The vast majority of us are constantly being exposed to toxic chemicals of one form or another – and not just from obvious culprits like car exhaust, cigarette smoke, and pick your favorite industrial pollutant. Household items and products, including some common foods and even tap water, harbor hazardous levels of toxins that have very real health effects over time. And experts are increasingly worried about one health issue in particular: endocrine disruption.
Early studies have linked a whole host of common chemicals, including bisphenol-A (commonly called BPA), phthalates, and flame retardants, to possible endocrine system damage. What is particularly insidious about these toxins is that they mess with the body's natural hormone production, which can lead to a host of varied complications affecting everything from the thyroid to testosterone to sperm count.
To combat the problem, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) just released its Dirty Dozen List of Endocrine Disruptors, outlining 12 of the worst offending chemicals. Odds are high that many of these toxins are lurking in your house and office now. Here's where you'll find them and how to limit your exposure.
Nonstick cookware, pizza boxes, microwave popcorn
In the never ending crusade for convenience, tons of food items – along with some kitchen utensils and fast-food containers – are lined with perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) that stop food from sticking. Unfortunately, they are scraped or chipped off over time or when heated up and wind up in our food. "When you put a nonstick pan on the stove on high with nothing else in it, PFCs are released in smoke and you breathe them in," says Jennifer Sass, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The most thoroughly studied of these chemicals, PFOA and PFOS, have been linked to decreased sperm count, kidney and thyroid problems, and high cholesterol, according to Sharp. And even though these two compounds are being phased out, Solomon says, they're getting replaced by other PFCs – ones that experts don't know as much about. Some early studies have shown that the newer chemicals may have similar health effects. Plus, like flame retardants, PFCs are very persistent in the environment and stay in our systems for years.
To limit further exposure, get rid of your nonstick pots and pans, and use stainless steel or cast iron instead. "Toss out Teflon-coated spatulas if they're a few years old, because they're more likely to chip," Sass says. And avoid microwaving popcorn and using processed foods – but that's just good advice all around.
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