When it comes to cancer, you probably want to do what you can to avoid it. But how do you do that when it seems like everything around you poses a cancer risk?
Here are seven important steps to removing the most pressing cancer risks from your home. They include checking for and removing: radon, nonstick-coated pots and pans, makeup and personal care products with toxic ingredients, BPA-lined cans and bottles, cleaning products and air fresheners, toxic building materials, furnishings and household cleaning supplies, as well as common pesticides and weed killers.
1. Check Your Home for Radon
Radon is an odorless, colorless gas that is formed from the natural breakdown of uranium in the earth. Though you can’t see it or smell it, radon can enter your home through cracks in your foundation, well water, building materials and other sources, where it can contaminate the air you breathe.
Because radon is radioactive, it’s also carcinogenic; radon exposure is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, second only to smoking.
Any home, whether new or old, with a basement or without, well-insulated or drafty, can have a radon problem; the EPA estimates that nearly 1 out of every 15 homes has elevated levels. Radon is measured in “picocuries per liter of air,” or “pCi/L.” Outdoor air generally has radon levels of about 0.4 pCi/L, whereas the average radon level indoors is estimated to be about 1.3 pCi/L. While the U.S. Congress has set a long-term goal stating that indoor radon levels should be no higher than outdoor levels, the EPA recommends taking action only if your home’s levels exceed 4 pCi/L.
This does not necessarily mean that 4 pCi/L is “safe,” however, as there really is NO safe level for radiation. Even the EPA admits that lower levels can still pose a health risk, and you may want to take precautions to further reduce the amount of radon in your indoor space even if it’s at or below 4 pCi/L.
Radon Testing and Remediation
Fortunately, testing your home for radon is simple, and if levels are elevated there are ways to reduce them to protect your health. There are a number of resources for test kits:
- If you’d like a certified technician to measure the radon levels in your home or other indoor environment, you can contact the American Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists.1 Testing costs from $100 to $300.
- You can also obtain information on certified technicians and do-it-yourself testing from the EPA.2 State and regional information can be found there.
- The National Radon Program Services at Kansas State University offers discounted test kits available to purchase online.3
- Other do-it-yourself test kits for radon run between $20 and $30 and can be purchased online and at your local hardware store.
If your home has elevated radon levels, it’s important to find a qualified radon service professional to fix your home immediately. Some U.S. states maintain lists of contractors that have met certain qualifications for radon mitigation; your state radon coordinator will have this information.4 There are also two privately run national radon programs that can help you find a qualified radon service professional:
- The National Environmental Health Association (NEHA)5
- The National Radon Safety Board (NRSB)6
Finally, Kansas State University maintains national radon hotlines:
- National Radon Hotline: Purchase radon test kits by phone.
- National Radon Helpline: Get live help for your radon questions.
- National Radon Fix-It Line: For general information on fixing or reducing the radon level in your home.
The cost of radon reduction measures depends on the size and design of your home and the specific methods needed. Costs range from $800 to $2,500, with an average cost of $1,200. Radon reduction systems may be able to reduce your home’s radon levels by 99 percent. There are a variety of ways to reduce radon levels in your home, including:
- Sealing cracks in floors and walls
- Increasing ventilation through sub-slab depressurization with pipes and fans
- Removing granite countertops if they are emitting high levels of radon
- Replacing ionization smoke detectors with the photoelectric type
2. Replace Non-Stick Cookware and Avoid Stain-Resistant Fabrics
About 70 percent of cookware sold in the United States contains a non-stick coating that contains PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) and other perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), which are used to make grease-resistant food packaging and stain-resistant clothing as well. Even though there are many names, if the item in question is “non-stick” or “stain/grease resistant,” it will have some type of fluoride-impregnated coating that is best avoided.
Remember that non-stick cookware is perfectly safe to have in your home as long as you decide never to heat the pan. At room temperature there is virtually no release of fluoride into the air. But of course the purpose of non-stick cookware is to heat it and cook food, and that is when you run into problems.
It’s well documented that when non-stick pans are heated the coating begins breaking down, releasing toxins into the air in your kitchen. When the pan reaches 680 degrees F (which takes about three to five minutes of heating), at least six toxic gases are released. At 1,000 degrees F, the coatings on your cookware break down into a chemical warfare agent known as PFIB.
Research has revealed that these toxins can accumulate in your blood at an alarming rate and may lead to chronic disease over time. You can keep your exposure as low as possible by avoiding (or getting rid of) products that contain PFCs. This includes:
|Non-stick cookware (choose either ceramic or glass instead)||Microwave popcorn||Packaging for greasy foods (including paper and cardboard packaging)|
|Stain-proof clothing||Flame retardants and products that contain them||Stain-resistant carpeting, and fabric stain protectors|
3. Clean Up Your Beauty Regimen
Women who use make-up on a daily basis can absorb almost five pounds of chemicals into their bodies each year, so this is not a matter to take lightly. Putting chemicals on your skin is actually far worse than ingesting them, because when you eat something the enzymes in your saliva and stomach help break it down and flush it out of your body. When you put these chemicals on your skin however, they’re absorbed straight into your blood stream without filtering of any kind, so the toxic chemicals from toiletries and beauty products are largely going directly to your internal organs.
There are literally thousands of chemicals used in personal care products, and only a tiny fraction of them have ever been tested for safety. According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, nearly 900 of the chemicals used in cosmetics are known to be toxic. It’s impossible to list them all, but some of the most common culprits to avoid include:
|Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS)||Musks||Mercury|
|Phthalates, including dibutyl phthalate (DBP), dimethyl phthalate (DMP), and diethyl phthalate (DEP)||Mineral Oil, Paraffin, and Petrolatum||Nano particles|
Please note that in order to avoid formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane, you need to know what to look for as they’re typically NOT listed on the label; at least not in those words.
|Common ingredients likely to contaminate products with formaldehyde include:||To avoid 1,4-dioxane, watch out for these ingredients, which create 1,4-dioxane as a byproduct:|
|DMDM hydantoin||Sodium laureth sulfate|
|Imidazolidinyl urea||Sodium myreth sulfate|
Fortunately, there are more natural cosmetics available today than in years past. When it comes to personal care products, I like to use this rule — If you can’t eat it, don’t put it on your body. Ideally, you’ll want to look for the USDA’s verified Organic seal. I also highly recommend using the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database7 where you can look up a wide variety of products and brands to find out what they’re really made of, and whether or not they’re safe.
4. Avoid Canned Foods and Plastic Containers
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a widely used component of plastic containers and food packaging, such as the inner lining of cans, despite the fact that more than 200 research studies show BPA is harmful to human health. The use of BPA is so pervasive that scientists have found that 95 percent of people tested have dangerous levels of BPA in their bodies.
Avoiding canned foods is perhaps your best way to avoid BPA. Recent research from the Harvard School of Public Health8 revealed that canned foods and beverages can increase your BPA levels by a staggering 1,000 percent in a mere five days! The lead researcher noted that given this new finding, canned goods may be an even greater contribution to your BPA levels than plastics.