Heating plastic does make it more likely that any chemicals contained in it will be released into food, so do not microwave food in any plastic container, and don’t cover bowls and other containers with plastic wrap when heating.
Safer substitute: Look for “BPA-free” on labels. Use metal water bottles when you’re out, a filtered water pitcher when you’re home. Or get a built-in filter attachment for your faucet. Microwave food in glass or ceramic containers.
Garden & Lawn Chemicals
Several common ingredients in pesticides and weed killers have been linked with cancer and Parkinson’s. A 2009 study found a higher incidence of brain cancer in children whose parents had extensive prior exposure to pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides, either at home or at work.
The researchers identified the pesticides and herbicides classified by the EPA as probable or possible human carcinogens (including chlordane, heptachlor, tetrachlorvinphos, carbaryl, propoxur, lindane, dichlorvos, phosmet, and permethrin) as the likely toxins responsible the children’s cancer.
Parkinson’s is also being studied for links to pesticide exposure. One study found that people diagnosed with Parkinson’s are more than twice as likely to report pesticide exposure than people not diagnosed with the disease. In-home insecticides have also been studied for links to cancer.
One study found that elevated levels of two chemicals used in pest bombs, known as “total release foggers” or TRFs, were detected at high levels in the urine of children with leukemia. The EPA now tracks illnesses and deaths associated with foggers, and many states are working to get them reclassified as limited-use products.
Safer substitute: Learn to garden organically, and pull weeds by hand. If you have a pest problem in the house, do your best to control it with natural repellents, or at least without airborne sprays. If you have to spray or bomb, send everyone away and air the house out for a day before coming back in.
According to the EPA, paints, varnishes, waxes, and some cleaning supplies contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are known to cause cancer.
“VOCs are emitted by a wide array of products numbering in the thousands; examples include paints and lacquers, paint strippers, cleaning supplies, pesticides, and building materials and furnishings. . . .”
VOCs release organic compounds into the air while you’re using them, and to some degree afterward, at least while drying. Probably the worst of these chemicals is methylene chloride, which is a documented carcinogen in animals, and benzene, which is documented for cancer in humans. Methylene chloride is in most paint strippers, adhesive removers, and aerosol spray paints.
Another danger of this chemical is that it is converted to carbon monoxide in the body and can therefore cause the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. Benzene is in stored paint supplies and fuels.
Safer substitute: Paints labeled “low-VOC” are safer than regular paints. But one brand of paint, Mythic, contains no toxins, carcinogens, or VOCs; it’s so safe that it meets LEED green building standards. If you must use paints and other products containing VOCs, work outdoors or in the garage when possible (such as when refinishing a piece of furniture). Adequate ventilation is key, so when painting indoors, open all the windows and doors and turn on fans. Tip: Paint in the spring and summer, when it’s warm and you can air out the house.
An odorless, radioactive gas that’s produced by the natural decay of uranium, radon is more common than you might think. After smoking, it’s the leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which has found that nearly 1 in 3 homes checked in seven states had radon levels over 4 pCi/L, the EPA’s recommended action level for radon exposure.
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that comes from rock and soil; well water can also be a source of radon, as it’s water soluble.
The only way to find out if there’s radon in your home is to test for it. Call the National Safety Council’s National Radon Hotline at (800) 767-7236 and they’ll send you a low-cost radon detector; inexpensive models are also available at most hardware stores.
Safer substitute: There’s no safe substitute for radon; you don’t want it in your home. Getting rid of it once you detect it is a job for professional radon mitigators.