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Did you know that our modern lifestyle is exposing us to thousands of harmful chemicals? All of us are exposed to many harmful chemicals daily - in ordinary household products, at work and school, in our food, and in the air and water around us. These chemicals are found in plastics, in stain resistant finishes, non-stick cookware, flame retardants, fragrances, pesticides, water resistant finishes, and antimicrobial products.

All these chemicals have made our lives easier in many ways, but they have a dark side. The chemicals leach out of the products and get on us and in us, and can be measured in our blood and urine.

They are linked to all sorts of health problems (reproductive effects, infertility, neurological effects, lower IQs, immunological problems, cancers, etc.) and the list is growing annually. Many are hormone (endocrine) disruptors. Developing children and fetuses are especially vulnerable, and the effects can be life-long.

We all have many of these harmful chemicals in our body. No one can totally avoid all these chemicals, but we can lower our exposure to many of them quite a bit. These chemicals get in us various ways: we ingest them (in food and water), we absorb them through the skin, and we breathe them in (e.g. in household dust and in the air).

Many chemical levels can be reduced quickly - within a few days or weeks (for example, by switching to different personal care products, switching to organic foods, and not eating canned foods).

It is especially important to lower exposures to these harmful chemicals if you are considering conceiving a child, are pregnant, or have children. Many of these chemicals are linked to fertility problems for both men and women, and researchers think this is why male fertility is dropping so rapidly over the past few decades.

Yes, it does require a life-style change, and it does require reading labels, but it is worth it. Following these tips should also have the added bonus of improving your gut microbial communities. It's all related.

HOW TO REDUCE EXPOSURE TO HARMFUL CHEMICALS:

IN GENERALTry for a more “natural and non-toxic” lifestyle, and reduce use of plastics (including vinyl) and pesticides.

  • Read labels of personal care products, household products, and clothing. Avoid products with parabens and oxybenzone. Avoid products that are antimicrobial, antibacterial, anti-odor, anti-stain, anti-mildew, and nonstick.
  • Use unscented or fragrance-free products, including personal care products. Avoid fragrances or scented versions of products.
  • Don't use air fresheners, dryer sheets, scented candles, incense, essential oils.

FOOD

  • Buy foods and beverages in glass bottles and jars whenever possible.  Store food in glass, stainless steel, or ceramic containers. Avoid plastic bottles and containers.
  • Avoid canned foods, including aluminum cans - they are all lined with plastics containing BPA or equally bad BPA alternatives. Canned foods are a major source of endocrine disruptors.   ...continue reading "Tips For Reducing Exposures to Harmful Chemicals"

Please, only buy or use sofas and upholstered chairs that do NOT contain any flame retardant chemicals. Be sure to look at the tags attached to the furniture that are required by a California law since 2015 (called Technical Bulletin 117-2013) to be on each new sofa and upholstered furniture. It will tell you if it contains flame retardant chemicals or not.

This is especially important if at some point you are thinking of having a child, if you are pregnant, or if you have children. The problem is that the flame retardant chemicals, which were added for decades to the foam in upholstered furniture, migrate out and so get into us (through the skin, inhaling, or by swallowing). Unfortunately, almost all of us have flame retardants in our bodies.  Where they can cause health problems.

Two new studies were published recently showing harms from exposures to flame retardants. The first found an association between flame retardant chemicals before birth (when the pregnant woman is exposed, it gets to the developing baby) and later reading problems.

The second study found that exposures to pesticides and flame retardants have overtaken  lead and mercury as leading contributors to IQ loss in children.

The researchers looked at exposure to major groups of endocrine disrupting chemicals during pregnancy and effects on the children. Yes - once again, chemicals frequently found all around us are hormone disruptors, and these chemicals also negatively affect neurological development. One result with higher exposure is that it lowers IQ. The 4 groups are: flame retardants (polybrominated diphenyl ethers or PBDEs), certain pesticides (organophosphates), mercury (methymercury), and lead. Exposures to the first three have the biggest effect during pregnancy (they cross the placenta and so get to the baby).

