Last week's report from the President's Cancer Panel was sobering: the report claimed that public health officials have "grossly underestimated" the effects of household chemicals and other environmental contaminants on our health, and it called for stricter regulations on chemicals. In particular, the report warns about exposures to chemicals during pregnancy, when the risk of contamination and lasting damage is greatest.
Noting that 300 contaminants have been detected in umbilical cord blood of newborn babies, the study warns that to a disturbing extent, babies are born "pre-polluted." It goes on to say that "only a few hundred of the more than 80,000 chemicals in use in the United States have been tested for safety, [and] many known or suspected carcinogens are completely unregulated."
The report has caused a bit of an uproar, particularly from the food industry that has been fighting legislation in the Senate backed by Dianne Feinstein of California that would ban bisphenol-A.
It's easy to feel afraid and discouraged when we hear news like this; potentially harmful chemicals are so rampant in nearly everything we do and use, that it can be difficult to know how to avoid them. The report does give some recommendations:
• Remove shoes prior to entering your home, and wash work clothes separately from other laundry.
• Filter home tap water.
• Store and carry water in stainless steel, glass, or BPA- and phthalate-free containers. Microwave food and beverages in ceramic or glass instead of plastic containers.
• Choose food grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers and wash conventionally grown produce to remove residues. Minimize your exposure to antibiotics, growth hormones, and toxic run-off from livestock feed lots by eating free-range meat.
• Consult information sources such as the Household Products Database to help make informed decisions about products.
• Make sure to properly dispose of pharmaceuticals, household chemicals, paints, and other materials to minimize drinking water and soil contamination. Choose products made with non-toxic substances or environmentally safe chemicals. Reduce or cease landscaping pesticide and fertilizer use to help keep these chemicals from contaminating drinking water supplies.
• Drive a fuel-efficient car, bike or walk when possible, or using public transportation to cut the amount of toxic auto exhaust in the air.
• Check radon levels in your home.
• Be particularly vigilant of all these things if you're pregnant.
Read the full report here.