household chemical dust and fat accumulation may seem novel at first, they highlight the powerful nature of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in their ability to interfere with or mimic the body’s hormones. EDCs are particularly harmful to people during pregnancy, early childhood, and puberty because of their power to disrupt the crucial hormones needed for growth. According to Dr Heather Stapleton, one of the researchers from the study, "This suggests that the mixture of these chemicals in house dust is promoting the accumulation of triglycerides and fat cells... Amounts of dust as low as 3 micrograms - well below the mass of dust that children are exposed to daily - caused measurable effects."
Even though some manufacturers have reduced their use of EDCs in certain products, they are still common in many consumer goods. For example, despite being recognised as a threat to human health and linked to male infertility, BPA is currently one of the world’s best-selling chemicals. While we all enjoy a spotless house, cleaning our homes may be doing more harm than good. Phthalates, perchloroethylene, triclosan and other nasty chemicals are found in many cleaning products, some of which are not just irritating but also incredibly toxic. While hard-core cleaning may require the use of chemical products at times, there's very little that can't be done on a day-to-day basis with a combination of vinegar, baking soda, and essential oils.
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