Monday, March 11, 2013

Sticky Chemicals

Last month, the journal Environmental Health Perspectives reported on a study of common household chemicals called PFCs. The lead study author, quoted in a WebMD articlenoted that the study found "a clear and strong association between exposure to [these] compounds and osteoarthritis, which is a very painful chronic disease.“ Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and involves irreversible deterioration of joint cartilage.

PFCs are often used to make products slicker and more repellent.  Some of the many places they may be found include:

  • Nonstick cookware

  • Grease-resistant food packaging, such as microwave popcorn bags, pizza boxes, and fast food sandwich wrappers

  • Paper plates

  • Carpeting

  • Stain-resistant upholstered furniture

  • Some clothing items, including those made of Gore-Tex and other fabrics treated for water or stain resistance

  • Shoes

  • Luggage

  • Camping and sporting equipment

  • Certain cosmetic and personal care products, including shampoo, dental floss, denture cleaners, nail polish, eye make-up, pressed powder, shaving cream, and lotion

PFCs have been previously linked to other negative health effects. These include higher levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol, skewed thyroid hormone levels, premature onset of menopause in women, liver inflammation, reduced vaccine effectiveness in children, smaller birth size of babies, and weakening of the immune system. They cause cancer in laboratory animals and are likely human carcinogens.

It seems ironic that PFCs are generally used for their anti-stick properties given the fact that they are very “sticky” and persistent in the environment and in our bodies. It takes a human body 4 years to expel half of a dose of one of the two most common PFCs and more than 8 years to process half a dose of the other. Some varieties of the chemicals have been removed from the market, but others have taken their place. The Environmental Working Group notes that "companies that manufacture PFCs have agreed to phase out one variety, called PFOA, by 2015. Unfortunately, there’s no evidence that the chemicals being used to replace it are any safer."

Tips for avoiding PFCs include the following:

  • Avoid use of Teflon-type non-stick cookware. Safer alternatives are stainless steel, cast iron, ceramic, or enamel. Remember that it isn't just pans that may be coated with PFCs, but muffin tins, cookie sheets, and other bakeware.

  • Decline optional stain-protection treatment when buying furniture. Some health experts recommend covering any treated furniture already owned with a heavy slipcover to impede migration of the chemicals from the furniture into your body.

  • Carpeting should be avoided for many reasons. (See this previous post.) Adding treatment for stain resistance makes a bad product worse.

  • Avoid clothing treated for water or stain repellency. In most situations, the benefits are not worth the risk. Tightly-woven non-treated fabrics are often an acceptable alternative.

  • Minimize consumption of food packaged in PFC-coated containers. Pop popcorn on the stove, in an air-popper, or in a plain brown bag in the microwave. Use glass or ceramic for microwave cooking and for storing leftovers,  Avoid paper plates.

  • When buying cosmetics and personal care products, read the labels and look for PTFE and for ingredients that start with "fluoro" or "perfluoro." These are PFCs and should be avoided.

I know it’s discouraging to constantly read of the extent of the chemical problem and the ramifications of using the products that surround us. I find it discouraging, too. We simply must educate ourselves, though, and do what we can to protect ourselves and our fellow human beings. Seemingly small decisions can matter more than we imagine.


Christa Upton said...

Wow--amazing information! We just recently realized we should get rid of more stuff in this list, and now I feel even better about doing so. :) I am so grateful for the research that you do.

Martha McLaughlin said...

Thanks, Christa. I think I've become a bit of a research junkie. I always learn a lot of things myself when I write these posts. I had read that PFCs were "long lasting," but I had no idea how long it actually took the body to process them. Knowing that really motivates me to make sure they don't enter in the first place.

DebraSY said...

It's discouraging, but people can choose to leave this blog and go visit a Disney vacation blog if they wish.

It is important to build our mental files, and your information is truthful and concise. You aren't imposing.

There's a feminist activist who talks about a phenomenon she calls "the file breaking." She describes a period of her life when, over time, her mental files built up with experiences and observations regarding her own out-of-balance relationship, and other women in out-of-balance and even abusive relationships and, sadly, church influences that contributed to their problems instead of helping them. Finally, a small, seemingly insignificant piece of information (when taken on its own) went into that mental file and KABOOM, her file broke and she started claiming her life, found another church and made other changes.

Maybe your blog will create a necessary KABOOM for someone.

Martha McLaughlin said...

I once read a statistic (which I can't actually remember at the moment) about how many times on average a person hears or reads a piece of information before acting on it. I do remember being surprised by how large the number was. I've never heard of "file breaking," but I guess it's similar to the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back or the snowflake that caused the avalanche. You never know which snowflake or piece of straw is going to be the important one.

Christa Upton said...

I agree!!! That's incredible how long it takes the body to process them.

God bless you!