Here are some tips to reduce your exposure to hormone disrupting chemicals:
From killing harmful bacteria to getting rid of lime scale, household cleaning products can be a help in the house. But what if some of them were doing more harm than good?
Here’s some tips:
- Use natural cleaning brands, in particular, look out for products with independent ecolabels such as the EU ecolabel, the Blue Angel or the Nordic Ecolabel
- Try making your own homemade cleaning products. A quick Google search and you’ll find hundreds of recipes and blogs for natural home made cleaning products, it can be much cheaper too!
- Avoid products with ‘antibacterial’ additives such as triclosan – they may not kill bacteria any better than normal cleaning products, and there are concerns over their safety.
Soaps, shampoos and cosmetics
In the EU, all cosmetics must have an ingredients list, which makes it easier for you to avoid problem chemicals; note that this list does not include identification of the chemicals in perfumes and fragrances though.
Here are some tips:
- As with cleaning products, try to avoid products with added antibacterial agents such as triclosan.
- Avoid products with containing Parabens (including e.g. ethylparaben). Several chemicals in this group have been found to be hormone disrupting – see the Breast Cancer UK factsheet for more details.
- If you don’t live in the EU, you can still try to buy cosmetics that are approved for use in the EU; they may have fewer problem chemicals in them.
- If you are in Germany, you can use BUND’s Tox Fox app to find out what problem chemicals are in cosmetic products.
Till receipts and other thermal paper
Most thermal paper, such as till (cash) receipts, contains Bisphenol A (BPA), a known hormone disrupting chemical. This BPA can leach out and get into our bloodstream. Following a French Government’s proposal, Member State representatives agreed in 2016 to a ban on BPA in thermal papers. However, the ban will only take effect in 2020.
What can you do?
- Minimise your handling of receipts or other thermal paper
- Don’t let children play with receipts
- We would advise you not to recycle till receipts
If you want to minimise your exposure to pesticides (some of which are hormone disrupting), then the best way to do it is to switch to organic food. Pesticides Action Network EU has a useful consumer guide, and the European Commission has a web site promoting organic farming which has more information.
Harmful chemicals can bioaccumulate up the food chain, with chemicals being stored in fat cells. Therefore if you eat meat, cut off the fatty parts and try to stick to lean meat.
Fish (particularly oily fish) can help brain development, but the oils in fish also contain high levels of chemicals which have accumulated over time (for example methyl mercury). For example, the European Food Safety Authority has recently stated:
Limiting consumption of fish species with a high methylmercury content is the most effective way to achieve the health benefits of fish whilst minimising the risks posed by excessive exposure to methylmercury…
EFSA recommends that individual Member States consider their national patterns of fish consumption and assess the risk of different population groups exceeding safe levels of methylmercury while obtaining the health benefits of fish. This particularly applies to countries where fish/seafood species with a high mercury content – such as swordfish, pike, tuna and hake – are consumed regularly.
Food packaging uses a wide range of chemicals, and the regulation of packaging materials is not as good as it should be.
Particular concerns include:
- The hormone disrupting chemicals BPA is found in many food cans, and may also be in some other food packaging. For more information on how you can reduce your exposure to BPA see our consumer guide.
- Paper and card packaging (e.g. takeaway products) does not have effective EU-wide regulation, and there are concerns about the chemicals used. We have been pushing the EU to improve this situation and you can help by building more pressure on politicians, see the Take Action as a citizen page for some ideas.
To reduce your exposure, try to reduce your use of packaged food and instead buy more fresh products. Store cereals, rice etc in glass jars.
It is generally best not to microwave food in plastic containers, in case chemicals migrate from the container into the food.
Even when foods are sold stating they should be cooked in their packaging, this may not be the best option. For example, the Danish Co-op supermarket has stopped selling microwavable popcorn as all brands contained PFC chemicals.
For many household products – carpets, tables, toys etc – there are no ingredients lists, so there is no easy way of finding out if they contain problem chemicals (unless you are in Denmark – see below).
You can write to companies (or contact them on social media) to ask them about specific chemicals, about hormone disrupting chemicals in general or about chemicals that have been defined as being of very high concern under the EU’s REACH chemicals regulation. Under REACH a company must tell you if their product contains such a chemical – the European Chemical Agency ECHA has a page explaining the process.
- If you are in Denmark, you can use the Danish Consumer Council’s app to automatically ask companies if their products contain substances of very high concern, just by scanning the bar code! The app also works with a database, so if a company has already answered the question for someone else – or has given the data to the Danish consumer council – you will get an answer immediately.
- A similar app has been developed by the German Environmental Agency (UBA), Scan4Chem, available in English.
- The NGO BUND also developed an app, ToxFox, to allow consumers in Germany, Austria and Switzerland to scan barcodes of cosmetics for information on the presence of suspected EDC. Since October 2016, the app also enables consumers to send automated requests to companies.
- A new project called AskREACH by the German Environment Agency and 20 project partners aim at developing a new app by 2019. The app will enable European consumers to scan bar codes which will be linked to a database, and if the information on substances of very high concern in that product is not available, a request will be automatically sent to the article supplier.
House dust has been found to have quite high levels of a range of problematic chemicals, including phthalates, brominated flame retardants and bisphenol A.
It’s generally a good idea to make sure you clean your home frequently in order to reduce the build up of dust.
Finding out about chemicals
- The European Chemical Agency’s official database is available here, with a simple ‘info card’ available for up to 120,000 substances.
- The European Trade Union Institute’s Risctox database gives information on a wide range of chemicals.
- The ChemSec ‘Substitute it Now (SIN)‘ list focusses on those chemicals with particularly problematic properties.
Other sources of advice about avoiding hazardous chemicals:
- Breast Cancer UK has a set of pages explaining how you can reduce your exposure to hazardous chemicals.
- Project Nesting, particularly aimed at those who are pregnant.