3 Ways to Protect Yourself Against Harmful Chemical Substances

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by | Updated: September 26th, 2018 | Read time: 5 minutes

Over the last few years, various industries have witnessed the rise of the health-conscious consumer. According to an article from Forbes, health and wellness “no longer refers simply to a lack of illness and disease, but to a more holistic state of being, where one’s mental, physical and emotional health are in sync.”

Yellow-Gloved Hand Painting Wall With Roller to Represent Hazardous Chemicals Being Avoided in Home Decorating | Vitacost.com/blog

This interest in healthy living reveals that people are thinking about their health more consistently and in a variety of ways. While it is important to maintain a healthy diet, exercise more often and develop a plan to manage stress, it is also important to consider how certain activities, products, and environments impact individual health. Often, this means avoiding unhealthy foods, additives and harmful chemicals.

One chemical substance that has been prominent in the news recently is asbestos, a toxic fibrous material that poses serious health risks. Just this summer, the dangers of asbestos have been underscored by events like a pipe burst in New York City and the identification of asbestos in crayons. This is disconcerting because the toxic substance can lead to a variety of asbestos-related diseases, including a life-threatening form of cancer called mesothelioma. Because only 3,000 cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed each year, many people do not know about this preventable disease or its causes.

Mesothelioma Awareness Day, which takes place every year on September 26, serves as an occasion to raise awareness about the disease and its link to asbestos exposure. In recognition of Mesothelioma Awareness Day, here’s information about how certain chemical substances could threaten your health, as well as tips for staying healthy.

1. Understand asbestos risks associated with DIY projects and home renovations

Asbestos is currently the only known cause of mesothelioma. In the past, asbestos exposure was closely tied to male-dominated occupations in industrial settings. Historical uses of the substance coupled with the disease’s long latency period have resulted in mesothelioma being seen as a disease that only affects older men. While mesothelioma does impact older men more than any other demographic, they are certainly not the only population at risk. A “third wave” of asbestos exposure is a topic researchers and healthcare professionals have been discussing in recent decades. In this scenario, concern comes from asbestos that is already in place in homes, pipes and even contaminated products, which means groups not typically at risk for exposure could be in danger.

A boom in home renovations over the last few years illustrates the importance of knowing where asbestos could be present in a home and how damaging structures that contain asbestos could endanger individuals and families. According to an article from The New York Post, “Fifty-five percent of homeowners tend to try to tackle a job themselves first rather than call a professional.” While taking on these projects might give homeowners more control over renovations and could help them save some money, it is possible that older homes built before the 1980s could contain asbestos.

If you think you may have asbestos in your home, you should leave it in place and undisturbed if possible. Though asbestos is not a problem when it is left undisturbed, if products or structures that contain asbestos are broken or moved, microscopic fibers can be released into the air. If these fibers are inhaled or ingested, they can get stuck in the lining of the lungs, heart, or abdomen. In time, these fibers can become irritated, leading to the the growth of malignant mesothelioma tumors. If you know that your renovation will require moving or damaging a structure that contains asbestos, make sure you call an accredited asbestos professional to assess the situation and safely contain and remove the substance.

2. Avoid deodorants that contain aluminum

While there is no definitive research that links deodorants that contain aluminum with breast cancer, researchers have studied the connection between aluminum and activity in breast tissue. According to the National Cancer Institute, “Some research suggests that aluminum-containing underarm antiperspirants, which are applied frequently and left on the skin near the breast, may be absorbed by the skin and have estrogen-like (hormonal) effects. Because estrogen can promote the growth of breast cancer cells, some scientists have suggested that the aluminum-based compounds in antiperspirants may contribute to the development of breast cancer.”

Though connections are not concrete, switching out an aluminum-containing deodorant for one that does not contain the substance appears to be more than worthwhile as it is expected that over 300,000 women will be diagnosed with invasive or non-invasive breast cancer in 2018 alone. Many natural deodorants can be just as effective as ones that contain aluminum without presenting the same health risks.

3. Check products for parabens and phthalates

Parabens have been used in products since the 1950s in an attempt to extend shelf life and prevent bacteria growth. Phthalates can act as binding and dissolving agents and also make plastics flexible and more difficult to break. Americans are regularly exposed to these chemicals, as they can be present in items like soap, shampoo, shaving cream, and certain containers, but it is unclear at what level of exposure these chemicals have detrimental health effects. However, according to a report in The Washington Post, it is clear that phthalates and parabens act on estrogen pathways, which has caused scientists to continue to study the chemicals’ possible links to conditions like “miscarriage, premature birth, birth defects, deficient sperm, obesity, metabolic disease, bone density and breast cancer.”

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to identify parabens and phthalates in a product because they can appear with a variety of names and prefixes. The best way to avoid these chemicals is to choose natural personal care products labeled phthalate free or paraben free when possible. 

The first step to living well is committing to knowing what chemicals and substances could be affecting your health every day. Whether it’s a potential threat in your home or in the products you use, it’s important to be aware of what elements might present a risk. Once you’ve uncovered this, it becomes easier to find ways to manage these risk factors, which gives you more choice in discovering how to live well!