10 Most Harmful Chemicals We Are Exposed to in Our Homes

10 Most Harmful Chemicals We Are Exposed to in Our Homes

Tina Ureten

Our everyday lives are exposed to many man-made chemicals in different forms, from household cleaners to food packages, cosmetics to personal care products. These chemicals are even present in our food and water. All these chemicals are available throughout our homes and can harm our health and can potentially interfere with our children’s physical and mental development.

There are thousands of unregulated and regulated synthetic chemicals that affect our health.  They are everywhere and only a few have been well studied. When a law bans one dangerous chemical, companies start producing slightly different substitutes that do the same thing.  Or when a chemical is declared as safe for a 25-year-old person, it may not be safe for a fetus or a child. Sometimes, kids display the effects of these chemical exposure decades later.

Harmful Chemicals and Children

Parents bear a lot of burden to protect kids from exposure to toxic chemicals at their own home environment. The most vulnerable are unborn babies. The placenta does not block as many chemicals as doctors assume. Man-made environmental substances have potential to alter the fetal development and can be harmful at low dosages ordinarily ingested or absorbed.

In one research, 287 chemicals detected in umbilical cord blood, 180 cause cancer in humans or animals, 217 are toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 208 cause birth defects or abnormal development in animal tests.

children playing plastic toys

10 most Harmful Chemicals every Household may have:

1. Phthalates or Plasticizers

Phthalates or Plasticizers is a huge class of chemicals widely used to soften plastics for the manufacturing of children’s toys. Studies showed links between phthalates and  asthma, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, breast cancer, obesity and Type II diabetes, low IQ, neurodevelopmental issues, behavioral issues, autism spectrum disorders, altered reproductive development and male fertility issues. Although some phthalates are banned from use in children’s products, pregnant women are still exposed to phthalates used in consumer and personal care products. 

2. PFAS (polyfluoroalkyl substances)

PFAS (polyfluoroalkyl substances) are synthetic chemical compounds that have multiple fluorine atoms attached to an alkyl chain. There are at least 4730 different PFASs. They are known as “forever chemicals” because once released into the environment they do not break down, and they build up in our blood and organs. PFAS can now be found in everyday products like food, water, air, water-proof jackets and nonstick-teflon pans. They’ve also been detected in the drinking water supplies.

Exposure to PFAS increases the risk of cancer, harms the development of the fetus and reduces the effectiveness of vaccines. They are associated with multiple adverse health effects, including immunotoxicity, cancer and increased cholesterol, as well as developmental and reproductive toxicity.  PFAS chemicals readily cross through the placenta and have been detected in cord blood, indicating direct exposure to the developing fetus. PFAS are also detected in breast milk, which provides another exposure route for infants. 

3. Volatile Organic Compounds

(VOCs) are found in the fragrance products (perfume, cologne, scented lotion, powder etc.) like: acetone, benzaldehyde, benzyl acetate, benzyl alcohol, camphor, ethanol, ethyl acetate, limonene, linalool and methylene chloride that can severely damage central nervous system, kidneys, respiratory system, and other vital organs. VOCs are also used in plastics, carpentry, cosmetics and paints that can destroy brain cells, disrupt hormone function, and can cause cancer.

woman smelling perfume on her wrist

4. Flame retardants

Flame retardants are chemicals that are applied to materials to prevent the start or slow the growth of fire. Because they do not easily break down, they can remain persistent in the environment for many years. They can build up in the body and can leak from products into dust and into the air. Dust can get on hands and food and then into the mouth when food is eaten. Their adverse health effects can be hormonal disruption, immune system suppression, infertility, cancer, fetal and child development problems.

New research provided strong evidence that maternal exposure to a widely used type of flame retardant, known as PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers), can alter thyroid function in pregnant women and children, result in low birth weights, and impair neurological development. Children may be particularly vulnerable to the toxic effects of these chemicals, because their brain and other organs are still developing. Hand-to-mouth behavior and proximity to the floor increases the potential of children to be exposed to flame retardants. 

5. Petroleum-based products

These can cause severe harmful effects to the nervous system and immune system after prolonged exposure. Many of our personal care products are derived from petroleum including perfume, hair dye, cosmetics (lipstick, makeup, foundation, eyeshadow, mascara, eyeliner), hand lotion, toothpaste, soap, shaving cream, deodorant, panty hose, shampoo, eyeglasses, contact lenses and even food preservatives.

