THE BLOG
10/14/2013 10:47 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

5 Weird Places Toxins Are Lurking

We all know the health risks posed by environmental toxins, and you probably do a pretty good job of avoiding many of them -- you buy organic food, wash your hair with shampoo from the health food store, and serve your child water from a BPA-free sippy cup. Annoyingly, toxins may be lurking even in some places you feel sure are safe. Don't be duped by the following sneaky sources of chemicals:

  1. BPA-free plastic. Almost all plastic items -- from water bottles to toys -- now boast that they are BPA-free. This is great since BPA is a known endocrine-disruptor, but unfortunately most BPA substitutes (such as BPS) may also wreak havoc on hormones, as reported in 2011 by The New York Times.

    Simple Solution: Avoid plastic bottles, teethers, and food storage containers to the degree that is possible. Replace with stainless steel, glass, or silicone options.

  2. Expensive skin/hair products. Most cheap cosmetics are full of established toxins, but salon brands are often worse. For instance, Frederic Fekkai shampoo ($39 a bottle) contains hormone-disrupting parabens and phthalates (hidden in "fragrance"). Department store lipsticks often are full of lead and other heavy metals that are linked to everything from cancer to neurological disorders.

    Simple Solution: Don't assume that expensive means non-toxic. Check the safety of your favorite products on the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Database.

  3. "Baby safe" cleaning and laundry products. Most cleaning supplies that are marketed as kid-safe contain all the same ingredients as the "adult" versions. Hormone-disrupting phthalates and a dozen other toxins make up the "gentle" clean of Dreft, for example. BabyGanics' "naturally derived plant-based cleaning agents" include sodium laureth sulfate, they told me, which is sometimes contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a well-established carcinogen.

    Simple Solution: Read ingredients on all cleaning products before buying and opt for those that disclose specific ingredients (this is not required by law). Two truly safe lines: Eco-Me and GreenShield.

  4. Organic mattresses. Conventional mattresses typically contain various petrochemicals as well as toxic flame retardants, which are implicated in lowered IQ, hormone disruption, and hyperactivity. But a so-called "organic" mattress may not be any better, thanks to a lack of industry regulation.

    Simple Solution: Learn which mattresses are truly non-toxic with this safe mattress guide.

  5. Water from a Brita filter. Tap water -- even in communities that are known for "safe" water -- may contain everything from chlorine to phthalates. Brita reduces (but doesn't eliminate) select chemicals and metals, but is mostly in place to improve the appearance and taste of the water. Another downside: Your water sits in plastic for hours before you drink it.

    Simple Solution: Invest in a more robust water filtration system for your sink. Affordable options abound.

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