Staying safe around everyday chemicals
The chemicals that surround people every day may be harmful, but there are steps people can take to mitigate the danger.
This story was originally covered by PRI's The Takeaway. For more, listen to the audio above.
Chemicals used in commonplace products, from canned foods to baby bottles, may be more dangerous than we know. A recent report by President Obama's Cancer Panel (pdf) reported, "With nearly 80,000 chemicals on the market in the United States, many of which are used by millions of Americans in their daily lives and are un- or understudied and largely unregulated, exposure to potential environmental carcinogens is widespread."
One problem is the massive amount of conflicting information that exists surrounding chemicals. Pesticides, for example, may be widely used in agriculture before people know the full effect of the chemicals on communities. Jerome Groopman, professor at Harvard Medical School, told PRI's The Takeaway,"
The time span to really accurately pinpoint how these chemicals could affect us could be 20 years or could be 2 generations, and so decisions are going to have to be made without the full data in hand.
One prime suspect in the battle against carcinogens and harmful chemicals is BPA. Many states have considered banning BPA, but it can still be found in many plastics and even on the inside of many canned foods. BPA researcher Laura Vandenberg of Tufts University, told PRI's Here and Now that "BPA is used in so many consumer products, there are studies showing that it's in the air that you and I are breathing right now, in both indoor and outdoor dust, and in water."
And though there is conflicting evidence, according to Vandenberg, "there is sufficient evidence that humans could be harmed by current exposure levels."
The current laws surrounding safe levels of chemicals like BPA are woefully out of date, according to Vandenberg. She believes that consumers need to step up and pressure companies into offering more BPA-free options. She says, "We can't shop our way out of the problem."
Those laws should focus on the most vulnerable populations, according to Groopman, who believes that people should try their best to keep chemicals away from pregnant women and children. Those groups may be most adversely affected by exposure to BPA.
At the same time, there are steps that consumers can take to cut down their exposure to BPA, according to health correspondent Kate Dailey on The Takeaway. Consumers should gravitate toward fresh food, rather than the more processed options. Dailey says:
The same rules for healthy eating often apply to limiting your exposure to these chemicals. There's an old rule that nutritionist use... when you're in the grocery store and you're deciding between two products to buy, look on the back panel. Read the nutritional ingredients. And the fewer words that you can't pronounce, the better.
"The Takeaway" is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what's ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH. More at thetakeaway.org