rubber duck, rubber ducky

Common Household Items Contain Dangerous Chemicals

September 24, 2010 07:00 AM
by Colleen Brondou
A recent book by Canadian researchers reveals that exposure to hormone-altering chemicals—even at low levels—is harmful to our health, especially for children and expectant mothers.

Researchers Test Dangerous Chemicals on Themselves

When Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie, Canadian environmentalists and researchers, set out to examine the dangerous chemicals in everyday items, they used themselves as test subjects. 

“While holed up in a condo, they exposed themselves to seven common chemicals that researchers have linked to disease and defects,” Krista Jahnke writes for the Detroit Free Press.

Their book, “Slow Death by Rubber Duck: The Secret Dangers of Everyday Things,” chronicles their experiments and reveals that over time, exposure to even small amounts of hormone-altering chemicals is dangerous.

“This notion that there’s such a thing as a safe level just simply doesn’t exist for endocrine-disrupting chemicals,” Lourie told the Detroit Free Press. “There is no safe level. Zero is safe, everything above zero is less safe.”

Background: The experiment

While in the condo, Smith and Lourie tried to replicate the chemical exposure people experience in daily life. They ate food from BPA-lined cans and drank from baby bottles manufactured with BPA. They used shampoo and deodorant that contained phthalates, which can disrupt hormone function. They used antibacterial products such as hand sanitizer and toothpaste that contain triclosan, a registered pesticide that “has been linked to thyroid issues and cancer,” Jahnke writes. 

Before and after using each product, they measured chemical levels in their urine and blood. In almost every case, after only two days of exposure, the levels went up. BPA went up seven and a half times, phthalates increased 22 times and triclosan levels went up 2,900 times.

Toys are also an area for concern. Smith and Lourie, and a group from the Michigan Ecology Center, visited the Detroit Free Press to test a variety of toys. They found cadmium, lead and brominated-flame retardant, calling to mind the 2008 scare over hazardous toys imported from China.

Opinion & Analysis: “Ill-conceived” or “important”?

Krista Foss, writing a review of “Slow Death by Rubber Duck” for The Globe and Mail, says the experiments in the book “feel a bit inconsistent and ill-conceived, not to mention rushed.” She points out that the researchers had to rely on blood and urine tests “for drama” because they exhibited no physical symptoms of their exposure. She also takes issue with the fact that Smith and Lourie didn’t measure their exposure to pesticides, herbicide or brominated fire retardants, “opting instead to rely on their base or background levels.”

Still, Foss concedes that the book is an “important and timely antidote” to the consumer fear generated by lobbyists. She cites the example of the Canadian Plastics Industry Association, which made headlines for a study showing that reusable shopping bags, as opposed to plastic bags, may expose people to “dangerous bacteria.”

“Information that so baldly wants to scare consumers … is an everyday toxin too,” Foss writes.

Video: Interview With Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie

WGN-TV Midday News offers an interview with Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie.

Related Topic: Banning household chemicals

Although dangerous chemicals are commonly found in household items, consumer demand and corporate resistance may make state regulations banning such chemicals ineffective.

Reference: Household toxins

Making sure your home is safe to live in is a priority for any homeowner. Use the findingDulcinea Web Guide to Household Toxins to find links to information on common household toxins and how to eliminate them.

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