Facts On Carcinogens At Home

According to a National Academy of Sciences workshop, approximately 15 percent of the American population suffer from chemical sensitivity. Researchers have traced this increased sensitivity to the proliferation of synthetic chemicals in consumer products and furnishings.*

According to the EPA, indoor air pollution is one of the nation's most pressing personal health concerns. Peak concentrations of 20 toxic compounds - some linked with cancer and birth defects - were 200 to 500 times higher inside some homes than outdoors, according to a 5-year EPA study that surveyed 600 homes in six cities.*

Residues of more than 400 toxic chemicals - some found in household products and foods - have been identified in human blood and fat tissue.*

Symptoms such as runny nose, itchy eyes, a scratchy throat, headaches, fatigue, dizziness, skin rash, and respiratory infections are all common reactions to indoor air pollution. Left untreated, long-term exposure to indoor pollution can result in lung cancer, or damage to the liver, kidney and central nervous system. Young children are especially vulnerable to impaired lung function and respiratory infection.*

The risk for leukemia increases by four to seven times for children, ages 10 and under, whose parents use home or garden pesticides.*

The risk of childhood brain cancer is associated with the use of pesticide "bombs" in the home, pesticides to control termites, flea collars on pets, insecticides in the garden or orchard, and herbicides to control weeds in the yard, including exposure to two common pesticides available in garden shops - carbaryl and diazinon.*

In 1990, more than 4,000 toddlers under age four were admitted to hospital emergency rooms as a result of household cleaner-related injuries. That same year, 18,000 pesticide-related hospital emergency room admissions were reported with almost three-fourths for children age fourteen and under.*

Metylene chloride, the propellant used in many aerosol products, is carcinogenic. Some products containing methylene chloride have been pulled from the market, but the carcinogen continues to be found in many consumer products such as spray paint and stripper.*

Not a single cosmetic company warns consumers of the presence of carcinogens in its products - despite the fact that a number of common cosmetic ingredients are carcinogenic or carcinogenic precursors.*

Some experts estimate that 20 percent of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma cases among women are attributable to their use of hair dyes.

Safety Guidelines For Avoiding Carcinogens At home

  • Read all labels carefully before using products. Be aware of their uses and dangers.
  • Leave products in their original container with the label that clearly identifies the contents.
  • Never put household products in food or beverage containers.
  • Do not mix products unless the label directs you to do so. This can cause explosive or poisonous chemical reactions. Even different brands of the same product may contain incompatible ingredients.
  • Use only what is needed. Twice as much doesn't mean twice the results. Follow the label.
  • If pregnant, avoid toxic chemical exposure as much as possible. Many toxic products have not been fully tested for their effects on the unborn.
  • Use products in well-ventilated areas to avoid inhaling fumes. Open windows and use an exhaust fan, making sure air is exiting outside rather than being recirculated indoors. Take plenty of fresh air breaks. Be sure to use adequate skin, eye, and respirator protection.
  • Do not eat, drink, or smoke while using hazardous products. Traces of hazardous chemicals can be carried from hand to mouth. Smoking can start a fire if the products are flammable.
  • Clean up after using hazardous products. Carefully seal containers.


Cancer Prevention Coalition c/o School of Public Health
University of Illinois Medical Center
2121 West Taylor Street Chicago, IL 60612
(312) 996-2297, Fax: (312) 996-1374
Email: epstein@uic.edu

Recommended Reading:

Steinman, David and Samuel Epstein, MD, Safe Shopper's Bible, Macmillan Publishing Company, 1995.

Steinman, David, Diet for a Poisoned Planet, Ballantine Books, 1990, $12.50.

Berthold-Bond, Annie, Clean & Green, The Complete Guide to Non-toxic Housekeeping, Ceres Press, 1989, $8.95.

Dadd, Debra Lynn, The Nontoxic Home & Office, Jeremy Tarcher Press, 1992.

Harte, John, Cheryl Holdren, Richard Schneider and Christine Shirley, Toxics A to Z: A Guide to Everyday Pollution Hazards, University of California Press, 1991.

Needleman, Herbert and Philip Landrigan, Raising Children Toxic Free: How to keep Your Child Safe from lead, Asbestos, Pesticides and Other Environmental Hazards, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1994.