Toxic Shockers

Five surprising ways your body is under attack— and how to fight back.

Toxic Shockers
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You probably didn’t count on this hidden cost on your shopping bill: In July 2010, laboratory tests commissioned by the EWG found high levels of BPA on 40 percent of thermal paper receipts (the kind that change color when you scratch them) sampled from major U.S. businesses and services. In some cases, the amount of BPA measured was as much as 1,000 times greater than that found in common sources of BPA, such as canned foods and infant formula. Although most research has focused on BPA levels from ingested sources, a study published in July 2011 found that BPA transfers readily from receipts and can penetrate the skin to such a depth that it can’t be washed off. Obviously this poses problems for shoppers, but it’s even more of a risk for the 7.6 million people who work as retail salespeople and cashiers—the occupations with the highest employment, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. “A typical employee running a register could handle hundreds of contaminated receipts in a single day,” notes Houlihan.

Smart solutions Fortunately many retailers use receipt paper without BPA, and the EWG has called on the companies whose receipts tested positive for BPA to change to BPA-free receipt paper. Until that happens, be sure to wear gloves if your job requires you to handle thermal paper frequently, only take receipts when you need them (some stores now offer to email them to you) and scrub your hands well after contact with the thermal ones.

You know that many automobiles are bad for the environment, but they can be just as hazardous to your health when you’re sitting inside of them—and the stronger that “new car smell,” the worse off you could be. According to research from the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Ecology Center, the average American spends more than 1 1⁄2 hours in a car daily, breathing in chemicals including hazardous flame retardants, plasticizers, lead and heavy metals that off-gas from such interior parts as the armrests, dashboard, seats and steering wheel. The health problems that have been associated with these chemicals include allergies, birth defects, impaired learning, liver toxicity and cancer. “Since these chemicals are not regulated, consumers have no way of knowing the dangers they face,” says Jeff Gearhart, the Ecology Center’s research director. The good news is that many automobile manufacturers are taking steps to make their interiors safer; 17 percent of new vehicles now have interiors free of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and 60 percent are produced without brominated flame retardants, according to the Ecology Center.

Smart solutions Vacuum the interior of your vehicle regularly to reduce toxic dust, and open windows and/ or doors for five minutes before getting into your vehicle, Gearhart advises. Then, while driving, keep windows closed to prevent exposure to engine and roadway pollutants and crank the A/C (sans outside air intake). “Using recirculation ventilation settings can reduce levels of interior chemicals by up to 2 1⁄2 times,” Gearhart explains. “Higher fan settings reduce levels more quickly.” There’s another reason to keep your car interior cool, too: “High levels of ultraviolet rays and heat can cause chemicals to break down into more hazardous chemicals,” Gearhart says. So park in shaded areas or garages whenever possible and use sunscreens to help deflect the rays and reduce interior temps. If you’re in the market for a new car, check out the Ecology Center’s consumer guide to toxic chemicals in cars at healthystuff .org. Topping the list of safest picks in 2012: The Honda Civic, Toyota Prius and Honda CR-Z.