PVC Shower Curtain

Photo: B.G. - Oodwin (Flickr.com, CC)

I don’t believe in “Always” or “Never,” and certainly not scare-tactic click-bait headlines that throw parents into a panic. But as a parent concerned about the cumulative effects of toxic chemicals on my children’s health, I do believe in trying to do better. And, with that, I present the top products I avoid as much as possible.

  1. Canned Food laden with BPA: In addition to preservatives and an often low level of food quality, canned foods are worrisome due to the inside plastic coating. Many of these coatings contain BPA, an endocrine-disrupting chemical. Some companies are eliminating BPA from their cans, but most are not transparent about what they are replacing it with. A recent study found many companies are replacing BPA with clearly regrettable substitutes like PVC. Canned tomatoes are particularly troublesome due to their acidity, but fortunately, there are a few brands offering organic tomatoes in jars. Canned foods are useful in a pinch, and I can’t seem to get my kids off store-bought “Elmo soup,” but try to avoid cans as much as you can. If you use a can, look for those that are “BPA-free” and ask the company what they’re using instead. 
  2. Artificial Scents: If whoever created the earth did not create that scent you should probably avoid it. Scented air fresheners, deodorizers, and artificially scented candles, perfumes, and body products are often loaded with phthalates, a chemical linked to various health issues. They also adversely affect those around you who may have fragrance sensitivities (cough, cough).
  3. PVC/vinyl Shower Curtains: Those cheap plastic shower curtains reek of chemicals for a reason. Stay away from anything with that “fresh plastic” smell, like a new shower curtain, a likely sign of phthalates. One study found vinyl shower curtains can release over 100 VOC’s into indoor air. PVC blow-up beach balls and swimmies are also hard to avoid, so at least keep them outdoors.
  4. Squishy Toys from Cereal Boxes: You know those spiders that you throw at the wall and they crawl down? Basically a phthalate with eight legs.
  5. Harsh Cleaning Products: Bleach, ammonia, and harsh cleaning products are linked to respiratory and other health issues. These are easily replaced with safer store-bought cleaners and homemade miracle workers like white vinegar and baking soda. Look for those that have been certified by EPA’s Safer Choice program, especially those that are “fragrance-free”.
  6. Non-Stick Stuff: If you registered for your wedding gifts in the past 50 years, you probably have a few non-stick metal pans coated with a synthetic polymer commonly known as Teflon. There is peer-reviewed research—as well as sad anecdotal evidence—that the toxic fumes from the Teflon chemical released from pots and pans at high temperatures are actually notorious for killing pet birds. Additionally, studies link chemicals in the Teflon family with various adverse health and environmental effects. Avoid anything labeled as “non-stick” or “stain repellent.” Learn how to season a cast iron pan with cooking oil and remove stains with baking soda instead.

Contrary to the misleading idea that greener and healthier living can be a hassle, each of these tips is relatively simple and cost-effective. In fact, a few of these can actually save money! Start by trying to eliminate or minimize these items one by one, and you can make a big difference.