“What’s the point? We are surrounded by this stuff!” is an argument I hear time and time again from clients, friends, family, and even strangers when the discussion focuses around reducing our toxic exposure in today’s world.
I get that! However, when it comes to optimizing our health, and making sure we rule out anything that is within our personal scope of control, I have a few more words to say about that matter.
Once touched by cancer, and we all are in some way, whether we have been officially diagnosed with this word or whether our immune system is still capable of warding off unruly cell growth, we need to understand the crucial role we play in making sure our bodies are not overloaded.
That can easily happen with relentless toxic exposure, even in minuscule quantities, leading to a toxic burden that may just be the deciding factor whether or not our body can heal. Coupled with our body’s potential inability to detoxify adequately, we have now identified 2 key factors in cancer progression: our individual toxic burden and a compromised detoxification function.
Let’s focus on preventing that burden from accumulating in the first place.
Formaldehyde is one of the colorless, flammable and strong-smelling toxins I wish to highlight in this blog. Even though it occurs naturally in the environment, mainly as part of the metabolic processes of small living organisms, it is used in the manufacture of many products we surround ourselves with daily:
- in pressed-wood products
- glues and adhesives
- permanent-press fabrics
- paper product coatings
- in certain insulation materials, as well as
- in industrial fungicides and disinfectants
- in some nail polishes and body care products
Besides being an irritant to your respiratory tract potentially affecting your nose, throat, upper chest and breathing capacity, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) originally classified formaldehyde over 30 years ago, in 1987, as a probable human carcinogen under conditions of unusually high or prolonged exposure based on animal studies at the time. Since then human studies have linked formaldehyde exposure with a number of different types of cancer.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified formaldehyde as a known human carcinogen in 2011 in its 12th Report on Carcinogens. Indeed it was first listed in the National Toxicology Report as a known human carcinogen in the Second Annual Report on Carcinogens over 35 years ago, way back in 1981.
Several studies have been conducted over the past 30 years to evaluate the risk of cancers of the respiratory tract such as lungs, nose and pharynx, as well as blood (leukemia) and lymphatic cancers among industrial workers consistently exposed to formaldehyde. Although some studies showed that other risk factors played a role as well, the overall result is to caution against prolonged exposure, as well as reduce exposure at home, as it is known that toxins accumulate over time and add to the total toxic body burden.
It helps to know that studies are looking at this risk potential. To me, the mere fact that this is investigated at all is enough of a personal incentive to listen up and take precautionary steps.
How can you protect yourself considering you cannot avoid contact with the myriad of products listed above that have become part and parcel of our everyday modern life?
Here’s are a few tips to begin with:
- Embrace FRESH AIR and VENTILATE well and often! Formaldeyde easily accumulates in enclosed spaces. The smell of a new car, new furniture, new carpets or paint, guess what that odor contains? Formaldehyde! Open your windows and let that fresh air radiate through your home, car or office as often as possible. If painting, open your windows, especially overnight.
- Spend time outdoors every day to fill your lungs with fresh air! Especially in the Northeast here in the US, we move from centrally heated to air-conditioned air often without transition, especially if you are in an educational or corporate environment. Go outside whenever you can and take a few deep, invigorating breaths every single day.
- Service your heating system, chimneys and vents regularly. Smoke from your fireplace or wood-burning oven may also contain formaldehyde.
- Try and avoid exposing yourself to tobacco smoke and artificially scented candles.
- Don’t let your car idle and emit exhaust fumes in your garage or near an open door into your house. Don’t do this at bus stops, you are polluting the air for the people standing around you.
- Wash new clothes should before wearing them – that is not a clean clothes smell, but a chemical cocktail smell.
- If purchasing pressed wood furniture, make sure they are sealed. The glues used in their construction often contain formaldehyde.
- Avoid using cleaning supplies that emit strong volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Some leading brands contain other toxic ingredients such as phenols and 1,4-dioxane or the strong pungent odor of bleach (chlorine). All have been shown to be possibly carcinogenic.
- Why not make your own household cleaners? Get back to the roots of cleaning and use baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, distilled white vinegar, lemon juice and some essential oils. For example, I use only vinegar and Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castille soap (with essential oils) in water as our floor cleaner.
NCI on dangers of Formaldehyde (NCI)
IARC classifies formaldehyde as a carcinogen
National Toxicology Report, 14th edition, on Formaldehyde as a carcinogen
EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning