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Need a Detox? Start With Your Air and Water

Did you know that your risk of getting cancer from exposure to chemicals in the water and air in your home is actually greater than your risk from exposure to the same chemicals in a hazardous waste site? In her book The Detox Strategy, leading internal cleansing authority Brenda Watson recommends simple remedies for cleaning up indoor pollution.

Identifying your top sources of toxins is a natural first step, and for virtually everyone the air and household water is a prime target. This is true whether you live in a major metropolitan area or on a farm, as both locations present problems with air quality; it’s nearly impossible to find a place anywhere in the world that has not been affected by pollution. Surprisingly, studies show that your risk of getting cancer from exposure to chemicals in the water and air in your home is actually greater than your risk from exposure to the same chemicals in a hazardous waste site.

Common Sources of Indoor Pollution

  • aerosol sprays
  • asbestos
  • bleach
  • carbon monoxide
  • carpets (synthetic),
  • carpet adhesive
  • cleaning materials*
  • dry-cleaned clothing
  • gasoline
  • glue, rubber cement
  • heating systems or appliances**
  • insulation foam
  • lawn and garden chemicals
  • lead
  • mold
  • mothballs, moth crystals
  • newsprint
  • paint, paint remover
  • permanent markers/pens
  • personal care products
  • pesticides
  • plastics
  • plywood, particleboard
  • polyurethane, varnish
  • radon
  • room deodorizers
  • Styrofoam***
  • synthetic fabrics
  • tap water
  • tobacco smoke
  • wood preservatives

* Including scouring pads and powders, oven cleaners, detergents, disinfectants, floor and furniture polish and wax, and pot cleaners
** Gas, oil, kerosene, propane, or coal
*** Cups, plates, bowls, meat-wrapping materials

Air Purifiers
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are mostly to blame for making your indoors so toxic. These are among the same toxins found in new cars, giving them that plasticky (and quintessential) “new car” smell. VOCs, which include chemicals such as acetate, ethanol, and formaldehyde, have been found to have toxic effects, even at low doses. Many are suspected carcinogens. These chemically unstable compounds vaporize (turn to gas) readily and may combine with other chemicals to create compounds that can cause toxic reactions when inhaled or absorbed through the skin. VOCs can be found in cologne and can be released by many other products in your home: carpet adhesives, glues, resins, paints, varnishes, paint strippers and other solvents, wood preservatives, foam insulation, bonding agents, aerosol sprays, cleansers, degreasers and disinfectants, moth repellents, air fresheners, stored fuels, hobby supplies, dry-cleaned clothing, and cosmetics.

Even though you will be doing what you can to reduce these airborne chemicals in the future by choosing eco-friendly alternatives wherever possible, I highly recommend investing in a good air purifier for your home. Airborne chemicals pose one of the greatest pollution threats in the home — and they will pollute you rather easily. There are air purifiers designed for smog, smoke, and particles; for chemicals, gases, and fumes; and for mold, viruses, and bacteria. Some are designed to handle it all. It just depends on what the main indoor concern may be and how much you want to spend. More than 90 percent of particulates you want to filter are small enough to be handled by a HEPA (high efficiency particle absorption) filter. If you suffer from allergies or asthma, air purifiers can help reduce your symptoms. (Try as a start.) Also change the air-conditioning filters in your house often. Get the ducts cleaned yearly.

If you don’t want to invest in an air filter today, the simplest and quickest way to keep your air toxins low at home is to be diligent about ventilating your house frequently. Open the windows! Get some cross-ventilation going by opening windows at opposite ends of a room or section of the house. Do this for thirty minutes a day and, if you live near a highway or road, avoid peak traffic hours.

Water Filters
Second, I also recommend buying a household water filter or at least install one on each major faucet. You can do this yourself or hire a professional to come in and install a more sophisticated system. Again, let your budget and personal situation be your guide.

There are a variety of water treatment technologies available today, and it’s up to you to decide which one best suits your circumstances and the investment you want to make. Obviously, if you live in an apartment building or co-op, you will be limited as to what you can do, but using individual filters on each faucet can work tremendously well. Some things to consider:

How Bad Is Your Water?
Unfortunately, this question cannot be answered easily based on how your water looks and tastes. Numerous toxins can still be in your water without your sensing it. If you receive your water from a public water supply, you can get a general idea about the quality of your water by researching your community’s Annual Quality Report. Check the NRDC report “What’s On Tap?” at, and ask your water utility (the company that sends you your water bill) for a copy of their annual water quality report. This report will list the detected contaminants, the potential source(s) of those contaminants, and the levels at which those contaminants were present in the water supply.

If you need help reading your report, the NRDC’s “Making Sense of ‘Right to Know’ Reports” can help you decipher it. If you have young kids, are pregnant, or are thinking about pregnancy in the future, you’ll want to test your tap water for lead contamination, since lead is especially dangerous and levels can vary enormously from house to house. A lead test costs about $25. Once you know what’s in your water, you can find a filter that’s geared toward getting rid of the specific pollutants, if any, that may be present.

Don’t forget also to consider additional contaminants unique to your home and that may be present in your individual water supply, such as copper, which may be leaching from your household plumbing. If you have a well, you can hire someone to conduct private testing. Local public health departments frequently offer basic water testing services, while private drinking water laboratories can analyze your well water for additional contaminants that are of special concern to residents of your region of the country. Common analyses performed on well water supplies include tests for bacteria (total coliform), nitrates, and hardness. In addition, well water can also be checked for herbicides and pesticides if you live in an agricultural area. You may also choose to have tests performed for radon or arsenic, especially if these contaminants are a common problem in groundwater in your region.

Finding the Right Filter
Filters can be configured in many ways, and they have varying types of mechanical and chemical reduction capabilities. Although some are designed to filter water for the whole house, a majority of the systems on the market today are designed to treat water coming from a single faucet. Some filters must be filled manually, such as a pitcher, while others, such as faucet filters and under-sink systems, are attached directly to the plumbing. Some filters aim to produce clearer, better-tasting water, while others work to remove contaminants that could affect your health. Many filters use more than one kind of filtration technology. Depending on the design and filter media used in the unit, filters are able to reduce many types of contaminants, including chlorine, chlorination by-products, lead, viruses, bacteria, and parasites.

It’s pretty easy for a generic filter to catch large contaminants such as dirt particles and bacteria. Viruses are smaller in size and require smaller holed filters. Pesticides and herbicides are the smallest among prominent contaminants, requiring filters that can catch impurities at the submicron level. The approximate size of bacteria is about 0.5 microns, whereas a pesticide chemical is only 0.001 microns. This means it’s imperative that whichever filter you choose, it can handle toxins at the submicron level. Otherwise, contaminants will just pass through.

One rule of thumb is to look for filters labeled as meeting NSF/ANSI Standard 53 that are certified to remove the contaminant(s) of concern in your water. This NSF certification program is not perfect, but it does provide some assurance that at least some claims made by the manufacturer have been verified. NSF-certified filters have been independently tested to show that they can reduce levels of certain pollutants under specified conditions. Those that meet Standard 53 make healthy, clean water a priority rather than just focusing on aesthetic qualities.

For many people, an activated carbon filter bearing NSF Standard 53 certification will do an effective job. But if your water contains perchlorate, for example, a rocket fuel ingredient that’s been found in dozens of municipal water supplies throughout the country, a simple countertop filter won’t do the job.

Brenda Watson, C.N.C., author of The Detox Strategy: Vibrant Health in 5 Easy Steps (Copyright © 2008 by Brenda Watson), is a New York Times bestselling author and one of the foremost authorities in the country on internal cleansing and detoxification. She is dedicated to helping people worldwide achieve healthy digestion and leading them on a path toward natural wellness. She lives in Dunedin, Florida, with her husband and their dogs.




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