The researchers found an interesting result: organophosphate pesticide (such as chlorpyrifos) exposure and IQ loss attributed to it has increased since 2003. And that since the EPA did not ban chlorpyrifos (widely used on crops), then organophosphate pesticide "levels will continue to climb in the United States population due to ingestion of chlorpyrifos-treated crops". NOTE: these pesticides are allowed on conventional crops, but NOT organic crops.

How to avoid exposure? Hard to totally avoid exposure to these chemicals, but you can lower your exposure. Eat as many organic foods as possible. Try to avoid buying or having flame retardant sofas, upholstered chairs, and other upholstered furniture in your home. [Note: if they say that they use "safer" replacement chemicals - still avoid that furniture. The replacements are similar chemicals and may be just as bad or worse.] Frequently open windows to "air out" the home.

Excerpts from Science Daily: Prenatal exposure to flame retardants linked to reading problems   ...continue reading "Flame Retardant Chemicals Have Harmful Effects Before Birth"

Uh-oh, these research findings are not a surprise. A study conducted in 6 U.S. metro areas found that as income levels go up, peer pressure to apply pesticides on lawns increases. As well as to irrigate lawns and apply fertilizers. One can definitely see this in the NYC metro area - the wealthier the neighborhood, the more monochromatic fake-looking lawns. Some even keep their pesticide lawn signs on the lawn for days as a status symbol.

This has an incredibly large environmental impact because lawns can be thought of as the biggest crop in the USA. Lawns cover the most area (ahead of corn) and many lawns have intense chemical management (many have pesticides applied every month for most months of the year). Yikes!

Unfortunately, every year more evidence is accumulating of the harmful health effects of pesticides - in humans, pets, wildlife, water, air, and soil. Harmful effects include neurological and immunological effects, endocrine disruption, cancers, and birth defects. Fertilizers and water irrigation of lawns (sprinkler systems) also have a set of problems, including algae blooms in water and depletion of fresh water resources. [See posts on pesticides.]

And of course, last, but not least, pesticides disrupt the microbial life of the soil, as well as kill insects and worms. I will never forget young children in a classroom being shocked by all the worms found in good soil (in a bucket of organic dirt from my yard) - they had never seen them in their chemically managed yards.

Bottom line: Be a trend-setter in your neighborhood and embrace the natural wildflowers weeds in your lawn. Think of it this way: clover and dandelions can't give you cancer, but pesticides can. In addition, studies find that untreated lawns result in diversity of grasses growing in the lawn and are also important bee habitats for all sorts of bee species. All positive.

From Beyond Pesticides: High Income, Peer-Pressure Correlated With Chemical Intensive Yard Care Practices  ...continue reading "As Income Levels Rise, Chemical Use On Lawns Increases"

Pesticides are harmful to developing brains, especially during pregnancy. A number of studies have already found that higher exposure to organophosphate pesticides during pregnancy is linked to poorer cognitive functioning and behavior problems in children. A recent University of California study actually looked at the brain activity in 95 teenagers while they were doing a number of mental tasks. Using advanced brain imaging, they found altered brain activity in those teens who had the highest organophosphate pesticide exposure prenatally. These teenagers live in Salinas Valley, California - an agricultural area with many farms.

The researchers point out that "Over 800 million pounds of pesticide active ingredients are applied in the United States each year, with organophosphates (OPs) the most commonly applied class of insecticides. Exposure to OP pesticides, which are endocrine-disrupting compounds, is widespread in the US population, including among pregnant women and children." [PLEASE NOTE: Conventional farming uses organophosphates. Organic farming does not allow the use of organophosphates.]

The main way people get exposed to organophosphate pesticides is diet - especially pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables. Also, if people live near farms where such pesticides are used, or live with a person who works on a farm. They bring home the pesticides on their clothes. People also breathe breathe in pesticides when they are applied on nearby farms or properties due to pesticide drift.

Chlorpyrifos is one example of an organophosphate pesticide. It is considered so dangerous to the developing fetus and children (lower IQs, neurological effects, behavioral effects) that the EPA was going to ban it in the United States. However, the Trump administration overruled the ban (chemical/pesticide lobbyists at work!). Since then, several states (NY, Hawaii, California) have enacted legislation to ban all use of chlorpyrifos in those states, but it will take several years for the bans to become fully in effect.

