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Safer Products in California

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Janet Gray, Ph.D.
Janet Gray, Ph.D.

As author of our 2008 and 2010 State of the Evidence reports, Dr. Gray drives the science behind all our work.

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Chemicals in Household Products

We pay a price for all of our modern conveniences: Our homes are now filled with man-made substances that include all sorts of synthetic chemicals, some of which are known carcinogens linked to breast cancer.

Everyday items such as furniture, cleaning products, paint and plastic dishes can introduce harmful chemicals into our environment and our bodies. And we're exposed to lots of potentially hazardous substances that you might not even think of, from dry-cleaning chemicals to the non-stick surface on our frying pans. 

To add to the problem, even though we normally equate clean with healthy, most commercial cleaning products take away dirt and grime but leave behind harmful chemicals.

Following are some of the toxic chemicals commonly found in homes, along with descriptions of what they are, where they’re found and why they're bad. Check out our Tips for Prevention section to learn how to avoid them.

Household Pesticides

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Many pesticides, including herbicides and other pest-killing poisons, have been labeled as human or animal carcinogens. A common chemical in pesticides, dichlorvos, is associated with mammary tumors in rats or mice. Another, glyphosate, has been linked to non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

PBDEs

Used as flame retardants, PBDEs can be released into the environment from degrading foam in furniture cushions and mattresses. PBDEs are endocrine disruptors, and while little data currently exists related to breast cancer, this class of chemicals continues to be of concern.

Alkylphenols

Alkylphenols are industrial chemicals used in the production of detergents and other cleaning products. They're also found in personal care products, especially hair products, and are an active component in many spermicides. Alkylphenols are endocrine disruptors that have been shown to alter mammary gland development in rats.

PFOA

Perfluorooactanoic Acid (PFOA) is part of a larger class of chemicals known as perfluorinated compounds (PFCs). PFCs, and PFOA in particular, are the bases for non-stick coatings on cookware; stain guards on clothing, upholstery and carpet; and waterproof clothing. Waterways and ground water near manufacturing plants tend to have high PFOA concentrations. Exposure to the compounds has been associated with delayed menstruation, later breast development and increased incidence of breast cancer.

Triclosan

Triclosan is used in a wide variety of household products, including some toys, cleaning products, and household items with antimicrobial properties such as hoses, cutting boards and socks. The chemical, which is classified as a pesticide, can affect the body’s hormone systems—especially thyroid hormones, which regulate metabolism—and may disrupt normal breast development. Widespread use of triclosan may also contribute to bacterial resistance to antimicrobial agents.

Tetrachloroethylene (PERC)

Tetrachloroethylene, also known as perchloroethylene or PERC, is a common dry-cleaning chemical. This chemical accumulates in body fat and may therefore remain in the body for a long period of time. Studies have shown that women exposed to this chemical have an increased risk for breast cancer. Short-term exposure may cause skin irritation, dizziness and headaches.

Dyes in Cleaning Products

Dyes in cleaning products are often unlabeled on the products' ingredient lists, but are often comprised of several different chemicals, some of which are known carcinogens. Although there is no data on breast cancer specifically, these chemicals are rarely necessary, particularly considering potential risks.

Mercury

Mercury and metals like iron, nickel, chromium, zinc and lead are found in some thermometers and paint. Higher accumulations of these metals have been found in cancerous breast biopsies as compared to biopsies taken from women without breast cancer. Lab studies have shown that methyl mercury can disrupt hormone-regulated cellular processes.

Lead

Lead can be found in old paint and household pipes. Higher accumulations of metals like lead, mercury, iron, nickel, chromium and zinc have been found in cancerous breast biopsies as compared to biopsies taken from women without breast cancer. These metals have also been found in higher levels in serum samples of women diagnosed with cancer as compared with healthy women.

Cadmium

Cadmium is another metal, used in rechargeable batteries and until recently was widely used in the manufacture of pigments, metal coatings and plastics. It is an estrogen-mimicking chemical that has been linked to early puberty and differences in mammary tissue structure, two known risk factors for breast cancer.

Aromatic Amines

Aromatic amines are cancer-causing compounds produced when plastics and rubbers are manufactured, when diesel and wood are burned, and when food is charred. Workers who manufacture polyurethane foams, dyes, pesticides, pharmaceuticals and semiconductors have the highest levels of exposure. These compounds can have direct effects on cell division, which may enhance the development of tumors, and one aromatic amine is known to cause mammary tumors in rodents. 

 

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