Toxic Talk and Labels

Environmental Toxins and Cancer: What to Avoid

+ CV Skinlabs Team

David Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University of Albany, has made a powerful statement: “Almost all cancers come from some kind of environmental exposure.”

We know that our systems are bombarded by toxins every day, from pesticides in our food to pollution in the air to dangerous chemicals in our personal-care products. Carpenter believes it’s time to pay closer attention to the affect this cumulative chemical assault has on our health. Donald Hassig of Cancer Action agrees: “We need to present this message stronger and louder.”

We want to do our part in getting the message out, so here’s a quick review of the toxins you’d be wise to avoid in your daily life. Though you may not be able to control chemicals released into the area where you live, you can do a lot to minimize what gets into your body.

Dry cleaning. Traditional methods leave chemical residue on your clothes. Avoid dry cleaning altogether, or air out your clothes for at least 24 hours before bringing them inside.

Personal-care products. Read our list of “ingredients to avoid,” and watch label listings for ingredients like parabens, BBP, DEHP, and PEG. If you can’t pronounce it, look into its safety. Check your current brands with the Cosmetic Database for safety. Even if the products says “organic” or “natural,” they may still contain synthetics.

Pesticides. Buy organic produce, wash fresh fruit and vegetables thoroughly, and check out this list of pesticide levels for various types of produce. Be cautious of the pesticides you use in your garden and on your lawn.

Plastics. Don’t microwave in plastics, use stainless steel water bottles, and check our post for recommendations on baby bottles.

Cleaning supplies. Choose greener varieties with more natural cleaning components.

Eat wild salmon. Farm-raised salmon are known to contain PCBs (polychlorinated bophenyls)-a chemical that’s been banned in the U.S. for decades, but that still shows up in ground-up fish that are fed to farm-raised salmon.

Avoid synthetic fragrance. Stay away from artificial air fresheners, dryer sheets, fabric softeners, or other smelly things that could pollute the air you breathe.

Limit consumption of high-mercury fish. This includes tuna-limit to one-two times a week.

Test your tap water. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tap water in the U.S. is among the safest in the world. The Environmental Protection Agency, as well, periodically monitors compliance of municipal water supplies to set standards. Groundwater is considered a safer source than surface water (because the ground filters the water), but groundwater from wells (used by about 40%–45% of the population) can sometimes become contaminated. If you own your own well be sure to schedule regular maintenance. Public water, as well, can sometimes carry contaminants missed by testing or because the purification plants isn’t complying with EPA standards. To make sure your water is safe, use a water filter, run your water for a full minute in the morning before taking a drink from the tap, and/or buy bottled water if you need to be especially cautious. You can call your local water utility officials as well to ask about the source and safety of your water. Find questions to ask here.

Ventilate your house. Open the windows and let in some fresh air as often as you can. Houseplants can also help reduce the level of contaminants in the atmosphere.

Exercise near trees. When your heart beats faster, you breathe in more air and circulate it faster throughout your body, so try to stay away from exhaust-filled city streets. Plants naturally remove toxins from the air, so exercise in the park or along tree-lined trails.

What are you doing to reduce your exposure to environmental toxins?

Photo courtesy joris besseling via

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