Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
22 Aug

8 Ways to Reduce Your Chemical Load

89335692 48ff7c397cLast week’s New York Times featured an article about a Dr. Jeremijenko, not a physician but an engineer who offered clients tips for making their personal environments healthier, more naturally pleasing, and more environmentally friendly. Dr. Jeremijenko’s suggestions ranged from planting sunflowers and EDTA soil supplements to leach harmful lead in yards to surrounding yourself with more houseplants for both their aesthetic value and healthy ability to absorb toxic VOCs in the air. She even offers clients reports on the “top polluters in their neighborhoods” and other information on environmental concerns relevant to their areas.

The good doctor’s story got us thinking. We all chat quite a bit about the best diet, the ideal exercise routine, even effective sleep strategies. Yet, our personal environment, we’ve said, includes a great deal we have little to no control over: air pollution, water impurity, and the chemical makeup of modern “stuff” – (i.e. chemicals included, some for good reason and others not so much, in the products we use every day). Wise supplementation (shamless plug ;)) can help counter some of their effects, but what if we knew how to reduce toxic impact from the get-go?

The idea here is reducing our own biological “chemical load,” the number and amount of toxins we carry in our bodies. This includes everything from heavy metals like mercury, arsenic and lead to virtually omnipresent flame retardant compounds called PBDEs to chemicals like phthalates, formaldehyde, PCBs, and bisphenol A (just to name a few). These toxins are invaders, and the body knows it. Some, like the heavy metals, impact neurological functioning. Others, like phthalates, disrupt the endocrine balance. PBDEs, at lower levels, can seriously impact thyroid functioning (an issue for a number of our readers) and at higher levels, can impair reproductive and neurological functioning. In short, this issue is nothing to shake a stick at.

Scientists in both the human health and environmental sciences are learning from the growing use of biomonitoring surveys, in which blood and urine samples from humans (and animals) are tested for the presence of certain toxins. A person’s chemical load is, in part, determined by where they live and how old they are, but it’s also strongly influenced by what kind of lifestyle they lead and the measures they take to minimize their exposure to environmental and consumer toxins in their home and work places.

We’re all about taking charge of our health and well-being, we thought. “So,” we asked, “What are some easy and inexpensive ways for all of us to reduce our chemical load?” Check it out.

Clean up Your Shower

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Got chlorine in your water? Most likely, since it’s commonly used in municipal water treatment programs. Once that chlorine comes out in the fine, hot spray of your morning shower, there’s concern about breathing it in day after day. Quick fix? Buy a simple shower filter, which usually go for about $30-45.

And while you’re at it, you might want to take a look at ye olde shower curtain as well. We suggest getting rid of a vinyl (PVC) curtain, which contains phthalates that can be absorbed by the skin. Again, if you’re purely a bath person, you probably don’t have much to worry about. However, if you are a shower lover, that aforementioned hot water can allegedly help release phthalates into your otherwise soothing shower experience. Simple solution? Choose a nylon, linen, or PEVA plastic. They come as cheap as $4.

Use Natural Fabrics

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All those flame retardants? They’re most critical for synthetic fabrics. (That polyester jumpsuit in the back of your closet will go up in flames much quicker than your everyday merino wool suit.) But we’re talking about more than clothes here. Look around your house. PBDEs can make up to 30% of the weight of synthetic foam in furniture items, and those chemicals get spread around the house every time you sit down or get up from your furniture. As a result, PBDEs are found in the household dust of nearly every American home. Choose natural fiber rugs and carpets whenever possible. And look for furniture made with wool, natural rubber and latex instead of synthetic materials especially for high-use furniture like mattresses. We recognize, however, that fully natural furniture can be difficult to afford. Other options? Look for options that use non-PBDE retardants. Though PBDEs aren’t the only flame retardant, they’re generally considered the most lasting and insidious. Alternatives like borate retardants have their issues as well but are considered safer overall. Oh, and it’s best to skip any stain guard coatings. Tell the kids to keep it in the kitchen instead.

Out With the New, In With the Old

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New furniture, new appliances, new cars. They all have that distinct smell, don’t they? Well, don’t breathe too deeply. These “fragrances,” if you want to call them that, are anything but fresh. Instead, they’re a composite of chemical “outgassing” emanating from new plastics, vinyl, solvents, paints, metal treatments, etc. One easy and economical way to avoid being the primary recipient of these gases? Buy used. We all hear about what good deals you can snatch in the used car market. But electronic consignment shops are a great place to shop, as are other “gently used” venues for furniture and household items. Prefer or need to buy new? Let items sit outdoors or in the garage for a few days to outgas as much as possible. If you’re in an apartment or townhome that doesn’t include these options, consider targeting your new purchases to warmer seasons when you can keep the windows open.

Bring On the Houseplants!

