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Karen Wang
BY Karen Wang

Ten Ways to Reduce Exposure to Household Toxins

Every month, new medical studies are being published that demonstrate a clear connection between environmental toxins and neurological conditions such as ADHD, autism, learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities and mood disorders. The Children’s Environmental Health Network and Physicians for Social Responsibility frequently post these studies on their websites.

The American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities explains, “Those living with intellectual or developmental disabilities may be at greater risk of secondary health effects from toxic exposures than individuals without disabilities. Furthermore, evidence shows that certain environmental chemicals such as lead and alcohol can cause disabilities, and disabilities caused by toxic exposures are unnecessary and preventable.”

But where do we even start to reduce exposure to harmful pollutants?

It turns out that the best place to start is at home. The Environmental Protection Agency has found that the average American home contains air that is two to ten times more polluted than the air immediately outside the home.

And that’s just the air. Water quality, chemicals in food, soil and toiletries, and hazardous materials in cleaning products are also issues in most American homes.

Here are ten simple ways to improve health and quality of life by reducing exposure to known toxins.

1. Say Goodbye to Tobacco

Tobacco products do not improve anyone’s health, and are a major factor in indoor air pollution. Besides being expensive, they also increase a family’s overall health care expenditures.

2. Get Rid of the Mercury Thermometer

A broken thermometer containing mercury is a biohazard. Thorough, immediate clean-up and ventilation of the area is necessary. Avoid this problem by giving your thermometer to your municipal toxic waste authority – and buy a digital thermometer!

3. Leave Shoes at the Door

Most of the toxins that enter a home, such as lead, pesticides and bacteria, arrive on shoes. Put a shoe rack next to the door, and your floors – and the air in your home – will suddenly become much cleaner.

4. Homemade scouring powders

Powdered cleaners such as Ajax and Comet contain many harmful ingredients – including mercury, according to the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority and Medical, Academic and Scientific Community Organization Mercury Work Group – that can irritate eyes and the respiratory system. Instead try some old-fashioned baking soda. Mix the baking soda with dish soap to make a soft scrub cleaner. Or if you need to bleach some caulking or tile, use hydrogen peroxide.

5. Homemade glass cleaner

Rubbing alcohol is very effective for cleaning windows and mirrors, and the fumes are much safer than commercially available cleaners.

6. The many uses of vinegar

White vinegar is a safe, inexpensive, anti-bacterial, grease-cutting cleaner. I have a spray bottle with a 50% vinegar solution that I use for cleaning my kitchen and bathroom. To make a non-toxic wood cleaner, mix a quarter cup of olive or mineral oil, 4 tablespoons of white vinegar and 2 teaspoons of lemon juice.

7. Water filter

A reverse-osmosis water filter for the whole house is expensive, but a filter for a refrigerator dispenser or pitcher is affordable and removes most of the toxins from tap water.

8. Ventilate

Use the kitchen and bathroom fans to remove excess moisture and airborne food particles. Open the windows whenever possible. Have your furnace cleaned and change the filter as often as recommended by the manufacturer.

9. Safe food handling

Observe safe food handling procedures, such as keeping raw meat away from your salad. Eat leftovers within 48 hours. If your produce is not organic, soak it for 10 minutes in a 50% vinegar solution, and then rinse it to remove pesticides.

10. VOCs

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are a group of over 400 chemicals that bring gas pollutants into the home, such as formaldehyde. Known to trigger asthma attacks, the chemicals are also linked to headaches, dizziness, visual disorders, memory impairment, increased risk of cancer, and damage to the liver, kidney and central nervous system. These chemicals are present in paint, carpet, furniture, air fresheners, dry-cleaned clothing, moth repellants, shampoo, cosmetics, deodorants and many other household products. Look for products labeled “Low-VOC” and “Zero-VOC” and allow new products to air out in a well-ventilated area for a few days to reduce exposure to VOCs.

Karen Wang

Written on March 7, 2013 by:

Karen Wang is a Friendship Circle parent. You may have seen her sneaking into the volunteer lounge for ice cream or being pushed into the cheese pit by laughing children. She is a contributing author to the anthology "My Baby Rides the Short Bus: The Unabashedly Human Experience of Raising Kids With Disabilities"

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