PREVENTION: PBDEs & PFCs

Here are some ways to avoid PBDEs and PFCs that persist in air, water, food and consumer products we encounter everyday.

To learn more about how toxic chemicals affect us:

Ways to Reduce and Avoid PBDEs and PFCs

1. Filter Your Water. A simple water filter can capture a lot of pollutants. Some cities' water supplies can contain trace amounts of arsenic, lead, perchlorate and/or atrazine, a pesticide that may cause cardiovascular and reproductive problems, and possibly cancer. (Though the Environmental Protection Agency has concluded that atrazine is not likely to cause cancer in humans, it is awaiting the results of further studies.) Traces of atrazine in drinking water are most likely to be found in areas of heavy agricultural production like the Midwest and Southeast. (To find out how safe your city's water is, get a copy of your local water-utility report at the EPA's water-safety site.)

2. Know What ' s in Your Grooming Products. Shampoos, lotions and makeup can contain a number of toxins like parabens and phthalates, which have been identified as hormone disruptors and may be linked to certain cancers. When shopping for cosmetics and personal-care products, read the ingredients labels—avoid anything that includes the words "paraben" (often used as a suffix, as in methylparaben) or "phthalate" (listed as dibutyl and diethylhexyl or just "fragrance"). If there isn't an ingredients list, log on to cosmeticsdatabase.com, a Web site devised by the Environmental Working Group (ewg.org) that identifies the toxic ingredients of thousands of personal-care products.

3. Don ' t Eat Microwave Popcorn. The inside of a microwave popcorn bag is usually coated with a perfluorinated chemical (PFC) called a fluorotelomer that can break down to form perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). Designed to prevent oil from seeping through the bag, PFOA can migrate into the food when heated. It has been linked to cancer and birth defects in animals and preliminary epidemiological studies suggest that a pregnant woman's exposure to PFOA may reduce her baby's birth weight. Moreover, the EPA's scientific advisory board has recommended that the chemical be listed as a likely human carcinogen. The good news is that the EPA has asked manufacturers to work toward eliminating PFOA from their products by 2015. While it's unknown what level of exposure from popcorn bags is harmful, Baker says that consumers should be aware that any exposure could result in very long lasting presence of the chemical in your body. Some perfluorinated compounds are extremely persistent and never break down in the environment, she explains.

4. Don ' t Get Stain-Protection Treatment. This is an extra you can add to new furniture, shoes or clothes, but Baker says you should avoid this option because these treatments usually contain perfluorinated chemicals. "If you use this on new furniture, it's going to be in your home; you're going to breathe it," she says. Baker also recommends avoiding pots and pans that have a nonstick coating. While nonstick materials are not made of perfluorinated chemicals, the substance is often used in their production. If the pan gets scratched or worn, the chemicals can be released into the air, says Baker.

5. Limit Use of Canned Food and Plastic Containers. Baker recommends reducing your intake of canned foods. Most canned goods are coated with a resin lining derived from Bisphenol-A (BPA), which recently made headlines because of its presence in the plastic used in some baby bottles. A component of polycarbonate plastic, BPA may be linked to certain cancers, fertility and behavioral problems in children. The risk is especially great when exposed in the womb; women who are pregnant or are thinking of becoming pregnant and young children should be especially careful of their canned-food intake.

6. Use PBDE-Free Electronics. Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDE) are a family of flame retardants; two types of the chemical were once added to furniture, car upholstery and mattresses, but were voluntarily taken off the market by manufacturers after concerns were raised about their toxicity. Another kind of PBDE remains on the market however, and according to Baker, "it is equally as problematic as the one voluntarily removed from the market." The chemical, most commonly found in TVs and computer monitors, is stirred into the equipment's plastic and can heat up over time, causing the material to break away and settle into the dust. Many manufactures have stopped using PBDEs for electronics, but not all have. Check with the manufacturer to determine if your goods contain PBDE. You can find a list of PBDE-free products at the Environmental Working Group's Web site.

RESEARCH

Research brief and references to papers, studies and findings. Links to EPH, etc.