Toxic Talk and Labels

How to Reduce Your Exposure to 3 Common Groups of Cancer-Causing Toxins

+ Rebecca

Welcome to October. There are a lot of special things about this month: fall leaves, crisp air, Halloween, and precious birthstones like opal and tourmaline.

But as a cancer survivor, I can’t help but associate October with National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM). Founded in 1985, NCBAM is when we remember to remind ourselves about cancer-prevention techniques, and take part in community events to support our sisters, mothers, grandmothers, daughters, and friends who are fighting the disease.

With that in mind, I wanted to review with our readers three groups of toxins that are prevalent in our world today that have been linked with cancer. We learn more about these things all the time, and we now know more about how to avoid them than ever before.

Please read to be sure you’re doing all you can to protect yourself and your family.

Chemicals Found in a Diverse Array of Populations

Earlier this year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released a new report on the chemicals linked to cancer that are showing up in people’s bodies. They reviewed the scientific literature and human biomarker datasets, and from that compiled a comprehensive directory of known or likely carcinogens that have been measured in people.

In total, they reported 420 toxins that come from industrial chemicals, commercial products, pesticides, heavy metals, solvents, and byproducts.

“The array of carcinogens detected in humans is alarming,” the EWG stated in their report. “It underscores how much work is needed to reduce and eliminate toxic chemicals, particularly carcinogens, from our daily lives.”

The EWG advocated increased awareness of where these carcinogens live, so we can reduce our exposure. You can get started by avoiding these three.

1. Heavy Metals

These were among the most frequently reported carcinogens found in the EWG’s study, showing up in 90 percent of the participants. We’re talking about:

  • Lead
  • Arsenic
  • Cadmium
  • Mercury

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that these four are most often linked to human poisoning, and that young children are highly susceptible to their toxic effects.

Heavy metals have been widely used in industry since the 1800s, and are common environmental contaminants. Sources include air emissions from industrial facilities, waste incinerators, pesticides and wood preservatives, fertilizers, and lead in household plumbing and paint. Humans may be exposed through inhaling air pollutants, consuming contaminated drinking water or contaminated food, or through exposure to contaminated soils or industrial waste.

Natural processes can also introduce heavy metals into the environment. Naturally occurring geologic deposits of arsenic can dissolve into groundwater, for example, and once these metals are in the environment, they can stay there for centuries.

To reduce your exposure:

  • Keep children from playing in contaminated dirt-cover bare soils with grass or other materials where possible.
  • Wear gloves when gardening.
  • Wash all veggies and fruits carefully before eating.
  • Leave shoes at the door to avoid tracking in contaminants.
  • Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter.
  • Wash hands frequently, especially before eating.
  • Use a wet rag to dust surfaces instead of a duster.
  • Put a filter on your tap water faucet and regularly test your water for heavy metals.
  • Choose organic and natural cosmetic products-lead and mercury have been reported in some lipsticks and mascaras.
  • Avoid fish high in mercury, such as king mackerel, swordfish, shark, orange roughy, and marlin.

2. Pesticides

Many of these have been identified as carcinogenic. People are exposed through residues on food, from pesticide drift from fields, contamination of food and water, during mixing and application of pesticides around the home, and through products containing wood preservatives.

To reduce your exposure:

  • Buy organic produce-it consistently tests lower for pesticide residue than conventional produce.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables before eating.
  • Use non-toxic methods to control insects in the home and garden.
  • Leave shoes at the door.
  • Get a water filter.

3. Commercial and Consumer Products

A number of the products we buy everyday contain ingredients that can cause cancer. The two most common are tobacco and alcohol, but there are a lot of others that we may not be aware of.

Furniture items, for example, were treated with flame retardants for years. That has finally stopped, but there are a lot of items still on the market that are covered in these products, which contain ingredients linked to cancer.

Other cancer-causing materials can be found in non-stick cookware, dry cleaning chemicals, plastics, food wrappers, hair coloring, paints, fragrances, and more.

How to Reduce Your Exposure to These Toxins

The good news is that more and more new companies are offering safer alternatives that are made with fewer potentially toxic chemicals. To reduce your exposure:

  • Find companies that sell flame-retardant-free furniture. Vintage shops are good options. Always air-out new pieces of furniture for a few days before bringing them inside.
  • Buy cosmetic and personal care products from companies that use natural and safe ingredients. Read labels carefully and use our list of Ingredients to Avoid.
  • Eat organic food as often as possible.
  • Bring more toxin-neutralizing houseplants into your home.
  • Don’t heat foods in plastic containers. Heat and store in glass or ceramic instead.
  • Use a stainless steel water bottle. Never heat or freeze regular plastic water bottles.
  • Swap foods in foam takeout containers to a safe container when you get home.
  • Look for “low-VOC” or “no-VOC” paints and finishes for indoor painting.
  • Regularly ventilate your home by opening a window.
  • Avoid dry cleaning if you can. If not, air out your clothes for at least a day before bringing them inside.
  • Check labels on plastics to be sure they’re phthalate-free.
  • Use natural cleaning products in the home, including baking soda and white vinegar.
  • Avoid all artificial air fresheners.

Are you careful about your exposure to carcinogens?

Sources credit: jacilluch via / CC BY-SA


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