From Science Daily: Prenatal pesticide exposure linked to changes in teen's brain activity   ...continue reading "Certain Pesticides Linked to Altered Brain Activity In Teenagers"

Once again the USA lags behind other countries - this time in banning harmful pesticides. Dr. Nathan Donley at the Center for Biological Diversity in Oregon compared the world's 4 top agricultural producers (USA, Brazil, China, and European Union) in the use of 500 pesticides, and whether they allow or ban pesticides that have the most potential for harm to humans and the environment. He found that the US allows the use of 85 agricultural pesticides that are banned by at least one other nation. [Specifically: the US allows 72 agricultural pesticides that are banned or being phased out in the EU, 17 in Brazil, and 11 in China.]

This means that "Of the pesticides used in USA agriculture in 2016, 322 million pounds were of pesticides banned in the EU, 26 million pounds were of pesticides banned in Brazil, and 40 million pounds were of pesticides banned in China. Pesticides banned in the EU account for more than a quarter of all agricultural pesticide use in the USA." Yikes! These are the most harmful of the bunch and yet they're being used and contaminating our environment, our food, and us. Yes, pesticides are in almost all of us, and there a number of ways they get into us - whether inhaled, absorbed through the skin, or ingested (e.g. in our food or water).

And look at the amount of all pesticides used annually in these 4 top agricultural producers and exporters. In 2016 the USA used 1.2 billion pounds of pesticides, China used 3.9 billion pounds, Brazil used 831 million pounds, and the EU used 827 million pounds. It's a lot!

A disturbing finding was that currently the USA exclusively  uses voluntary cancellation of pesticides - which are initiated by the pesticide industry, while the EU, China, and Brazil mainly have bans that are initiated by their regulatory industries. It's no wonder that dangerous pesticides aren't being banned in the United States. And the one pesticide that was recently scheduled to be banned (chlorpyrifos) wasn't, because an industry-friendly administration took control of the EPA before the ban was enacted.

The study itself is easy to relatively easy to read: The USA lags behind other agricultural nations in banning harmful pesticides

Or here is a nice write-up from Beyond Pesticides: 85 Pesticides Banned Around the World Account For A Quarter of U.S. Use  ...continue reading "The U.S. Lags Behind Other Nations In Banning Harmful Pesticides"

Did you know that over 90% of all Americans have pesticide residues in their bodies? How do we know this? From studies and from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which does biomonitoring of large groups of Americans in order to measure pesticides (and other toxic environmental chemicals) in their bodies. Biomonitoring tells us the "body burden" of toxic chemicals, usually by measuring them in our blood and urine, but also in hair, breast milk and meconium (an infant's first feces gives a measure of prenatal exposure to pesticides). Biomonitoring studies have detected hundreds of different chemicals (including many pesticides) in people, and shown that every single person has a mixture of many contaminants in their body.

The bad news is that we don't really know what all these chronic low level mixtures of pesticides are doing to us. Studies are finding health problems (e.g. various cancers, endocrine disruption, neurological and reproductive problems, even semen quality) with pesticide exposures - especially during pregnancy (the developing fetus), and during childhood. We're talking about pesticide exposures of ordinary people, living ordinary lives, in cities, suburbs, and rural areas.

How do pesticides get into us? Pesticides get into us from inhalation, through the skin, and through ingestion (foods, water). Studies find that conventionally grown fruits and vegetables are good ways to ingest pesticides, and with more of these foods eaten, the higher the pesticide residue levels in the body. Unfortunately, as more and more pesticides such as fungicides, glyphosate and 2,4-D are used on crops, our exposures and levels of these pesticides in our bodies are increasing.

When our homes, our gardens, and lawns are treated with pesticides, we also get exposed to pesticides. We track them from the outside, and children (and pets) play in them on treated lawns. We are exposed to pesticide "drift" from neighboring properties. Pesticides used inside the house stay in the house dust (they don't break down easily in homes). Pesticides are even found in rain and fog. Scary, isn't it?

