I am very concerned about three chemicals many of us have in our homes that have been proven to be extremely toxic. Since Scott Pruitt and the EPA recently placed a hold on banning these chemicals, we must be cautious and extra vigilant to protect ourselves and our loved ones from these poisons.
A Little Background
The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was created in 1976 in an attempt to clean up our environment and improve the health of the US population. TSCA gave the EPA the authority to monitor and restrict the use of chemicals deemed to be environmental hazards. The most notorious toxins that were regulated included asbestos, lead-based paint, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Since the 1970s, though, there have been tens of thousands of new chemicals developed, which are used by industry, from paint formulas to food additives and personal care products. But, the original TSCA excluded chemicals used in food, drugs, cosmetics and pesticides! As a result, the health effects associated with long-term use of these chemicals has not been determined. Meanwhile, the US population has been getting sicker each year.
In 2016, TSCA was amended by Congress. The updated law calls for the health risk assessment of 10 new chemicals a year. Many of these compounds are found in common products we all use in our homes. One would think that this kind of scrutiny would be performed prior to their initial approval, but that’s not the case.
Just over a year ago, on November 29, 2016, the EPA named the first 10 chemicals up for review. From the first test group, three chemicals discovered to be particularly toxic were named. But, they are not going to be phased out any time soon. Yes, these chemicals are known to be toxic and some cause cancer, but because the current administration doesn’t want to put any more regulations on business, Scott Pruitt and the EPA have delayed the ban of these 3 nasty chemicals… indefinitely!
What are these three toxic substances to avoid?
1.Methylene Chloride (Dichloromethane)
This organic solvent is added to paint strippers, paint thinners and other paint removal products, metal cleaning and degreasing products. It is a volatile organic compound (VOC) and has a sweetish odor. Be cautious of inhalation and skin exposure.
Acute reactions from methylene chloride exposure include confusion, dizziness, headaches, optic neuropathy and inflammation of the liver. There have even been several deaths attributed to inhalation. Long term, exposure to this chemical has been associated with cancer of the lungs, liver and pancreas in laboratory animals. This chemical has also been shown to cross the placenta!
2. N-methylpyrrolidone (NMP)
This organic compound is rapidly absorbed by skin, but unlike the other two chemicals in this list, this fluid is nonvolatile at room temperature. Paint and coating removal products and many other household products may contain this chemical, including cosmetics. Even oral and transdermal medications are sometimes prepared using this chemical to assist in drug absorption.
Exposure to this drug during pregnancy can cause terrible birth defects, as the chemical easily crosses the placenta.
3. Trichloroethylene (TCE)
This VOC is a colorless liquid used in adhesives, paint removers, typewriter correction fluids and spot removers, among other products. This chemical is commonly used by the dry cleaning industry and has even been used as an inhalational-type anesthetic for short surgical procedures.
TCE has been determined to be carcinogenic to humans by all routes of exposure. It causes kidney cancer and there is evidence that it may also cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma and liver cancer. The chemical is also known to cause birth defects and developmental disorders.
So, what can you do to protect yourself, and help prevent exposure? Follow these general precautions at home when using products such as a paint remover, adhesive, or any other products that emit VOCs.
1. Protect your skin and wear appropriate gloves.
Latex rubber gloves used for dishwashing, medical gloves and food handling gloves are not adequate to protect yourself from these chemicals. Potent solvents can quickly dissolve through the material most gloves are made of and will subsequently absorb into your skin. A twinge in the nose, a strange sensation in the back of the throat, and/or irritation of the eyes will alert you that you have absorbed chemicals through your skin. Invest in a pair of laminated polyethylene/EVOH, butyl rubber or better yet, butyl/viton gloves to protect yourself from the most dangerous of these chemicals, and always use them during potential exposure. Buy your gloves in advance and store them in the garage.
2. Maintain adequate cross-ventilation, or better yet, work outside when applying products containing VOCs.
Many people don’t have a trustworthy sense of smell. Understand that you can still get sick from these products, even if you can’t smell them! Also realize that opening a few windows is not enough to keep the inside air from becoming toxic. If you use products containing these chemicals indoors for any prolonged period of time, run large fans in the room in addition to opening several windows. If this is not achievable, invest in a respirator with an assigned protection factor of 10 to reduce your toxin exposure. A NIOSH-certified air purifying elastomeric half-mask respirator equipped with N100, R100 or P100 filters will minimize your inhalation exposure.
Here is a personal account of the health effects I experienced from inhaling household paint fumes.
3. Keep all product containers containing VOCs in your garage or in an outdoor shed!
4. Don’t take home dry cleaned clothes that have an odor or are still damp, as they may still be off-gassing TCE.
5. Pregnant women should stay away from all paint products! In addition, be critical of any cosmetics you apply to your body. Investigate your chosen creams and moisturizers and make sure they don’t contain NMP.
Although it is certainly disappointing that the EPA has decided not to protect US citizens and the environment as a whole from these three industrial toxins, we must all realize that these chemicals represent the tip of an enormous iceberg. We are surrounded by thousands of hazardous chemicals in our daily lives. As a consumer and homeowner, it is important to do your homework and protect yourself as best you can from exposure.
Photo from here, with thanks.