House of Horrors

Reduce your cancer risk by cutting toxin exposure in your own home.

By Lauren Tepper

May 2007

Suppose a researcher studying the effects of carcinogen exposure wants to use you as a subject. Would you agree? Chances are you’re already a guinea pig: You may be shocked to learn how many known—and suspected—carcinogens you unwittingly bring into your home.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indoor pollution is one of the greatest health risks of our time. A five-year EPA study of over 600 households revealed that contaminant levels in the average home are up to 70 times higher than those found outdoors.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a public interest research and advocacy organization, has revealed that more than one-third of all personal care products contain at least one known carcinogen. The average woman is exposed to approximately 126 such chemicals on a daily basis. In combination, these products may be even worse; some “penetration enhancing” skin care products, for example, could allow carcinogens from other products to be drawn further into the body.

Even cleaning your house might put you at risk; an EPA report found that household cleaners are three times more likely to cause cancer than outdoor air pollution. And “trusted” brands are not necessarily trustworthy. Lysol Spray, Ajax Cleaner, and Crest Tartar Control Toothpaste all topped the Cancer Prevention Coalition’s (CPC) “Dirty Dozen” list of products with known and suspected carcinogens.

So where is the public watchdog? Unfortunately the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not review or regulate most household or personal products—even many known or potential carcinogens need not be listed on product labels due to “trade secret” protections and other loopholes. “We can’t consider ingredients to be innocent until proven guilty,” remarks Hema Subramanian of the EWG. “We want safety to be determined before people are ever using these ingredients.”

Consumer Vigilance

The EWG provides an interactive product safety guide called Skin Deep at www.ewg.org that ranks the health safety of over 15,000 name-brand products. In addition, the CPC lists safe alternatives to many common products at www.preventcancer.com, such as natural non-fluoride varieties of toothpaste instead of popular brands that contain carcinogens FD&C Blue #1 and saccharin as well as the suspected carcinogen fluoride. The Cancer Smart Consumer Guide (www.leas.ca) also reveals must-avoid chemicals and safer alternatives.

In general, beware of carcinogens in household cleaners; cosmetics; personal care and baby products; air fresheners; detergents; formaldehyde-treated textiles; pressed wood furniture; aerosol sprays; pet products; pesticides; PVC plastic (labeled #3); and products treated with flame- retardant PBDEs (includes many computers, TVs and mattresses).

Consumer buying power can pressure companies to clean up their acts. Vote with your wallet for safer products, share information with friends and encourage manufac­turers and regulators to get on board. Don’t let your home become a chemical testing ground or yourself a lab specimen.

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