Study Finds Industrial Pollution
Begins in the Womb
Hundreds of Toxic Chemicals Measured
in Newborn Babies
WASHINGTON — Not long ago, scientists believed that babies in the womb were largely protected
from most toxic chemicals. A new study helps confirm an opposite view: that chemical exposure begins in the womb, as hundreds
of industrial chemicals, pollutants and pesticides are pumped back and forth from mother to baby through umbilical cord blood.
Environmental Working Group (EWG) commissioned laboratory tests of 10 American Red Cross cord blood
samples for the most extensive array of industrial chemicals, pesticides and other pollutants ever studied. The group found
that the babies averaged 200 contaminants in their blood. The pollutants included mercury, fire retardants, pesticides and
the Teflon chemical PFOA. In total, the babies' blood had 287 chemicals, including 209 never before detected in cord blood.
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Why reduce toxics?
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including what you can do to reduce toxics in your house, your body (food & cosmetics), when cleaning, doing laundry,
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From the foods we eat to how we maintain our yards and clean our homes, we can be exposed to chemicals
in many ways. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), only a fraction of the more than 75,000 registered
chemicals have gone through complete testing for human health concerns. Some chemicals have immediate toxic effects. Others
are toxic to our bodies only after repeated, long-term exposure.
Children are especially susceptible to the negative effects of chemicals, warns the EPA's Office of Children's Health Protection. Pound for pound, children breathe more air, drink more water, and eat more food, and when they play,
they crawl and put things in their mouths. As a result, children have an increased chance of exposure to potential pollutants,
and because children's bodies are still developing, they may process these pollutants differently from adults. Nursing mothers
and women who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant should also take precautions.
A good principle to follow is always to look for ways to reduce or eliminate the use of toxic
chemicals as we go about our daily lives, to keep our homes safe for our children, our pets, and us.
What you can do
Simple changes in our everyday routines can reduce our long-term exposures to low levels of potentially
harmful substances—changes in how we choose the products we buy, or the ways we clean our houses and take care of the
yard. These changes will not only make our homes safer, they may also save us money.
Consider these helpful ideas for reducing toxic exposures in your home.
Reducing toxics inside your house
Until recently, indoor air pollution has been largely ignored as a source of exposure to toxicity.
But studies have shown that levels of harmful chemicals in indoor air may exceed the standards set by the EPA to protect us
from harmful chemicals. You can avoid such levels in your home by buying and using products that are free of toxic chemicals
Choosing the products you buy
Whenever possible, buy products that are free of toxic chemicals. Alternatives are available.
The market for non-toxic household products is growing in response to customer demand.
When purchasing products, take a minute to
carefully read the label. Look for products that appear to disclose all their ingredients. The words caution, warning
and danger indicate that the product's ingredients are harmful. Choose the least hazardous product to do the job.
- Before you use a product, carefully read the directions and follow the instructions. Be sure to use
the correct amount of a product. Remember, you won't get twice the results by using twice as much.
- Select products (cleaners, shampoos, etc.) made from plant-based materials, such as oils made from
citrus, seed, vegetable or pine. By doing so, you are selecting products that are biodegradable and generally less toxic.
These products also provide the additional benefit of being made from renewable resources. Ask for plant-based products at
your local grocery or retail store.
- Choose pump spray containers instead of aerosols. Pressurized aerosol products often produce a finer mist that is more easily
inhaled. Aerosols also put unnecessary volatile organic chemicals into your indoor air when you use them.
- Ask for unbleached paper products or products bleached with hydrogen peroxide or oxygen, which produce
less pollution during papermaking.
For yourself: Bath, beauty and hygiene products
- Avoid using antibacterial soaps. Antibacterial agents, while not directly harmful to you, contribute
to the growing problem we face when bacteria mutate to strains that are more drug-resistant. Remember, however, that hand
washing with any soap is still vital to maintaining good health.
- Purchase a mercury-free fever thermometer. Many effective alternatives are on the shelves at your
local pharmacy. Broken mercury fever thermometers can be a source of toxic mercury levels in your home and discarded products
containing mercury contribute to higher levels in the environment. consult your county house-hold hazardous waste program
manager to learn where to take your old thermometer. (For information, see www.swmcb.org or www.pca.state.mn.us/waste.)
- Use eye drops, contact lens solutions, and nasal sprays and drops that are free of thimerosal or other mercury-containing
- Look for unscented and natural dyes in products to avoid potential allergic reactions.
- Recipes for personal products using natural ingredients— baking soda, lemon juice, etc.—can
be found online: www.care2.com/channels/solutions/self/114.
