By Ruth Winter, MS
An epidemic of thyroid disease among pet cats may be caused by toxic flame retardants that were widely found in household dust and some pet food, government scientists reported recently.
The often-lethal disease was rare in cats until the 1980s when it became widespread, especially in California Cats. That was at the same time industry stated using large volumes of brominated flame retardants in consumer products, including furniture cushions, electronics, mattresses and carpet padding.
One of our beloved cats died of kidney failure not long after we had the carpets professionally cleaned years ago. We suspected it was the cleaner used but couldn’t prove it. Never-the-less, we haven’t had the carpets cleaned again without using non-toxic, allergenic products.
Since then, I have researched the common chemical products used in the home, yard, and office. I gathered is common chemicals in my book, A Consumer’s Dictionary of Household, Yard and Office Chemicals. There are 82,000 chemicals in use in the United States and more than 700 new ones are introduced into commerce each year.
Why worry? The cats may be like the miner’s canaries—warning us of dangers around us. Budget cuts for government agencies and increasing pressure from industrial lobbyists have allowed products to enter or remain on the market that contain substances know to cause liver, kidney, centralnervous system damage, birth defects and many other health ailments. Your knowledge, therefore, is your vital safeguard today.
Take a look around your home, yard, or office. Many of those innocent-looking, brightly packaged products you purchased at the supermarket, hardware, or office supply store and use so casually may cause eye, nose, and throat irritation, nausea, dizziness, loss of coordination or headaches. Some products have also been associated with heart and lung damage.
Check around your living and working areas. Do you have a product containing methylene chloride? It is widely used as a solvent, de-greaser, and paint and varnish thinner. It is in pesticide aerosols, refrigeration and air-conditioning equipment, in cleansing creams, and in paint and varnish removers. Some paint strippers, as a matter of fact, are 80 percent methylene chloride. You may be more cautious about using products containing the chemical after you read the reported health effects under the listing for it in this book. They include liver, kidney, and central nervous system damage; it increases the carbon monoxide level in the blood and people with angina (chest pains) are extremely sensitive to the chemical; methylene chloride has been linked to heart attacks and cancer.
Do you have oven cleaners in your cleaning-supply closet? Many spray types are highly irritating to the skin and lungs, particularly those with methylene chloride, sodium and potassium hydroxide (lye), and petroleum distillates.
What about your carpets and cabinets? Detergent and pesticide residues can accumulate on carpeting and vaporize, causing respiratory symptoms.
Have you sprayed your pet with a product containing DDVP or hung a flea collar with it around your pet’s neck? A study performed by the national Toxicology Program of the Department of Health and Human Services revealed a significant leukemia hazard from this common household pesticide widely used in pet, house, and yard aerosol products since the 1950s, and the EPA reported the cancer risk for applying DDVP sprays ranged from one in a hundred to one in a hundred thousand. The generally accepted “significant” threshold is one cancer incidence in one million persons. The EPA, as this is being written, is moving to have DDVP banned as a pesticide for food packaging because it was found in animal tests to cause “more than a negligible risk.” It may take years to get it off the market as a food package pesticide, but what about the hundreds of other products that still contain DDVP? The EPA conducted a major study of nonoccupational exposure to pesticides and found indoor exposure to pesticides is widespread, with as many as ten different pesticides being detected in a single home.
We live in a sea of chemicals. In fact, our bodies are made of chemicals and we eat, breathe and slather chemicals on ourselves but how much do we really know about the chemicals in us, on us and around us? Surprisingly little.
Companies are not required by the US Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to test new chemicals before they are submitted for the EPA’s review, and they generally do not voluntarily perform such testing. Because chemical companies claim data about their products are confidential business information, government agencies face challenges in obtaining the information necessary to assess chemical risks to the public. US Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) introduced legislation coauthored with Senator James Jeffords (I-VT) in July 2005 to force chemical manufacturers to provide health and safety information on chemicals used in consumer products instead of presuming a substance is safe until proven dangerous.
“Every day, Americans use household products that contain hundreds of chemicals,” says Senator Lautenberg. “Most people assume that those chemicals have been proven safe for their families and children. Unfortunately, that assumption is wrong.”
Lautenberg says there are no laws that require analysis for the chemicals used in baby bottles, water bottles, food packages and thousands of other products. This is inexcusable.”
It is really up to us. As consumers, we have to educate ourselves and use the chemicals in our homes, yards and offices with awareness of potential health effects and to substitute products that may be less hazardous.