Granny always sent us outside to play. She was right — being outside was good for us — but she was right for reasons she couldn’t have foreseen 40 years ago.
Numerous studies indicate our homes and offices have filled in recent decades with chemicals meant to benefit us, which instead might be harming us. These substances are called endocrine-disrupting chemicals because of the way they interfere with our hormonal processes.
A recent report by the World Health Organization and the UN Environment Program summarizes the latest in the ongoing science on these substances. Researchers in B.C. and Canada continue to contribute to our understanding of the complex issue, including how we are exposed to these compounds.
For example, University of B.C. researchers recently tested indoor and outdoor air, indoor dust and dryer lint for polyfluorinated compounds, or PFCs, in 152 Vancouver homes and compared their results to levels of PFCs in residents’ blood.
Polyfluorinated compounds keep our furniture clean, make our rain gear rain-proof, and keep our frying pans and walls easy to clean.
Overall, the levels of chemicals in the blood of most people living in a home were low, but, not surprisingly, reflected levels of chemicals detected in the home.
The researchers also determined adults’ greatest exposure to the chemicals resulted from breathing in airborne chemicals. Toddlers, however, spend more time on the ground and stick things in their mouths. The researchers found toddlers’ greatest exposure came from ingesting PFC-laden household dust — as much as a few milligrams of PFCs daily.
The compounds — similar to better-studied PCBs, DDT and dioxins — can interfere with hormones such as estrogen, testosterone and cortisol. These are critical for reproduction, normal development and normal body functioning in humans and animals. The chemicals have been shown to cause tumours and cancers in laboratory animals exposed to high doses.
A University of Sherbrooke study found chemicals from household furniture, electronics and cars in human breast milk. The concentrations of one group of the chemicals — polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs — were up to 10 times higher than similar studies had found in Europe, where some PBDEs have been banned for several years. The good news here is that our bodies eventually rid themselves of PBDEs if exposure ends.
Now, there’s no denying these chemicals improve and even save lives. Their long-term effects, however, are still being determined. Evidence a chemical causes harm to humans and animals takes decades to accumulate. And our world is filled with thousands of such chemicals.
We also don’t know how much exposure to these chemicals we can safely withstand, in what concentrations, how often, when during our lives or in combination with what other chemicals.
Researchers in Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Toronto are examining how environmental factors, including exposure to potentially hormone-disrupting chemicals, influence children’s health.
While we await clear answers from these and other studies, what can we do to reduce our risk? Here on the Island, I suggest we take advantage of local blessings.
We live near many organic farms that produce food free of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, chemicals that may disrupt hormone function. Some local businesses supply furniture, bedding, paints and cleansers made from natural, organic products and free of volatile organic compounds that can interfere with hormones.
We are further blessed with a clean outdoors, clean outdoor air and a climate we can enjoy outdoors during much of the year.
We can keep ourselves healthy by spending as much time outside as possible — and make Granny happy, too.