Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

feeling fine

Take steps to reduce exposure to toxic chemicals

It’s important to look for BPA-free when choosing bottles, sippy cups and other products, including toys, for youngsters.

Times (2008)

It’s important to look for BPA-free when choosing bottles, sippy cups and other products, including toys, for youngsters.


Special to the Times

Americans who buy products off the shelves of well-known retailers can be confident that they're safe, right? Wrong.

• A recent report by the Washington Toxics Coalition, "Hidden Hazards in the Nursery,'' identified toxic flame retardants in bassinet pads, nursing pillows, changing pads, car seats and other products.

• Johnson & Johnson recently agreed to a two-year phase-out of two potentially cancer-causing chemicals from its baby shampoo, under pressure from consumer groups.

• A report by the Environmental Health Strategy Center identified plastic toys containing BPA (or bisphenol A), a chemical that can mimic the body's own hormones and may lead to negative health effects. BPA is already banned in plastic baby bottles and sippy cups.

• BPA is also found in the lining of canned food and beverage containers, but the Food and Drug Administration last week rejected a petition to ban the plastic-hardening chemical from such containers.

• The FDA has found lead in 400 lipsticks it tested.

The fact is that the products we use every day in our homes, our workplaces and our schools contain thousands of potentially harmful chemicals. More than 80,000 synthetic chemicals have been developed for use in the marketplace since the 1940s, with only a fraction tested for human safety. The Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA), the nation's primary chemical safety law, has failed to protect public health and the environment.

Published studies in peer-reviewed journals have shown that many common chemicals can cause chronic diseases such as asthma, diabetes, childhood cancers, infertility, and learning and behavioral disorders. With increasingly sophisticated tests, we are learning that harm can occur even at low doses, particularly to vulnerable populations like pregnant women and children.

We now have a real chance to update the TSCA and protect future generations. Last spring, Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., introduced the Safe Chemicals Act to provide reliable safety information, helping the public rest assured that their safety is a top priority.

On a personal level, there are many things you can do to help prevent exposure to toxic chemicals. Even if you can't manage them all, any of these steps could lighten your family's toxic load:

• Keep your home well-ventilated and free of dust and tobacco smoke — remember that tobacco is the No. 1 cause of preventable death in the United States. Ask visitors to smoke outdoors, away from windows and doors.

• Avoid using pesticides as much as you can. Keep insects out by sealing cracks around doors, windowsills and baseboards. Prevent insect problems by quickly cleaning up food spills and crumbs and eliminating standing water, a breeding ground for insects.

• If you must use pesticides, use only licensed pest elimination professionals. Avoid insect sprays and dusts that can leave residue in unwanted areas. Instead, use baits, traps or gels.

• Choose nontoxic and safer alternatives for cleaning and home renovations, such as water-based glues and paints, and citrus-based solvents. Look for products labeled low or no VOC (volatile organic compounds). Try nontoxic items like vinegar and baking soda for cleaning. Many effective recipes can be found on the Internet.

• Take off your shoes at the door to avoid tracking pesticides into your house.

• Choose foods that are in season and locally grown. Buy organic if possible. Limit foods with a lot of animal fats, in which chemicals tend to build up.

• Avoid canned foods and beverages as much as possible to help limit exposure to BPA in the linings, especially acidic foods like tomatoes.

• Look at labels for potentially dangerous chemicals, like bromine (associated with flame retardants-BFRs), lead, chromium, mercury and other heavy metals.

• Avoid products made with PVC (poly vinyl chloride), especially toys that young children may chew on. PVC is common in shower curtains, pet toys, school binders and plastic lunch boxes. Use glass or stainless-steel containers instead of plastic for hot foods and drinks.

• Do not use lice shampoo containing lindane. Ask your doctor for safer alternatives.

• Avoid scented products; most scents are chemical-based.

These individual actions will help limit chemical exposure for you and your family. But to really solve the problem, we need strong public policies to prevent poisoning and pollution in the first place. Let your voice be heard, tell your congressional representative that you support the Safe Chemicals Act and encourage them to do the same.

We need responsible government and citizens to protect our personal and public health.

Dr. Peter A. Gorski is chief health and child development officer for the Children's Trust of Miami-Dade County; Dr. Lynn Ringenberg is an emeritus professor at USF Health and president of Physicians for Social Responsibility Tampa Bay; Marybeth Palmigiano is chapter manager of PSR Tampa Bay.


For more information, go to the websites of Physicians for Social Responsibility,, and Safer Chemicals Healthy Family,

Take steps to reduce exposure to toxic chemicals 04/06/12 [Last modified: Friday, April 6, 2012 4:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Review: Arcade Fire open hearts, play with passion at the USF Sun Dome in Tampa


    Gloves off, hearts open and disco balls glittering, Arcade Fire scaled the stage for the first time ever in Tampa, pouncing and flailing and performing with all the passion that’s made them one of the world’s most celebrated rock bands this century.

    Arcade Fire performed at the USF Sun Dome in Tampa on Sept. 22, 2017.
  2. Lightning's Steven Stamkos looks close to top form in first game since November

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — The wait felt like forever for Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, having gone 10 months without playing in a game.

    A scramble in front of the Lightning goal has Matthew Peca, far left, and Erik Cernak, middle, helping out goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy during the third period of a 3-1 win against the Predators. Vasilevskiy, who made 29 saves, was “exceptional,” coach Jon Cooper says.
  3. Rays journal: Alex Cobb may have pitched last game in Rays uniform (w/video)

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — RHP Alex Cobb pitched well enough to lead the Rays to an 8-3 win over the Orioles on Friday.

    Wilson Ramos gives thanks after hitting a grand slam during the second inning, putting the Rays up 4-0.
  4. Steven Souza Jr. vindicating big trade for Rays

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — There was a time when the three-team, 11-player transaction the Rays orchestrated to get Steven Souza Jr. from the Nationals looked liked a bad deal.

    The Rays’ Steven Souza Jr. has 30 home runs this season while improving his defense and baserunning but wants to improve on his .236 batting average.
  5. Fennelly: Lightning's Manon Rheaume made history 25 years ago Saturday

    Lightning Strikes

    The name is part of Lightning history, hockey history, sports history.

    Lightning goalie Manon Rheaume became the first woman to play in an NHL game 25 years ago today.