Toxins in tap water and other household products: Are they harmful?
You could make a compelling argument that the word “toxins” has been recently been hijacked. In the 21st century, the word “toxins” might make you think of “detox” diets more than arsenic or asbestos. While some companies are using the term a bit liberally, toxins—in their true meaning—can have real impact on the health and happiness of you and your family.
A toxin refers to a poisonous substance created by plants and animals that can lead to negative health effects in humans and animals, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. That could refer to a natural toxin like a lethal wild mushroom, or a metal like lead or mercury. (“Chemical” sounds like a bad word, but note that not all chemicals are toxic; oxygen, for example, is a chemical.)
The current system by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not require companies to test chemicals for their safety prior to hitting the market. As a result, potential toxins can land on grocery and department store shelves, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an organization that helps consumers protect their health and the planet.
The Toxins You Actually Need to Think About
“Detoxing” may be a big diet fad, but the real detox your family may benefit from goes far beyond food. There are a number of flagged toxins by the EWG, and some of them can still be found in things like your cooking pans, window cleaner, a can of pinto beans, shampoo, baby toys, and drinking water. That’s a problem, because researchers are finding traces of toxins from these products in human bodies—and are learning how the toxin exposure impacts human health.
Here are a few examples of the most common toxins that might be affecting your family’s quality of life:
- Mercury is a chemical that ends up in waterways due to industrial mining and coal-based power plants. The mercury pollution gets concentrated in fish and seafood, and eating fish high in mercury is linked to poor neurodevelopment of fetuses. In other words, mercury poisoning can damage a child’s quality of life from birth.
- Nonstick chemicals are used on pots and pans to give it a slick, stick-free surface. Although convenient, these toxins have been linked to liver disease, cancer, and more, and the industry is now phasing them out (but you might still have them in your kitchen).
- Flame retardants are a group of chemicals used to reduce the flammability of certain items, including baby mattresses. It sounds good in theory, but the bromine- and chlorine-based chemicals have been associated with reduced motor skills, attention, and intelligence in kids, which can challenge their success in school and relationship with teachers and peers. The EWG states the most toxic flame retardants are now banned, but they were quickly replaced with alternatives that haven’t yet been proved safe.
- Bisphenol A, or BPA, is a chemical found in some bottled containers, canned tomatoes, infant formula, and more. According to the EWG, BPA can leach from can linings, and as a result, over 90 percent of Americans have traces of BPA in their bodies. BPA may cause hormone disruption, early puberty, breast and prostate issues, and behavioral problems—which can add significant challenges for children during the already-difficult adolescent years.
- Synthetic pesticides are chemicals used to detract or destroy insects and rodents in fruit and vegetable fields. Some types of pesticides are so toxic that farmworkers under the age of 18 are banned from spraying them, due to findings that these “restricted-use pesticides” can cause cancer and brain damage. However, those foods still make it to the grocery store for your purchase.
The Big Picture: How Are Toxins Affecting You?
While environmental groups push for better standards and testing when it comes to food, product, and water safety, there are things you can do to ensure your family is minimizing its exposure to toxins and enjoying the best life possible, such as:
- Using filters for your tap water instead of bottled water
- Avoiding food with unsafe additives, such as nitrates and artificial colors
- Using the “Dirty Dozen” guide to buy the produce that’s lowest in pesticides, and choosing organic for the foods that are the highest
- Doing research about possible toxins before buying cosmetics, household cleaners, and more.
Life is stressful enough, and kids face more pressure at school than ever before. By taking an active role to reduce toxins in your water, food, and household items, you may help your family live and function at their very best.
If you live in the United States, there's a significant chance you are being exposed to contaminants in your drinking water. Unfortunately, most common filters available do not remove the really harmful contaminants such as arsenic or hexavalent chromium (which have been shown to cause major health issues).
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