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Toxic truths

The latest research on hazardous chemicals in ordinary products

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Plastics Labelled #7

FOUND IN many reusable “sport” water bottles, metal-lined containers (such as those used for some baby formulas and cocoa powder), 1.9-litre/ five-gallon water bottles, and most plastic baby bottles.

WHAT IT CONTAINS polycarbonate, which may contain bisphenol A.

CONCERNS Bisphenol A is a suspected hormone disrupter and has been found to stimulate prostate cancer cells. Health Canada is proposing a ban on baby bottles containing BPA.

NEXT STEPS Replace plastic baby bottles with glass, and water bottles with stainless steel or those made of high-density polyethylene— labelled #2 in the recycling symbol. (Plastics labelled #1, #2, #4 and #5 are safer than those labelled #3, #6 and #7.) Avoid putting plastics into the microwave or dishwasher.

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Non-Stick Cookware

WHAT IT MAY CONTAIN
Perfluorinated chemicals (PFC). As of February 2008, Environment Canada had no plans to ban PFC.

CONCERNS Non-stick pans may give off fumes containing TFE, a suspected carcinogen, when they get hotter than 650°F (350°C). How hot is that? Olive oil, for example, starts smoking at 410ºF (210°C), well below that level.

NEXT STEPS Don’t allow empty pans to smoulder on a hot burner.

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Worn Or Pitted Pots & Pans

WHAT THEY MAY CONTAIN Aluminum.

CONCERNS Aluminum has been associated with Alzheimer’s disease. How­ever, no definite link has been proven, and Health Canada says most Canadians do not need to worry about how much aluminum they take in.

NEXT STEPS Consider getting rid of older pots and pans, which leach the most aluminum into your food. Leafy vegetables and acidic foods, such as tomatoes, absorb the most. Anodized aluminum pots, with a hard non-stick surface, are a better choice.

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Soft Plastics Labelled #3

FOUND IN Backyard furniture, shower curtains, toys.

WHAT IT CONTAINS
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC),
which often contains softeners called phthalates.

CONCERNS PVC releases toxic chemicals during its manufacture. Phthalates, for their part, can damage the liver, kidneys and reproductive systems of animals. Suspected endocrine disrupters, they mimic hor­mones and may interfere with children’s growth and devel­opment. In 1998, Health Canada concluded that phthalates are potentially risky to infants who chew or suck on vinyl products.

NEXT STEPS Avoid PVC products and soft plastic toys, which young children might suck or chew. Look for plastics labelled #1, #2, #4 or #5, which are not endocrine disrupters.

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Styrofoam Packaging Labelled #6

FOUND IN "clamshell” takeout food containers

WHAT IT CONTAINS
Polystyrene (Styrofoam).

CONCERNS May leach styrene (a possible endocrine disrupter and human carcinogen) into food, and into groundwater from landfills.

NEXT STEPS Avoid food that has come into contact with polystyrene.

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Plastics Labelled #1

FOUND IN water and soft-drink bottles

WHAT IT CONTAINS
Polyethylene terephthalate.

CONCERNS The bottles are considered safe but are intended for single use only; they should not be reused because they may have picked up bacteria from the first use.

NEXT STEPS Use only once (and then, of course, recycle!). Even if you wash them, you cannot be sure they have been properly sanitized.

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Plastics Labelled #1

FOUND IN water and soft-drink bottles

WHAT IT CONTAINS
Polyethylene terephthalate.

CONCERNS The bottles are considered safe but are intended for single use only; they should not be reused because they may have picked up bacteria from the first use.

NEXT STEPS Use only once (and then, of course, recycle!). Even if you wash them, you cannot be sure they have been properly sanitized.