Your immediate environment is more important than ever. Here's how to make your space a healthier place.
At Work In many instances, pollutants in the workplace are similar to those at home, unless you work in an industrial environment, near a construction site or in any location that requires frequent exposure to hazardous chemicals. Concerned about what may be present? Ask to review your company’s Material Safety Data Sheets, the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety & Health Administration’s (OSHA) required listing of chemicals and potential hazards for employees. Then, take the information to your physician.
Outdoors Try to avoid outdoor pollutants, specifically motor-vehicle exhaust and smog, says Michelle Wilhelm, Ph.D., adjunct assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Public Health.
In a study published in the Environmental Health Perspectives, researchers collected blood samples from 265 mothers and the umbilical cords of their newborns. While blood levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (think motor-vehicle exhaust) were estimated to be about 10 times lower in fetuses than in mothers because of the protection offered by the placenta, the levels of DNA damage among mothers and newborns were comparable. This suggests that the fetus is more susceptible to DNA damage than the mother. In another study, researchers at the Columbia University Center for Children’s Environmental Health in New York studied 60 newborns whose mothers wore portable air monitors during their last trimester and found that babies’ DNA can be damaged by the polluted air their mothers breathe during pregnancy.
Household Products Most expectant parents want the house to sparkle, but can the same chemicals that give common household cleaners their clout also cause harm?
There are no federal requirements to test for or warn consumers about long-term health effects or fetal damage from using household cleaners, so a list of all the chemicals pregnant women should avoid doesn’t exist. But a recent study from the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom found that babies of women who frequently used chemical-based cleaners while pregnant are more than twice as likely to have breathing problems. However, says Brad Imler, Ph.D., president of the American Pregnancy Association, “your exposure is probably limited and the likelihood of complications is negligible.”
Tom Natan, Ph.D., research director for the National Environmental Trust, agrees. “While we don’t know enough about these products, most are probably safe when used as directed in limited amounts and only when necessary,” he says. The bigger concern is multiple exposures. “You don’t always know where the dangers are and you’re potentially exposed more often than you think throughout the day,” explains Natan, who believes soap, hot water and elbow grease are vastly underrated. “You don’t have to kill bacteria; you can just remove them from surfaces by scrubbing and using hot water,” he says.
“Green” household cleaners are widely available, but not all of these products are safe. Since manufacturers don’t have to list every ingredient, you can’t know for sure what’s in them. On the honor system, true green companies claim to list all ingredients on labels, and some, such as Earth Friendly Products (www.ecos.com) even list the toxic ingredients typically found in household products that you won’t find in their products on their website. For more information on any product, call the toll-free number listed on the package or visit the company’s website.
When you must use strong chemicals, use them sparingly in well-ventilated areas and follow the manufacturers’ instructions.