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The good doctor wasn’t kidding here, and she’s not the only believer. NASA has been researching the power of common plants for years with hopes of designing healthy space station environments. Our green companions are particularly well suited for processing the benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene in our indoor environments (common substances in household furniture/building material outgassing). Here’s a few of the more common winners: English ivy, snake plants, spider plants, peace lily, golden pathos, bamboo, and philodendrons. For you floral lovers, chrysanthemums and gerbera daisies do the job quite nicely. Photosynthesis, baby!

Go Green (or Outdoors) With Paints, Stains, and Solvents

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Repainting the kids’ bedrooms? We all know to open the windows, but it’s getting easier (and cheaper) to find paints that don’t incite the miserable nausea and headaches to begin with. Many major brands now offer “eco” lines that contain low or no VOCs, the rogue-ish (and toxic) compounds that tend to overwhelm. Other independent companies offer even cleaner, more natural alternatives in the way of paint, stain and even indoor primers. They’re worth checking out, especially for the kids.

When you need to go conventional, use a mask and as much ventilation as possible. And take it outside whenever you can. Stripping and re-staining an old dresser? Painting cabinet doors? It’s worth the extra time and hassle to work in the great outdoors. Your body (and your family) will thank you for it.

Dump Mr. Clean

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Conventional cleaners can consist of up to 90% or more of phthalate-riddled “fragrance.” Look for plant-based alterative cleaners, or make your own with some basic (cheap) ingredients from grandma’s kitchen: white vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice, good old hot water, etc. Borax powder and Bon Ami offer more powerful but still safer options for harder to clean areas of the house. The fact is a cleaner house isn’t always a healthier house. Numerous studies have linked conventional cleaners with an increased risk of asthma, especially in children. Let everyone in your home breathe easier, and keep some hard-earned dollars in your wallet.

Go Wild Outside

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You don’t need to grow a feral field in place of a lawn to make a safer yard. The biggest risk for you and your family comes with the use of conventional pesticides, which have been linked to everything from learning disorders in children to Parkinson’s and other immune disorders in adults. There’s nothing wrong with wanting an attractive lawn (and some neighborhoods require it!). But a little information and some less toxic alternatives can give you a better result for the same cost (or less) as the conventional choices. Fortunately, there’s an increasing array of safer and natural/organic options available, some do-it-yourself and others administered by yard care companies. Even the largest lawn care chains are beginning to add organic options to their product lineup.

One Air Purifier, Please!

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Let’s face it. We can’t control every molecule of air in our home. We don’t live in Grok’s world, for better and for worse. Regular dusting, sweeping/vacuuming, and a good multi-function air purifier can go a long way in reducing the toxins in your house. And if an air purifier isn’t an economic option right now, chances are you’ll benefit considerably from just doing the old-fashioned thing and opening up the house. Study after study has shown that the air inside the house is almost always less pure than the air outside. Enjoy the breeze!

Finally, though we’re a personal health blog, we recognize and appreciate that there’s a more altruistic side here. Taking steps to reduce your chemical load likely helps reduce the chemical load of others. The less toxins we use, the less we have floating around out there. Good health, good karma. What’s not to love about that?

Comments, questions, other suggestions in reducing toxin exposure in everyday life? The more, the merrier, we say!

House of Sims, velkr0, massdistraction, Doop!, marinegirl, elventear, _ES, jessica fm, eek the cat Flickr Photos (CC)

Interested in reading more about biomonitoring, pollution in your area, and safer suggestions for everyday life? Check out these sites:

Environment America (PDF)

Scorecard – The Pollution Information Site

The Green Guide (Sponsored by National Geographic)

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. A couple other things you might consider would be ripping up the carpet and going with hardwood floors (or choosing hardwood in the first place), and using natural personal products (soaps, cleansers, shampoo, lotions, etc…)

    Joe wrote on August 22nd, 2008
  2. Houseplants are so key. I might add that you want to place your houseplants strategically. Put them in areas with more air circulation: next to the open windows, or near air conditioning vents. And hey, it doesn’t hurt to put a small plant or two in the bathroom!

    Rory wrote on August 22nd, 2008
  3. This was one of the most disturbing article I have ever read and conversely it was one of the most interesting! I had no idea that we as humans carried so much unnecessary and frightening chemicals in our bodies.
    Thanks for the hard work and this particular fascinating article. Great, great read!!

    James wrote on August 22nd, 2008
  4. I would love more information about chlorine filters for the shower. I have read both that they are necessary and that they are mostly worthless. How can I decide if it is worth the investment in the filter with required frequent filter changes? Some sites claim most filters don’t even remove a significant amount of chlorine. For the time being I have given up on this issue until someone can convince me both that is it important AND that there are certifiably effective filters out there. Anyone know more about this? Thanks!

    Rodney wrote on August 22nd, 2008
  5. I plant sunflowers all over the place just because I love them; I had no idea I was cleaning up the soil!