Electronics and electrical devices, such as computers, laptops, phones, televisions, and household appliances, plus wires and cables all made with petroleum derivatives.

6. Detergents

Detergents are the most commonly used products and the chemicals used in them are potentially harmful. These chemicals can cause allergies and skin and eye irritation. Laundry detergents are loaded with many chemical fragrances and the residues they leave on the washed fabric can aggravate allergies and sensitivities and other health problems. They contain sulfates, phosphate salts, bleach, ionic surfactants and anionic surfactants. They are also highly toxic for the environment. Even small amount of detergent can be dangerous for small children and household pets.

Phosphates from detergents can become permanent properties of the water. Beside their cancerogenic effect, detergents cause nausea, stomach cramps, skin irritation, and liver damage leading to fatalities.

7. Chlorine or sodium hypochlorite

Chlorine is among the ten highest volume chemicals manufactured in the United States. It is found in the household cleaners, bleached paper, cloths and in the sanitation water. When inhaled can cause serious respiratory disorders. People may be exposed to chlorine through skin or eye contact, or through ingestion of chlorine-contaminated food or water.

Widespread exposures could occur from an accidental spill or release.  Low level exposures to chlorine in air will cause eye/skin/airway irritation, sore throat and cough. Higher levels of exposure cause chest tightness, wheezing, dyspnea, and bronchospasm.

8. Organophosphate Pesticides

Organophosphate Pesticides are used in 75% of North American households ranging from pest strips, bait boxes, to flea collars, pesticidal pet shampoos, granules, liquids and powder forms. Pesticide residues can be found on our food and, possibly, drinking water.

Human newborns have very low concentrations of the enzyme needed to detoxify organophosphates. This puts infants and children at a greater risk from exposure to pesticides, even from touching contaminated pets or playing at the lawns.

Long-term exposure to organophosphates can cause confusion, anxiety, loss of memory, loss of appetite, disorientation, depression, and personality changes. Other symptoms such as weakness, headache, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting also may occur.

9. Indoor air pollutants

Unlike outdoor air, air chemistry of our homes is largely unregulated and has been ignored by researchers. We spend 80% of our time indoors. In some cases, indoor air pollutants may even be 100 times higher than outdoors. Chemical emissions from daily activities— cooking, cleaning, heating, metabolizing can all contribute to indoor air pollution. Chemicals from building materials, carpet and furniture, solvents, evaporated chemicals, paints, radon and asbestos can contribute to indoor air pollution. They can pose a serious health threat from asthma to cancer.

10. Fluoride - Florine Derivatives

Artificial water fluoridation — the addition of a fluoride compound (usually hexafluorosilicic acid) to public drinking water - is a controversial public health intervention since 1950s. The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended fluoridation of drinking water for prevention of dental cavities. Once being a widely accepted intervention is recently stopped by many countries due to concerns about safety and effectiveness. It is widely accepted that fluoride only helps prevent dental decay by topical applications. Potential adverse impacts from chronic fluoride ingestion varies from disruption of calcium, magnesium, metabolic enzymes, electrolyte imbalances, heart problems and cancer.

The availability of chemical substances that can affect human health are endless and their impact is still not completely known to us.  But exposure to the chemicals that are present in our environment is suspected to be more harmful than expected.

Written by: Tina I Ureten MD, RDMS, RDCS

References:

Environmental Toxins and Infant Development
Phthalate Exposure Linked to Lower IQ
The 3 Scariest Chemicals to Watch Out For in Your Home
Plastic Chemicals Linked to Asthma, Allergies
This Chemical Can Impair Fertility, but It’s Hard to Avoid
PFAS Contamination of Drinking Water Far More Prevalent Than Previously Reported
Harmful Effects of Man Made Chemicals in Household Products
Flame Retardants
PFAS and Developmental and Reproductive Toxicity: An EWG Fact Sheet
Poisoning caused by organophosphate insecticides. Study of 506 cases
Phthalates risk damaging children’s IQs in the womb, US researchers suggest
Are Flame Retardants Safe? Growing Evidence Says ‘No’
Identification of Flame Retardants in Polyurethane Foam Collected from Baby Products
Water Fluoridation: A Critical Review of the Physiological Effects of Ingested Fluoride as a Public Health Intervention