Keeping your house clean
Remove your shoes when you enter your house. Your shoes can track in harmful amounts of pesticides,
lead, cadmium and other chemicals. Keeping a floor mat at your doors for people to wipe their feet on when they enter will
Vacuum carpets and floors regularly. Children playing on your carpet may actually be more exposed to
pesticides lodged in the carpet than from the outside, because pesticides break down less readily indoors than outdoors in
the sunlight. Use a fine particulate filter, such as a HEPA filter, in your vacuum cleaner, if possible. Otherwise, the dust
vacuumed up is redistributed into the air where it can be inhaled.
By cleaning with products like these, you can save money and avoid exposure to toxic
Single-ingredient, common household materials such as baking soda, vinegar, or plant-based soaps and
detergents can often do the job on your carpet or other surfaces. Soap and water has been shown to keep surfaces as free of
bacteria as antibacterial soaps do. If your carpet needs professional cleaning, enlist a carpet service that uses less-toxic
cleaners that are low in VOCs and irritants.
- Baking soda works well to clean sinks, tubs and toilets, and it freshens drains as well.
- Vegetable oil with a little lemon juice works wonders on wood furniture.
- Simmer a mixture of cloves and cinnamon or use vinegar and water as a safe and environmentally friendly
air freshener. Consider how you can eliminate odor problems rather than just covering them up.
- Use vinegar and water in a pump spray bottle for cleaning mirrors and shining chrome. Vinegar or soap
and water with drying rags or a squeegee also work well for cleaning windows.
- Use reusable unbleached cotton towels, rags, and non-scratch scrubbing sponges for all-purpose cleaning
instead of bleached disposable paper products.
- Use dishwasher detergents that are free of chlorine bleach and lowest in phosphates.
- Use bathroom cleaners that are free of aerosol propellants and antibacterial agents.
What you eat
- Choose organic fruits and vegetables for your family whenever possible. They have been shown to have
less pesticide residue.
- Rinse all fruits and vegetables thoroughly to remove fertilizer residues.
- Don't microwave foods in plastic containers. Chemicals from the plastic container can become absorbed
by food during microwaving. Cover with waxed paper or paper towel instead of plastic wrap to keep food from spattering.
In order to survive, pests need food, water and living space. Remove all food sources through good
sanitation and storage habits (i.e., screw-cap jars, zip-lock bags, garbage pails with tight-fitting lids). Block pest entrances
to your kitchen by caulking holes, using door sweeps on the bottom of doors, and keeping window screens in good repair. Avoid
placing chemical pesticides around your kitchen to kill indoor insect and rodent pests.
- Avoid using no-pest strips. They contain pesticides that are released to the air in your home.
- When storing winter clothing, use cedar blocks or bags of cedar chips hung with your clothes. Avoid
mothballs that contain p-dichloro benzene or naphthalene, which are very toxic and also contribute to respiratory problems.
- Consult your veterinarian for non-toxic pest control products for use on pet pests such as fleas and
- Use non-toxic head lice treatments, including combing, enzyme-based treatments and mayonnaise or oil.
See www.headlice.org for more information.
Find out a LOT more
For more information on controlling pests without the use of chemical pesticides, go to Reducing waste in the home and Growing a Healthy, No-waste Lawn and Garden.
Doing the laundry
Instead of more complicated detergents, try using a combination of washing soda and borax in your machine. These
are usually as effective as more complex formulas and are also usually cheaper.
- When possible, hang clothes to dry outside to avoid using the dryer, which uses energy and depletes
resources. In winter, fluff the clothes in the dryer, and then hang to dry indoors. You get the added benefit of increased
- Avoid bleach when possible. If whitening is needed, use non-chlorine bleach, which are oxygen-based
and often highly effective.
- Buy clothes that don't need drycleaning or use an alternative called "wet cleaning." Clothes that
have been drycleaned emit perchlorethylene, a chemical that can cause cancer. The wet cleaning process uses water so there
are no harmful gases emitted from the cleaned clothing. MnTAP maintains a list of cleaners that use the wet cleaning process:
Clotheslines: A healthy hangup
Don't rely on dryer sheets for freshening your laundry. Clotheslines are a great way to keep clothes,
sheets and towels smelling clean. Fabrics will last longer if they're not tumbled around—after all, isn't dryer lint
made up entirely of material from your clothes?
Reducing toxics in the yard
- Mowing your grass to a height of about 3½ inches is the most important thing you can do to
improve the health of your lawn. By keeping grass length longer, the roots grow deeper and can reach more water during dry
periods. Longer grass also creates shade, making it harder for weeds to get established.
- If you use a lawn service, consider a service provider that uses less-toxic alternatives.