    I shop thrift-stores and garage sales all the time, not to be healthy, but just because I’m cheap! About 50% of my household stuff and 75% of my clothing is second-hand. Now I can feel even more pleased with myself about my thrifty shopping habits.

    That reminds me: It’s One-buck Friday at the thrift store down the street–I’d better get going!

    dragonmamma wrote on August 22nd, 2008
  6. Rodney, here’s what we have in our shower:

    http://www.realgoods.com/product/home-outdoor/bathroom-bedroom/water+quality/sunflower+showerhead.do?search=basic&keyword=shower+filter&sortby=bestSellers&page=1

    I know it works, because I used to stink like chlorine before we had it. I don’t know how it affects health, but chlorine sure does dry out your hair and skin.

    dragonmamma wrote on August 22nd, 2008
  7. dragonmama,
    We have friend who use that model and swear by it. We use one from Aquasana because we also get our drinking water system through there. We’ve been very happy and have noticed a real difference in the smell (as in, it’s not there anymore!).

    I’ve noticed, too, that my hair and skin aren’t as dry anymore.

    Jen wrote on August 22nd, 2008
  8. Do you smell chlorine when you turn on the facet or shower? Can you taste it? Try a filter and test it out.
    Once you get used to filtered water, you become more sensitive to the smell/taste of unfiltered water. Blah.

    Crystal wrote on August 23rd, 2008
  9. Good article, and I agree pretty much with everything suggested. What kind of air purifiers are some of you having success with? I had some really good Hunter air purifiers a few years ago, they worked great but the filters were just way to expensive, and they also required a pre-filter to. So it just wasn’t economical, but would like to buy some that are not as expensive to run sometime, I tried the Sharper Image one that doesn’t require a filter, but I wasn’t sold on it actually doing anything.

    Jerry wrote on August 23rd, 2008
  10. Wow, I didn’t know that the new car smell was from all those chemicals! Good thing our latest car was bought a bit over a year ago. :P

    Yongho Shin wrote on August 23rd, 2008
  11. I KNEW I should have bought that house plant I had my eye on at the commissary today! All my plants are outdoor plants right now. Window boxes are a BIG thing in Italy!

    Nancy S wrote on August 26th, 2008
  12. I would also recommend the Aquasana shower filter. I noticed the difference right away (no more chlorine smell). It requires changing to a new filter every 6 months. I actually went a year and still did not notice the smell. I plan on buying another one for our other less used shower since I have read that absorbing unfiltered water through the largest organ in the body (the skin) is worse than drinking it!

    Shari wrote on September 1st, 2008
  13. ala

    myra wrote on December 3rd, 2008
  14. You forgot one of the biggest “chemical loads” in our daily lives. The Shampoo, Conditioner, Toothpaste, Deodorant,Cosmetics etc…that we put on our faces and skin every day.
    Most contain harmful and skin irritating ingredients
    that are absorbed into the body.
    Check out “The Human Toxome Project” by The Environmental Working Group.
    Go to: http://www.mysisel.com/sisel/vip/sizzlenow/science.htm

    Kevin wrote on February 10th, 2009
  15. I think that this is a fine start to understanding clean living, so i reflected it at the Existence website.

    http://communities.earthportal.org/Exist/blogs/view/161435/?topic=22874

    Dr. Lenny wrote on December 14th, 2010
  16. On top of the chlorine in the water there is also flouride. While there is a lot of debate about whether it is harmful or not, I’d rather not have any of it or other hard metals. I just purchased a Jonathan Salon filter http://www.amazon.com/Jonathan-Product-Beauty-Shower-Purification/dp/B000PI13SU/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1303713673&sr=8-3

    Ben wrote on April 24th, 2011
  17. It can be quite difficult to breathe freah (ish) air at the office when your colleagues choose to wear so much perfume. Imposing chemicals into others oxygen should be banned by management. Make it an OH&S issue (to begin with) Fragarance is a foreign estrogen, distrupting hormone balance. Can cause estrogen dominance. Estrogen dominance is rife now days, you see it everywhere you look. Xenoestrogens make man boobs and cause a lot of other health issues. Chemical load is a BIG issue.

    Nicole wrote on May 15th, 2011
  18. Hello my friend! I want to say that this article is amazing, nice written and come with approximately all important infos. I’d like to see extra posts like this .

    aquamagnets.com wrote on November 26th, 2011
  19. This list was obviously made for people with bottomless wallets

    Supercellbaebe wrote on August 3rd, 2012
  20. Wow! I am doing GREAT! Old house – old cars, old appliances. We open the windows as much as possible because I hate AC. We have doors on the shower. I grow plants inside and garden outside (edible landscaping when I can.)We have well. 90% of our clothing and bedding comes from thrift shops and yard sales. Being thrifty not only saves money, it is good for you!

    CrazyCatLady wrote on March 4th, 2013

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