Can we lower the levels of pesticides in our bodies? Absolutely yes. Eat as many organic foods as possible - the levels of pesticide residues in the body (as measured in the blood and urine) will go down rapidly. Study after study shows this. A study even found an association with eating organic foods and a lower cancer rateDon't use pesticides on lawns. Think of weeds as "native grasses" and clover as beneficial. When dealing with indoor pest problems, use least-toxic Integrated Pest Management.

A nice discussion of this is in a recent article by journalist Liza Gross. Excerpts from The Nation: More Than 90 Percent of Americans Have Pesticides or Their Byproducts in Their Bodies

...continue reading "Almost All Americans Have Pesticide Residues In Their Bodies"

Are all foods contaminated by the herbicide glyphosate? The weed-killer glyphosate, which is in Roundup, keeps turning up in foods - basically in every food studied. Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the world, and its use keeps increasing - which means we are increasingly exposed to more glyphosate residues in foods. What does this mean for our health? Along with other health effects (e.g. endocrine disruption, reproductive effects, alters the gut microbiome), there is increasing evidence that glyphosate herbicides are carcinogenic (cancer causing) - especially linked to non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Studies detect glyphosate in most adults in the US, including pregnant women. Since glyphosate herbicides are so widely and heavily used by farmers (greater than 88.6 pounds per square mile in the US midwest!!, according to the USGS), then it is difficult to avoid glyphosate residue in foods. The US government is not helping the situation - they have been refusing to test for glyphosate in foods for years, and they have twice raised the allowable glyphosate residue levels in foods when asked to do so by Monsanto (the manufacturer of Roundup). The only way to avoid glyphosate is to eat organic foods - it is not allowed in organic food production. 

A recent Canadian government study looked at whether glyphosate was found in 200 honey samples from western Canada. Glyphosate was detected in 197 of the 200 samples! Even though beekeepers do not use glyphosate in beekeeping, the bees were picking it up in their search for nectar and bringing it back to the hives. Which means whenever one eats the honey, that person is also getting some glyphosate residues. A little here, a little there... we're getting  some everywhere...

Excerpts from an article by journalist Carey Gillam for Environmental Health News:

Weed killer residues found in 98 percent of Canadian honey samples

Study is the latest evidence that glyphosate herbicides are so pervasive that residues can be found in foods not produced by farmers using glyphosate. As U.S. regulators continue to dance around the issue of testing foods for residues of glyphosate weed killers, government scientists in Canada have found the pesticide in 197 of 200 samples of honey they examined.

The authors of the study, all of whom work for Agri-Food Laboratories at the Alberta Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, said the prevalence of glyphosate residues in honey samples - 98.5 percent - was higher than what was reported in several similar studies done over the last five years in other countries.  ...continue reading "Pesticide Residues In Honey"

Glyphosate (found in Roundup and Ranger Pro) is the most heavily used herbicide (weed-killer) in the world, and its use has been steadily increasing in the past decade. The debate over whether the pesticide is carcinogenic (cancer-causing) or not has been going on for a while. This week University of Washington researchers published a study that analyzed earlier studies about glyphosate herbicides (such as Roundup). They found that persons with higher exposure to glyphosate have a 41% increased chance of getting cancer, specifically non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). This is huge. Of course, the manufacturer of Roundup (Monsanto and its owner Bayer) is going nuts trying to discredit the study, but the scientific evidence is clear.

Unfortunately many foods contain residues of glyphosate, the amounts found in foods are increasing, and as a consequence most of us (even pregnant women) have detectable levels of glyphosate in our bodies.  How to lower your exposure to Roundup or other glyphosate based herbicides? Don't use Roundup or other glyphosate-based herbicides in your yard or property. Try to eat as much organic food as possible. Glyphosate is NOT allowed to be used in organic farming. Glyphosate residues are increasingly found in conventionally grown foods and in increasing amounts because so many crops grown are now "Roundup Ready" (can withstand the herbicide), and also due to preharvest (right before harvest) application of the herbicide on regular crops. By the way, the US government is resisting testing for glyphosate residues in foods because of their insistence that it is "safe", so why test? (due to industry influence...)

The researchers of this study also mention research showing that glyphosate alters the gut microbiome, and that it may act as an endocrine disrupting chemical. In other words, there are a number of health concerns with glyphosate herbicides.