- Test the soil to see what your soil needs. Apply only as much fertilizer as is needed. Soil test kits
can be purchased at a lawn and garden store or through the University of Minnesota Extension Service: www.extension.umn.edu.
If your grass grows in heavy clay soil, aeration can be very beneficial. Aeration decreases compaction and allows
air and water to get to the roots.
- Weeds such as dandelions can be removed easily by digging them up with a fishtail weeder when the
soil is damp.
- Top dressing your lawn with a compost-soil mix will reduce your lawn's water needs and make it more
resistant to drought and disease. You will need to fertilize less often, and when you do, you can use less fertilizer.
- Consider replacing parts of your yard with native perennials that lower maintenance and lessen the
need for water and chemicals.
- Ask at your garden store for less-toxic alternatives to chemical pesticides to control pests.
Find out a LOT more
Look at reduce.org for more information on Growing a Healthy, No-waste Lawn and Garden.
Phosphorus and Minnesota lawns
Fertilizers, leaves, and grass clippings from lawns contribute to phosphorus problems in our lakes
and rivers. Homeowners can protect water quality by using lawn fertilizers that do not contain phosphorus—look for a
middle number of zero—and sweeping up grass clippings from streets and sidewalks after mowing and trimming.
Restricting the use of phosphorus
Routine phosphorus use on lawns is now restricted statewide. Starting in 2005, by law, Minnesota homeowners
cannot use fertilizer containing phosphorus, with exemptions when establishing new lawns or when a soil test indicates
Minnesota soils are naturally high in phosphorus, so our lawns usually don't need any extra.
Phosphorus fact sheet (250Kb)
|Minnesota law bans the use of phosphorus fertilizer
on most lawns. When shopping for your turf needs, be sure to buy a brand that has a middle number of zero.|
Building and remodeling
- When building or remodeling your home, ask for building materials and supplies that have the least amount of formaldehyde
and other volatile organic compounds. VOCs have been shown to cause cancer or developmental problems. Toxic fumes can come
from unexpected sources like new carpet and cabinets.
- Choose no- and low-VOC paints and varnishes when finishing walls, floors and furniture. Make sure
you have proper ventilation.
- Ask for carpeting that meets standards for indoor air quality established by the Carpet and Rug Institute. Once a carpet is installed, thoroughly air out the house for at least 48 hours.
- For decks and playground equipment, use reclaimed cedar or redwood, which is naturally resistant to
fungus and insects. Or use recycled plastic lumber. Ask about these products at your home improvement store.
- Avoid using "green-treated" lumber, which is treated with the toxic compound copper chromium arsenate
(CCA). In particular, don't use it for eating surfaces on picnic tables or children's play equipment. Clean up all scrap treated
wood and sawdust and dispose of it properly—it should go to a lined landfill or licensed waste incinerator. Treated
wood should not be burned at home for bonfires or stoves/fireplaces.
Find out a LOT more
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Good, Clean Fun
How to clean your house without hurting the planet
18 Mar 2003
The spring equinox is fast approaching, and soon we can all throw open our windows
and let the March breezes blow winter away. And it's about time: Levels of pollutants in indoor air can be from two to more
than 100 times higher than outdoors, according to the U.S. EPA. That indoor pollution is due in large part to volatile organic
compounds (VOCs) that evaporate, or "offgas," from home decorating and cleaning products.
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Dangers of Microwave Cooking
At the present time I would like to alert everyone to the pervasive danger
in the use of microwave cooking. Our family no longer has a microwave, and we try not to eat anywhere that we know microwave
cooking is used. Here is a simplified explanation of the dangers:
Microwave cooking changes the molecular structure of food. In test
subjects who ate microwaved food, the following changes in blood chemistry were observed:
Decrease in hemoglobin values
in HDL Cholesterol (the good kind)
Decrease in lymphocytes and leukocytes (white blood
cells, the ones that kill germs)
Increase in luminous power by luminous bacteria exposed
to blood of volunteers (in essence, radioactive energy was passed on from the microwaved food to the blood cells of those
who ate the food)
In other words, the implications are that a person who eats microwaved food
for an extended period could become anemic due to destruction of hemoglobin, have an increase in heart disease from the decrease
in good cholesteral and the ratio between good and bad cholesterol, and could become subject to a host of contagious diseases
due to immune system compromise.
It has also been discovered that when microwaved, molecules are torn apart
and deformed. These cells become extremely vulnerable to viruses, fungi, and other micro-organisms. These cells' ability
to repair themselves is suppressed so that rather than producing water and carbon dioxide in the process of cell repair, hydrogen
peroxide and carbon monoxide are produced. Can you imagine eating food filled with carbon monoxide? Can you imagine
your own cells producing this compound?