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0 9 Gross Chemicals in Everyday Products That Could Be Killing You

You probably know that formaldehyde is a key component of embalming fluid. 
But are you aware that it's also been found in a leading brand of baby shampoo—and not as a random contaminant?

Johnson & Johnson has just announced that its one hundred baby products, including the popular No More Tears shampoo, have been purged of formaldehyde, as well as 1,4-dioxane. (Almost: levels of the latter have been reduced to trace amounts.) 

Under pressure from consumers, who wondered what carcinogens were doing in child care products, J&J vowed two years ago to get rid of the chemicals. Famous for its use in the preservation of dead bodies, formaldehyde is released by preservatives found in many cosmetics; 1,4-dioxane is a byproduct of the process that makes cleansing agents in personal care products less abrasive.
J&J maintains that the chemicals are safe, according to the New York Times, even as it has spent tens of millions of dollars to eliminate them. (By 2015, the company pledges, all of its consumer products will be free of so-called chemicals of concern.) Neither formaldehyde nor 1,4-dioxane were listed on product labels, since they weren't technically ingredients; synthetic compounds used for fragrance, which are also set to be phased out, have gone undisclosed as well.
While it's especially shocking to learn of the presence in baby shampoo of a compound known to cause cancer in human beings, and associated with pickling corpses, this is just the tip of the toxic iceberg in terms of the noxious chemicals to which we are exposed every day (or nearly so). Household products harbor hundreds of synthetic compounds, the vast majority of which have never been adequately tested to determine their effects on human health (to say nothing of how they act in combination). Formaldehyde, for one, is also found in carpeting, soaps and detergents, cabinetry, and glues. Here are nine other chemicals of concern that are not just all around you, but inside of you as well.

These plasticizers are all over the place. One billion tons are produced each year, and they go into (among other things) children's toys, pharmaceutical tablets, shower curtains, adhesives, food packaging and fragrances used in all manner of cleaning products, personal and otherwise. What's troubling: phthalates are easily released into the environment, and they seem to act like hormones in the human body. Possible consequences include (in males) genital deformities, sterility and diabetes, and (in females) premature births, early puberty and breast cancer. Links have also been found with allergies and asthma.

An antimicrobial agent, triclosan was originally intended for use in hospitals, but soon found its way into a wide variety of consumer products: toothpaste, cutting boards, shoes, trash bags and antibacterial soaps. As a result, triclosan is now in all sorts of places it shouldn't be: in the bile of wild fish exposed to wastewater, in human breast milk and in nearly 75% of urine samples tested in 2008.
Triclosan penetrates the skin and enters in the bloodstream, where its effects on people are unknown. But it's been shown to mess with the endocrine systems of several different animals, and to interfere with human muscle cell function in vitro. The benefits of using it in soap have been questioned; the FDA says there's no evidence of triclosan's upside, apart from an anti-gingivitis effect demonstrated by Colgate Total toothpaste. And some studies have raised the possibility that widespread use of triclosan could contribute to microbial resistance to biocides.

Bisphenol A
Known as BPA for short, bisphenol A is used to make hard plastics, including the materials for water bottles, sports equipment, DVDs, medical and dental devices and eyeglass lenses. It's also used in the lining of metal food and beverage cans, as well as in the thermal paper on
which receipts are printed. In other words, it's everywhere, including in our bodies: it leaches into substances we consume and is absorbed through our skin. And its effects on animals, at levels below the EPA's limit for human exposure, are pretty awful: adverse changes to reproductive organs and tissue, including predispositions to cancer, as well as neural and behavioral impacts on non-human primates. A recent FDA ban on the use of BPA in baby bottles was denounced by the Environmental Working Group as "purely cosmetic," since the chemical is still present in food packaging.

Also known as Perc, or just dry-cleaning fluid, tetrachloroethylene is as almost as tough on the nervous system as it is on stains. It's classified as a probable human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and studies have also shown that it significantly increases the risk of developing Parkinson's disease. One researcher found that the children of dry cleaners are 3.5 times more likely than other kids to develop schizophrenia.
Perc is a common contaminant of soil and groundwater, so you can't avoid it entirely. But organic dry cleaners don't use it, and you can steer clear of residential buildings that house Perc machines.

Brought to market in the 1970s by Monsanto, which gave it the ruggedly suggestive name Roundup, glyphosate is an herbicide that kills almost anything growing. Instantly popular with farmers, it really took off with the introduction of genetically modified "Roundup Ready" seeds, which grow into glyphosate-resistant crops that enable less discriminant spraying. Roundup is also sold to ordinary homeowners, for use against yard weeds.
Unsurprisingly, a chemical that's toxic to plantlife doesn't seem to be good for animals: birth defects have been observed in rats and frogs exposed to glyphosate. Human harm has not been conclusively demonstrated, but some argue that Roundup's presence in the food supply and environment is contributing to the prevalence of several diseases. The development of herbicide-resistant superweeds is also a concern.

The purpose of parabens is preservative, to kill bacteria and fungi, and they're present in a host of personal care products: shampoos, moisturizers, shaving gels, lubricants, cosmetics, deodorants and toothpaste. They've even added to food. The problem is that parabens have been found in breast cancer tumors, and are known to mimic estrogen, the hormone that drives that disease. Reproductive toxicity is also suspected. In light of these concerns, some products have gone paraben-free, and are labeled as such.

Perfluorinated compounds, which can make materials resistant to stains, oil, and water, are found in clothing, cookware, fast food wrappers, microwave popcorn bags, and carpets. (Teflon and Scotchguard, for instance, are derived from PFCs.) Since they don't degrade organically, they persist in the environment and accumulate in living tissue. Health concerns include toxic fumes from heated nonstick pans causing "Teflon flu" (which can kill pet birds!); stainless steel and cast iron could be safer alternatives.
Polybrominated diphenyl ethers replaced the first generation flame retardants, polychlorinated biphenyls, which were banned in the U.S. for their toxicity in 1977. Predictably, PBDEs have also come under scrutiny for adverse health and environmental impacts, as well as questionable effectiveness. Ubiquitous in the home, PBDEs are found in furniture, TVs, computer, and electrical equipment. An alarming 2010 study suggested that children with higher prenatal exposure to PBDEs score lower on tests of mental and physical development between the ages of one and six.

A solvent used to make paints, paint thinners, fingernail polish, lacquers, adhesives and rubber, toluene is toxic to the nervous system, though it's less bad than the highly carcinogenic benzene, which it largely replaced. Some people huff it to get high, which is just about the stupidest thing imaginable, since inhalation can cause (in addition to euphoria and dissociation) fatigue, confusion, temporary hearing or color vision loss, severe lung damage and even death.
--Written by Eamon Murphy for MainStreet


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