Excerpts from investigative journalist Carey Gillam's article in The Guardian: Weedkiller 'raises risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma by 41%' 

...continue reading "Study Finds That Popular Weedkiller Raises Risk of Cancer"

The following is a really nice article about endocrine disruptors (chemicals that can interfere with the body's hormonal system). Journalist Hillary Brueck writes about where they are found (all around us!), some of the many negative health effects, and about NYU physician and researcher Dr. Leonardo Trasande and his new book: "Sicker, Fatter, Poorer: The Urgent Threat of Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals to Our Health and Future ... and What We Can Do About It." Also, some things we can do to lower our exposure to endocrine disruptors.

By the way, once again Europe is ahead of the US in dealing with this problem. Excerpts from Business Insider: A toxic-chemicals expert is sounding the alarm about 4 cancer-linked chemicals that could be making us sicker and fatter

Through the course of a single day, your hands, mouth, and body come in contact with countless pieces of paper, plastic, fabric, and furniture. You probably don't think about the chemicals these substances might harbor, or consider that they have a drug-like effect on health. But some do. They can make metabolisms slow down, subtly lower IQs, contribute to ADHD in children, and mess with sperm counts in men.

They're called "endocrine disruptors," and they're around us all the time. The chemicals change how our bodies work by shifting the way hormones operate, according to Leo Trasande, a pediatrician and public-health researcher at NYU Langone Health. "Hormones are the basic signaling molecules in our body that take on so many actions for practically every organ system," Trasande told Business Insider. "And endocrine disruptors are synthetic chemicals that scramble those signals, contributing to disease and disability."

In his new book, "Sicker, Fatter, Poorer: The Urgent Threat of Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals to Our Health and Future ... and What We Can Do About It," Trasande lays out the four big categories of endocrine disruptors he's most concerned about, based on evidence from scientific studies and observations in his patients. They are: Bisphenols, like BPA, which are often found in the linings of aluminum-canned food and drinks and on cash-register receipts. Brominated flame retardants that are in some carpets, furniture, and clothing. Synthetic pesticides on food. "Plasticizer chemicals" called phthalates that show up in plastic food packaging, lotions, and cosmetics.  ...continue reading "New Book Warning Us About Endocrine Disruptors"

Bug bombs don't work in reducing cockroach infestations. At all. A study comparing bug bombs vs gel baits found that while big bombs didn't reduce German cockroach numbers, the baits did. And on top of that, even when used correctly (according to directions) the bug bombs resulted in a lot of pesticide residue throughout the residences - at 6 hours after being used, and one month later. The technical name for bug bombs is total release foggers. Different brands of bug bombs, with different pesticides,  were used in the study - two different kinds of Hot-Shot No-Mess Foggers and two different kinds of Raid foggers. The gel baits used were Combat Insect Control Systems and Maxforce Gel Bait.

The North Carolina State Univ. researchers pointed out that one major problem with bug bombs is that cockroaches have built up resistance to the pesticides used. Another problem is that their use in residences results in pesticide residues, even one month later. That means that people living there will breathe in or ingest the pesticide residues. Which can lead to health problems.

On the other hand, there was no pesticide residue from the baits in the residences. And they reduced numbers of cockroaches. Using baits for cockroach control is a wonderful example of Integrated Pest Management - a least-toxic way of dealing with pests using various methods (e.g. baits, traps, fixing holes, vacuuming pests). Even though they were not used in the study, one should also consider bait gels containing boric acid.

From Beyond Pesticides: Bug Bombs Don't  Work - At All, According to Study

Bug bombs are completely ineffective at reducing German cockroach infestations, according to new research published in the journal BMC Public Health.  Not only are they ineffective, research indicates that these products are putting people at unnecessary risk.  “In a cost-benefit analysis, you’re getting all costs and no benefits,” said Zachary DeVries, PhD, co-author of the study. “Bug bombs are not killing cockroaches; they’re putting pesticides in places where the cockroaches aren’t; they’re not putting pesticides in places where cockroaches are and they’re increasing pesticide levels in the home.” ...continue reading "Bug Bombs Don’t Reduce Cockroach Numbers"