Thanks to a friend, I learned that Dateline ran a story about the chemical load of two families with starkly different lifestyle choices, and the results were very telling.
The two families' food choices couldn't have been more different. One family (the Greens) buy mostly organic food, uses non-toxic cleaners, and lives in a home that was build in a green and chemically conscious fashion. The other family (the Browns) tested was a more typical American family, eating mostly processed and convenience foods, eating lots of fast food, and using conventional (and chemically laden) products.
They tested many of the chemicals we are concerned about and I write about here, including phthalates, fire retardants, perfluorochemicals/PFCs, tricolsan, BPA, lead, mercury and parabens.
The results were suprising. In the end, their total chemical loads were very similar, with only a one point difference. But the message is in the details.
The Browns tested significantly higher for phthalates, which are present in a whole host of items, including cosmetics, paint, food packaging, and plastics. The Browns commented that they microwave in plastic frequently, and they eat a good deal of packaged and prepared foods, increasing the contact with phthalates. Phthalates are linked with problems of the male reproductive system, including testicular cancer and inferitily. Another good case for eating whole, minimumally processed foods!
Both families came in with low levels of fire retardants in their blood, although I would like to know more about what constitutes a "low" rating. In 2005, manufacturers stopped using the most toxic flame retardants, but unfortunately, they remain in many of our homes, in dust, and furniture. Flame retardants have been linked to physical and cognitive development in children, and thyroid problems as adults.
PFCs are coatings on non-stick pans (Teflon), clothing, and food packaging, including fast food containers, microwave popcorn bags, anti-stain coatings on furniture, and they have been linked to many different types of cancers. I've been meaning to write an article about PFCs and Teflon for quite some time. I threw out my old, chipped, Teflon pan after I read reports that using it on high heat gives off enough toxic gases to kill a bird in the same room. I apparently missed the memo that you aren't supposed to heat up Teflon pans beyond medium heat. Now I live with non-crispy hash browns and corn cakes. Just ask my mom, she doesn't like my Teflon ban. It is hard to tell if the Browns increased numbers for PFC is because of food packaging or use of a Teflon pan. But it is enough for me to continue to have less than stellar crispy, fried foods. And next time I buy furniture, I will not have them apply any stainguard, although I wince at the idea of all the stains that will accumulate with two small kids.
The Green family also had very low levels of triclosan, a bacteria killing pesticide found in hand soaps, cutting boards, and even toys and toothpaste (!?). Dateline states that this chemical is toxic to wildlife, linked to cancer, and bioaccumulates in the food chain over time. It is also a chemical that is showing up in our wastewater treatment plants, rivers and streams. I had heard of this chemical before, but I haven't been viligant about avoiding it, as I will now be.
Now here's the shocker. The Green family tested much higher for BPA then the Browns. Turns out they eat a lot of canned refried beans. They didn't know the lining of the canned foods they were eating contained BPA, in higher amounts than that of the #7 water bottles. I've been trying to buy only Eden's Beans, which are reportedly free of BPA. I've also read that Trader Joe's canned goods do not contain BPA as well.
Both families had low and moderate amounts of parabens present. Parabens are a preservative in cosmetics and body care products, as well as some foods, drinks and medicines (this I did not know). According to Dateline,
"Some parabens can irritate the skin or cause allergic reactions. Laboratory studies indicate that parabens are estrogenic, meaning they can mimic the hormone estrogen, disrupting normal function of the hormone system. In a recent study, traces of 5 different parabens were found in the breast cancer tumors of 19 of 20 women examined. Other lab studies also link parabens to cancer, and to reproductive health problems as well."
This is enough for me to continue to seek out body care products free of parabens and phthalates.
The mercury levels of both families were low. Maybe they had not dropped a CFC light yet!Finally, the Green family had higher rates of lead in their blood, which was alarming. I wonder if they used salvage materials when building their house, because it was ecologically responsible, and ended up with some lead paint or stain somewhere. This is similar to what happened with our doors. Or it could have been lead in their pipes, tainting their water.
Watch the Dateline video by clicking on the link above, then on the video link.
There are also some great links on the site, including our beloved Environmental Working Group, and a way to take a quiz to estimate your chemical load. I took the quiz, and learned a great deal, for example, I should vaccum more to prevent PFC exposure (not sure if that will ever happen, but it is good to try, right?).