It’s very well known that certain lifestyle behaviors like smoking, excessive alcohol use, and tanning bed exposure can put you at higher risk for developing cancer. However, you would hardly think that some of the products that you use everyday or that are lying around your house could place you at the same risk, but some happen to contain well-known or unnoticeable ingredients that are in fact human carcinogens.
Cancer is caused by changes in cell DNA. Some changes may be passed down from our parents in the form of genetic defects, while others could be caused by environmental factors. The substances, situations, and exposures that can lead to cancer are called carcinogens, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). While some carcinogens don’t affect your DNA directly, they can lead to cancer in other ways. For instance, they can cause cells to divide at a rate faster than normal, which could in turn increase the chances of changes in your DNA.
That being said, the ACS says exposure to substances that are labeled as carcinogens have “different levels of cancer-causing potential,” but not in every case, as some may cause cancer only after prolonged exposure to the substance at very high levels. Generally speaking, your risk of developing cancer depends upon several factors: your genetic makeup, how long you were exposed to the substance, and the length and intensity of the exposure.
Your home is a place where you should feel safe from the dangers of the world, it shouldn’t be a place where you could think you’re being exposed to any kind of lethal substances or ingredients in products you use everyday. Here are three household items that contain known carcinogens, so get rid of them now.
1. Air fresheners.
When your house or apartment has a rancid odor or it just needs a little pick-me-up to get rid of musty air, more than likely you grab the air freshener. While they’re a staple in many American households, conventional air fresheners are a hotbed of poisonous substances that can leave you or a loved one in your house very ill, and can also cause reproductive problems or even birth defects. Tests conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found that most air fresheners contain phthalates, which can interfere with male hormone production of testosterone. NRDC tested 14 common air fresheners that did not list phthalates as an ingredient, finding that these chemicals were present in 86% of the products tested, including those labeled as “all natural” or “unscented.” Most air fresheners are also loaded with other cancer-causing volatile organic compounds as well, which interfere with reproduction, respiration, and cellular regeneration. A 2008 study published in the journal Environmental Impact Assessment Review, conducted by Anne Steinemann at the University of Washington found nearly all the air fresheners tested emitted chemicals known to be carcinogenic.
2. Cleaning products.
Products that are keeping your house clean can also contain not only carcinogens, but also other poisons and asthma instigators. The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit organization focused on the environment and public health, compiled a Cleaners Hall of Shame list with the worst household cleaning offenders. They most recently updated their guide in April 2016 and it now includes more than 2,500 products. Nearly three-quarters of the samples tested contained ingredients that can be detrimental to respiratory health and more than one-quarter included ingredients that may lead to cancer. Perhaps most concerning, though, is that about half of all products scored low in regards to ingredient disclosure. The organization warns consumers to keep an eye out for products labeled as “green” or any other eco-friendly products as they can be very misleading and in fact contain harmful ingredients. It’s not all bad news, though. EWG also maintains a list of products they recommend.
3. Dryer sheets
There are few scents as comforting or as addictive as warm laundry being pulled from the dryer, thanks to the olfactory magic of fabric-softener sheets. They’re simple enough products, made of what seems like nothing more than thin polyester sheets coated with chemicals to soften fabric fibers, that give your clothes that irresistible scent. However, the fragrance found in such brands as Downy and Bounce might pose health risks, as toxins can permeate those sheets and transfer to your clothes and skin. It is also released into the air from dryer vent emissions, which are not regulated. A study published in the August 2011 issue of the journal Air Quality, Atmosphere and Health indicates scented laundry items can contain numerous carcinogens, including acetaldehyde and benzene. That said, it’s best to skip the dryer sheets altogether. If you’re itching for a healthier, less toxic alternative, Seventh Generation makes dryer sheets out of chlorine-free recyclable paper, instead of polyester. Additionally, the company discloses all of the ingredients of their sheets, which includes a plant-derived softening agent, also containing no fragrances or masking agents.