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Should you be worried about household chemicals

A number of potentially dangerous chemicals may be residing around and under your kitchen sink, with the average household likely to contain around 62 toxic chemicals in cleaning products, food packaging, and other common household items. From phthalates and triclosan through to ammonium compounds and chlorine, is there any reason to worry about toxic exposure in the home or should we all relax and assume that appropriate safety regulations are in place?

Many of the household chemicals that can cause health problems fall under the banner of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), which can interfere with the body's endocrine system which regulates the hormones needed for all biological processes. According to a recent study by the European Environment Agency (EEA), there is a direct connection between endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) and health problems such as cancer, diabetes, and common neurological problems.

EDCs exist in many common household products, both in natural and synthetic form. For example, bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates are regularly used in food packaging and plastic containers, with other EDCs used in cleaning products, lubricants, and solvents. According to EEA executive director Jacqueline McGlade, "Scientific research gathered over the past few decades shows us that endocrine disruption is a real problem, with serious effects on wildlife and possibly people... It would be prudent to take a precautionary approach to many of these chemicals until their effects are more fully understood."

Despite the existence of numerous harmful chemicals in the modern home, there is nothing to worry about according to Dr Paul Brent, Chief Scientist of Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ): "To assess whether chemicals in foods and drinks present any health and safety risks, FSANZ surveyed a range of chemicals associated with packaging materials. In 2010, we analysed 65 items packaged in glass, paper, plastic or cans for chemicals. The survey results were reassuring, with no detections of phthalates, perfluorinated compounds, semicarbazide, acrylonitrile or vinyl chloride in food samples."

Not everyone is ready to relax, however, with toxicologist Dr Peter Dingle saying contamination is a real and worrying concern: "This is a big issue which we need to take very seriously. EDCs have now permeated every part of our lives, from food to baby toys, bedding to bags. While there is growing evidence against EDCs, there is just so much we don't know and yet we are exposed to them everywhere, all of the time... This is not the first report to link endocrine disruptors with a whole lot of illness - and it won't be the last. The increase in diabetes, obesity and cancers and the decrease in male fertility can definitely be linked to the growing prevalence of these chemicals in our lives."

While it's important not to panic when it comes to chemical exposure, we need to understand that the jury is still out when it comes to EDCs and other common household chemicals. For example, while BPA has been banned in Canada, the European Union, and some US states, FSANZ continue to assure us that it is safe to use in Australia and New Zealand. With EDCs used on an increasing basis in the modern home and recent findings by the EEA linking these chemicals to a range of health problems, perhaps the best advice is to take a cautious approach and make efforts to reduce your chemical exposure over time.

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