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Health Hazard: Environmental Toxins

Each year, billions of pounds of toxic chemicals are released into our environment. If you've ever worked around high concentrations of these chemicals - such as in a beauty salon, bus terminal, dry cleaners, textile mill, manufacturing plant, cleaning service, or conventional agriculture - you are likely to carry an especially high load of them. These substances have been linked to numerous health problems, including endometriosis, autoimmune conditions, hormonal irregularities, and cancer.

We're not suggesting that you are about to turn green or glow in the dark.

But our concern about the toxins that could be entering your body comes directly from the basic principles of nurturing a mother: more good things and fewer bad ones. Avoiding toxins is more straightforward than changing a bad health habit, since there's no particular pleasure in them and there are many easy alternatives.

For example, simply by eating organic foods, you'll eliminate a major source of worrisome chemicals: pesticides. Wash conventionally raised produce carefully, and minimize consumption of strawberries and tomatoes, since they have high concentrations of pesticides.

Make sure there's plenty of ventilation when you use household cleansers or insecticides, and step away frequently for some fresh air. Try to get pump sprays rather than aerosols, which diffuse more widely. Be sure not to mix chlorine and ammonia products, since they produce noxious fumes. By wearing rubber gloves, you'll prevent chemicals from slipping in through the skin of your hands. Maybe putting up with an oven that's getting a little gross is better than using an oven cleaner with a skull and crossbones on it. You can also replace most household cleansers or insecticides with equally effective - and probably healthier - natural products.

When you can, store food in glass containers, because plastics contain artificial chemicals that slowly leach into foods. And try not to microwave foods in plastic containers, even ones that are supposedly microwave safe: why take the extra risk when it's easy not to?

The quality of tap water in the United States varies, depending on the location, and impurities that have leached into wells or from old pipes can add further traces of chemicals to the water you and your children drink. So we suggest using a high-quality bottled water or water filters on a regular basis.

Air pollution can build up indoors, so open the windows each day, even for just a few minutes if it's nippy. You could also get more indoor plants, and consider buying an air filter or ozone machine.

Outside your home, try not to stand right next to the pump when you're putting gas in your car. We ask our dentists not to use amalgam for our fillings; even though the research on this potential hazard is still unclear, why put a substance that contains a toxic metal, mercury, inside your head when there's a good alternative? If you've got a job in a known toxic environment, see if there is any way possible to find other work or shift to a different department in the company.

Safer Household Products

  • For surface cleaning, try citrus-based products.
  • Deodorants, toothpaste, and cosmetics without artificial ingredients are available in health food stores and many drug stores.
  • Ant traps with boric acid can replace death-spray aerosols (but keep boric acid away from young children).
  • In the garden, lady bugs are natural predators of insect pests. You can also spray with a mixture of an insecticide soap and water.

From Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships by Rick Hansen, Jan Hansen, and Ricki Pollycove. Copyright © 2002 by Rick Hanson. Jan Hanson, and Ricki Pollycove. Used by arrangement with Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit amazon.


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