Many people have swapped plastic containers for glass and harsh cleaners for old-fashioned vinegar over concerns about chemicals lurking in the home. According to bioengineer Dave Wentz, who co-authored The Healthy Home with his father, microbiologist Myron Wentz, you may be at the mercy of other hazards hiding in plain sight - some from the products that are supposed to keep you or your home green, clean and healthy.
"Dry-cleaned clothes are washed in a chemical called perc [perchloroethylene]note/>," Mr. Wentz says. "It does a good job of removing the dirt and grime, but it's left in the clothing as a residue. It's known to be toxic, and off-gasses, becoming a vapour in the air that you breathe."
Green dry cleaners use perc-free methods to get your clothes clean, such as washing with liquid carbon dioxide. Alternatively, Mr. Wentz suggests airing your clothes in the garage. "A few days will get the majority of the gasses out before you put it in the closet in your bedroom, where you spend about a third of your life."
CFL light bulbs
While more environmentally friendly, those compact fluorescent bulbs that reduce your energy usage contain small amounts of mercury. If they are broken, mercury vapour may be released into the air, posing a risk to the fatty tissues in the brain, Mr. Wentz says.
"If you break a CFL bulb in your home, there are specific instructions from manufacturers and governments on what to do," he warns. "The first one is to evacuate the room [for at least 10 minutes] The second is to open a window, then turn off the heat and AC. Don't use a vacuum to clean it up. Put it in a secure container and dispose of the cleanup materials as well."
Your bathroom provides a warm, damp environment that encourages bacteria to grow, so manufacturers add paraben, a preservative, to personal-care products such as shampoos, moisturizers and toothpaste to stave off mould and fungus. "Governments have a maximum safe level of how much of this toxic stuff you can put into each lotion and potion, but they don't recognize that people use 10, 15, sometimes even 20 products," Mr. Wentz says, adding that the most worrying are those left on the skin, such as moisturizers. "People have to realize that skin is not a barrier, which has been proven over and over again with things like the nicotine patch."
There are many paraben-free options available, although their shelf life may be months rather than years.
Mr. Wentz points out that non-stick cookware is coated with fluoropolymers to make it so hard that food slides off with less grease. "The pans are safe until they're heated, ironically," he says. "As they get hot, they release some of their fluorine gas."
How much heat will cause the coating to break down and release toxic gases and particles is a subject of debate. (Dupont, which manufactures Teflon pans, suggests a maximum of 260C or 500F.) Mr. Wentz recommends simply forgoing non-stick for a safer option such as cast iron.
And don't do this … Put a Styrofoam container in the microwave. Chemicals may leach into your food.