Perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs, are slick. Often embedded in furniture, carpeting, and paint, these water-and stain-repelling chemicals can easily escape into the air, according to a new study published in Environmental Science & Technology.
Once inhaled, PFCs can linger in your body for years, potentially altering your levels of testosterone and thyroid hormone, says Olga Naidenko, Ph.D., a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group. This may eventually lead to low sperm count, thyroid disease, elevated cholesterol, and obesity, she says.
The EPA is working with companies to eliminate PFCs in everything from furniture to food packaging by 2015. Until then, reduce your exposure by avoiding furniture, carpets, and clothing treated with stain-resistant chemicals, and opt for cast-iron and stainless-steel cookware over nonstick pans, recommends Naidenko.
Since you can also ingest the compounds, skip the drive-thru joints—those greasy wrappers often contain PFCs that can leach into your food, according to the Environmental Working Group.
There may be a price to pay for perfuming every last inch of our world. Recent research published in Environmental Impact Assessment Review found that scented air fresheners, lotions, shampoos, soaps, laundry products, and household cleaners emit an average of 17 different VOCs (volatile organic compounds).
A number of these compounds, including formaldehyde, are classified as toxic or hazardous and have been linked to low sperm quality, asthma, and cancer, Steinemann says. (Don't let this happen to you! Protect your sperm and hormones by learning What More Testosterone Can Do for You.)
Whether inhaled through your nose or absorbed through your skin, VOCs can enter your bloodstream and end up in your brain. Depending on the substance, repeated exposure could eventually lead to central nervous system damage.
Manufacturers aren't required to reveal whether fragranced products contain harmful VOCs, so Steinemann recommends ditching scented air fresheners, dryer sheets, detergents, and soaps (including bar soaps).
Even "organic" or "green" fragranced products should be tossed—they're just as likely to spew VOCs, Steinemann's research shows. Since label claims like "fragrance-free" or "nontoxic" aren't always true, check the ingredients, avoiding products that contain "masking fragrance," "fragrance," "perfume," or "parfum."
Finally, spruce up your space with English ivy or asparagus ferns, which can lower VOC levels in indoor air, a 2009 University of Georgia study found.
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