Every day, knowingly or not, we’re exposed to harmful chemicals. At last month’s Norwex® Leadership Conference, I again spoke about these chemicals’ risk to our health and our planet and provided some of the latest research. Now I’d like to share some of that information with you. Below is the first of a two-part series featuring highlights from my presentation.
A truly powerful mission statement should achieve three goals: define a company’s purpose, articulate its strategic goals and motivate its workforce. For 28 years, our Norwex message has never wavered. Every effort, every innovation, shares a common goal: to keep our families and our environment safer.
Our Global Mission—to improve quality of life by radically reducing chemicals in our homes—has far-reaching ramifications, both today and for future generations.
Yet almost weekly, we see research indicating that many of the chemicals created to “improve” or “simplify” our lives can actually jeopardize our health and longevity. In fact, many of the labels on conventional household products completely ignore the potentially dangerous substances inside them. Should we be concerned? Unfortunately, the answer is yes.
As we’ve discussed before, “Body Burden” is a term used to describe the total amount, or burden, of harmful chemicals present in the body. Whether we inhale them, swallow them or absorb them through the skin, it’s like a chemical soup made from ingredients we breathe, eat and touch. Plus, there’s no clean slate. Even before birth, up to 232 chemicals can be found in infant cord blood.
It only increases from there. Throughout our lives, more than 1,400 chemicals and chemical groups can invade our bodies. The most unsettling part? They’re substances we’re exposed to on a daily basis.
The good news is any opportunity to reduce our exposure to harmful chemicals of any kind can have real health benefits. Read on for a closer look at some of the most critical challenges.
Challenge #1: Combinations of chemicals can have a detrimental effect on our health.
As important as it is to understand the impact individual chemicals have on our bodies, we must also be aware of what happens when these substances interact with one another.
The Halifax Project, a group of more than 300 cancer researchers from 31 countries, conducted research focusing on the possibility that complex mixtures of commonly encountered chemicals might be contributing to high incidences of cancer. Results showed that, while low-level exposure to the chemicals by themselves may not cause cancer, certain combinations of them could, highlighting again why it’s important to reduce exposure to harmful chemicals as much as possible.
Challenge #2: DDT
What it is: A chemical compound originally developed as an insecticide in the 1940s. In 1972, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a ban on DDT based on its adverse environmental effects and potential human health risks.
Much of the credit for the ban goes to marine scientist Rachel Carson. Her book, The Silent Spring, published in 1962, directly linked the declining songbird population to DDT found in insecticides and pesticides. While controversial at the time, Carson’s Congressional testimony actually triggered the creation of the EPA.
What we know: Because of its persistence in the environment, there is still concern over DDT’s long-term effects. Along with accumulating in fatty tissues, it has the ability to travel long distances in the upper atmosphere.
Why DDT continues to be a concern: New research shows DDT-related health problems have persisted across at least three generations, affecting even the granddaughters of women exposed to the chemical in the 1960s. And as recently as last year, the Los Angeles Times reported that decades ago DDT manufacturers sunk leaking barrels into the ocean off the California coast, contaminating fish and other sea life.
There’s more. DDT is still used in some malaria-ravaged countries. Plus, 50 years after being banned in the U.S., there are still toxic levels of DDT in the environment, including some Canadian lakes.
Challenge #3: PFAS
What they are: A group of “forever” chemicals used to make stain-resistant fabrics and carpets, water-repellant clothing, nonstick cookware and hundreds of other common products including artificial turf. They’re called “forever chemicals” because they don’t easily or quickly break down in the environment or in our bodies.
What we know: Compounds can seep into water from both factories and landfills. And because of their widespread use and persistence, PFAS are found in not only our water (probably the most significant source for the largest number of us), but also our food products, air and soil.
Why PFAS continue to be a concern: Researchers have found a probable link between low-level exposure to certain types of PFAS and health problems including cancer, hormone disruption, liver damage, developmental harm and immune system toxicity. Studies also show that climate change is potentially impacting the toxicity of existing chemical pollutants. For example, as temperatures and glacial melt increase, the forever chemicals that were previously locked within the glacier are once again being released into the water.
Fortunately, informed actions are helping to clean up some of our planet’s chemical burden, especially when it comes to our drinking water.
- In October 2021, the EPA released a strategic roadmap to accelerate efforts to establish national drinking water standards for the two most notorious types of PFAS—PFOA and PFOS—by 2023. Time is of the essence. Environmental Working Group research uncovered 22 cancer-linked contaminants in tap water that could result in more than 100,000 cancer cases annually in the U.S. alone.
- In March 2019, Health Canada set a new guideline for the maximum acceptable concentration of lead in drinking water, at half the previous amount.
- Trichloroethylene—a chemical compound linked to a variety of cancers, fetal heart defects and Parkinson’s—is banned in Europe and has not been manufactured in Canada since 2003. Yet there’s work to be done. TCE, also known as “PERC,” is still present in about 30% of U.S. groundwater along with being used in industrial degreasing, dry cleaning and even such household products as cleaning wipes, lubricants and stain removers.
We must also take personal action—you can make a big difference with just a few changes.
- Water purification systems can remove a variety of impurities. Consumers can check a robust database of water quality measurements and source rankings for more information about what’s coming out of their taps and take action to make their water healthier.
- Our own Norwex Water Filtration System helps reduce a variety of impurities in cooking and drinking water, including chlorine, copper, cadmium, mercury and lead as well as sediments, heavy metals, pesticides and herbicides. It also helps reduce the estimated 9 million tons of discarded plastic that flows into the world’s oceans every year.
- Consider replacing any nonstick cookware that may contain PFAS and try to choose products and services (like dry cleaners) who refuse to use trichloroethylene.
In part two next week, we’ll look at some more chemicals that pose potential health risks plus more practical, easy-to-implement ways each of us can reduce these chemicals in our homes.
Our Mission remains more relevant and important than ever. In the words of naturalist Jane Goodall: “What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”