Four Lesser Known Sources of Toxins and What to Do About Them

The dangers of environmental toxins continue to grab mainstream media attention, and many of us have done a pretty good job of reducing our exposure—ditching our air fresheners, choosing mineral sunscreens, and perhaps even trading in our memory foam mattresses.

For those of you who would like to take it a step further, and root out even more sources of chemical exposure, here are four places that you might be surprised to learn contain a heavy dose of toxins.

1. Your “Wooden” Furniture

Bed frames, bookshelves, coffee tables: much of the furniture in your home probably contains composite wood, which is simply wood shavings glued together to resemble a piece of solid wood.

The trouble with this type of “wood” is that the glue used in its production releases VOCs, the worst of which is formaldehyde (a known carcinogen).

How to detox: Ideally, all the furniture in your home would be made of 100% solid wood, which means avoiding all of the following: plywood, particle board, pressed wood, compressed wood, and medium density fiberboard (MDF).

If you already have compressed wood items in your home (and really, who doesn’t?), your best bet is to clean up the indoor air quality in other ways.

Loading up on houseplants and charcoal air purifiers, combined with opening windows and vacuuming as much as possible, will go a long way towards reducing the VOCs from the glue in your furniture. Wool absorbs and traps VOCs, so natural wool rugs around your home can further clean the air.

2. Coffee

Whether you’re brewing it at home or getting it at Starbucks, coffee is a huge source of chemical exposure for most of us. Home coffee makers are treated with flame retardant chemicals (neurotoxins), and if you use a single serve coffee maker, heating up the plastic pod means the leaching of hormone disrupting chemicals into your morning brew.

Coffee has been found to contain high levels of BPA, thanks to contact with plastic throughout the production process (from grinding to brewing), and with heat exacerbating the leaching.

When you put your coffee in a to-go cup, you usually sip it out of a plastic lid with a #7 recycling code (which indicates the presence phthalates).

All told, finding out what’s in your morning coffee is a huge buzz kill!

How to detox: Green and white tea are much healthier ways to get your caffeine fix, but this switch probably isn’t going to happen for most of us. Instead, consider brewing your own java in in a French press or stainless steel moka pot, and drinking it from a ceramic mug or stainless steel to-go cup. When buying coffee, choose locally roasted brews from small coffee shops that grind their own beans.

3. BPA-free Plastic

Baby bottles and sippy cups are now all free of BPA, a plasticizer linked with hormone disruption and cancer. This sounds like a victory, but many manufacturers have simply swapped BPA for BPS, and as you can guess from the names, these two compounds are pretty similar.

At first, it seemed that BPS had less tendency to leach from plastic, but it turns out it’s actually more dangerous than BPA, in part because BPS shows a relative inability to biodegrade; once it’s in your body, it takes longer to get rid of. (Learn more about BPA and BPS—and their link to autism–here.)

How to detox: I advise all my clients to ditch the plastic bottles, sippy cups, plates, and utensils their kids are using. Fortunately, there are great options for stainless steel and glass sippy cups and baby bottles—both of these materials are non-leaching and safe. For plates and utensils, I like wood, enamel, or stainless steel.

Your next priority should be switching to glass food storage containers. And of course, you should never heat plastic in the microwave.

Bottom line: The less plastic–even BPA-free plastic–that comes in contact with your food, the better!

4. The Filtered Water in Your Fridge

If the water coming out of your faucet tastes vaguely like a swimming pool, then a pitcher filter will likely eliminate the smell and taste of chlorine. Unfortunately, these types of filtration systems don’t do much beyond improving the taste and appearance of your water.

Moreover, chlorine isn’t where toxins end when it comes most tap water. We’ve also got to worry about trace pharmaceuticals, pesticides, heavy metals, and of course the ever-controversial fluoride, which has been shown to reduce IQ by as many as seven points.

Another issue with pitcher-style filters is that your water sits in plastic for hours before you drink it. Some pitchers contain styrene-based plastic, which is implicated in lymphoma and leukemia

How to detox: A more robust carbon-block water filtration system will deal with chlorine, chloramines, heavy metals, hydrogen sulfide, VOCs, pharmaceutical products, and a bunch of other chemicals you haven’t heard of–usually at the cost of a few hundred dollars and with relatively simple installation. I opt to filter out fluoride as well with this three-stage filter.

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