Many household products you use every day contain potentially harmful chemicals. Learn about alternatives that will keep you and your family safe and healthy.
Ah, the mixed blessings of modern living. It's ironic that many of the very same space-age inventions that were designed to make our everyday lives better—easier, cleaner and more effortless—have turned out not to be so good for us. Should you be alarmed? Well, yes and no.
Yes, since many of these things are familiar items that you may have used in the last 24 hours. No, because for the most part, the hazards associated with them are detectable, but small. And fortunately, there are plenty of alternatives on the market that you can substitute, and you'll only give up a little (if any) convenience in the process.
The plastics additive BPA (bisphenol-A), once one of the most common chemicals in the average North American kitchen and widely used in the manufacture of food and drink containers, was recently discovered to be a potential cause of a whole host of truly frightening disorders, ranging from neural and behavioural effects to early-onset puberty and even some cancers.
BPA-free: Many manufacturers have voluntarily switched to BPA-free containers, but it hasn't been banned in Canada yet, and is still used, for example, to line cans filled with acidic foods such as tomatoes. If possible, switch to brands that come in glass or BPA-free plastic containers, and stop buying brands in BPA-lined cans (cans with white coating on the inside). Write to the manufacturer and ask them when they plan to stop using this material in their packaging.
But even BPA-free plastics are not harmless; they have been shown to leach tiny but measurable amounts of chemicals into food as well. For that reason, it's time to get plastic out of the kitchen as much as possible. Don't use plastic cooking utensils (though silicone is fine), avoid microwaving food in plastic containers (even if they're "microwave-safe") and store foods in glass jars, 304-grade stainless steel or food-grade silicone containers.
Plastic alternative: Melamine dishes are made by combining melamine (which is actually a chemical) with formaldehyde to make the familiar hard plastic dishes of many a summer picnic, and has been shown to leach both these hazardous chemicals into food. Switch to paper plates or bring china to your next picnic; it's more elegant, anyway.
Some of the most popular non-stick coatings are being called into question as possible carcinogens, and they also can leach into food, especially if the surface is scratched or overheated. Use cooking spray, oil or butter to keep foods from sticking and avoid overheating the pan.
Aluminum from untreated cookware has been linked to several neural disorders including, most notoriously (and controversially), Alzheimer's. Most major manufacturers now sell only anodized aluminum, an electrochemical process that seals the surface, makes it more durable and scratch-resistant, and virtually eliminates leaching. However, pots that are scratched deeply enough to penetrate the anodized surface should be discarded.
High-quality stainless steel, when deeply scratched and pitted, will leach too; but the base metals in its composition, nickel and chromium, are proven safe (unless you have a sensitivity). And residues from iron and copper pots have the advantage of actually being good for you. Other safe alternatives are glass, ceramic or ceramic-coated cookware.
Some of the most effective household cleaners you can buy are actually potent, and in some cases potentially lethal, chemicals. Especially if you have children or pets, why keep this stuff in your house? You can make safe and effective homemade versions of many cleaners (just surf the web for a wealth of recipes and tips), or at least look for non-toxic, environmentally sound alternatives (read the label to see what it has in it, since "environmentally friendly" is not a legally regulated term).
Canada is blessed with some of the safest, most carefully maintained municipal water supplies in the world, but even tap water contains chemicals you don't need, most notably chlorine. While the good far outweighs the bad with this water-purifying chemical, by the time it reaches your drinking glass, its job is done. A quality household filter system, or even a trusty Brita filter jug, will remove chlorine and most other impurities safely and easily.