5 On Your Side

NC State scientist raises awareness about household chemicals

Posted November 11, 2015

— After years of researching the impact chemicals have in our daily lives, a North Carolina State University scientist says she has changed her lifestyle to reduce her family’s exposure and wants others to know how to do the same.

Heather Patisaul, a biological sciences professor, studies how chemicals impact brain development, particularly early in life. She says chemicals found in plastic containers, water bottles, air fresheners, scented beauty products, scented soaps and elsewhere can cause changes in reproductive physiology, fertility, growth and behavior.

"I think most people would be very surprised to find out for most of the 85,000 chemicals we use in commerce, most have not been tested for health effects at all,” Patisaul said.

She's so convinced about risks that she no longer uses any scented products, plastic baggies or plastic containers.

“If you reheat your food in a (plastic) container … there is the potential that those chemicals could leach into that food, and then you would eat those chemicals,” she said. "We've known for almost 50 years that chemicals leach out when you wrap your food with (plastic), and cook with it or put it in the microwave.”

Now, she and her family use glass containers and have ditched plastic wrap entirely.

Some products are labeled BPA free. The concern with Bisphenol A, Patisaul says, is that it acts like estrogen in the body. But she says experts are still unsure whether the replacement, BPS, contains other chemicals that might interfere with estrogen and other hormones.

Patisaul has gone totally scent-free in her home, including with hair products, detergents, lotions and candles. She does not use any air fresheners.

"I know these things smell amazing, but you’re basically sniffing chemicals,” she said.

With more research underway at her lab, she wants to raise awareness.

“This is really is about health. Going overboard is not going to be the solution, but there are very reasonable steps that you can take every day to minimize exposure to chemicals that pose real risk,” Patisaul said.

So how do you know what products might be safer than others? Patisaul uses Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep, which ranks products on a scale of 1 to 10 based on their ingredients. The website also offers tips for choosing safer products.


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  • Stacie Hagwood Nov 12, 2015
    user avatar

    The things this scientist talks about eliminating aren't even necessary. We just are in the habit of doing things differently. Nobody likes change or being told they are doing something wrong/harmful, but it could make you a whole lot healthier (and maybe put a little more money in your pocket)
    AFWIW: If we took half the money raised by non-profits to "find a cure for cancer" and invested it into preventing cancer, I'd be a lot happier about donating.

  • Ryan Turner Nov 12, 2015
    user avatar

    I bet most of the people here critical of a scientist have a fit about going through the airport scanners (when the radiological dose is negligible). Folks, I am happy that scientist so research on this stuff. You can't count on the corporations to do it. This is the kind of research that has reduced our exposure to a lot of poisonous stuff over the years that was thought to be safe. I'm not throwing away my plastic bags anytime soon, but I am glad they are looking into this.

  • John Weston Nov 12, 2015
    user avatar

    Great article and great work by this local scientist at State. It's long overdue. Yes, life is risky when exposed to a lot of things that have never really been tested. Huge increases in cancer over the last few decades, across all age groups is not a coincidence. The food supply is another huge issue. But, it's an individual right to ignore it if you choose to, but understand the risks of doing this. In the U.S. 1 in 2 women now will get cancer, 1 in 3 men. You can do something to mitigate those risks.

  • Erika Phipps Nov 12, 2015
    user avatar

    It's like with GMOs - there's no actual objective scientific evidence of danger, but there's that fringe who says "PROVE there's no danger." Wanting studies to prove a negative - that all this scent and plastic won't kill/injure/sterilize you- is ridiculous. And I'd bet dollars to doughnuts most of those chemicals HAVE been tested for safety over the years, she just didn't like the results.

    (But then this is the same WRAL that allowed the phrase "not fit for human consumption" regarding HFCS and trans-fats. Sure we should minimize our ingestion of them, and there are healthier alternatives, but promoting hysterical language is tiresome.)

  • Jon Brabender Nov 12, 2015
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    No matter what you do, we aren't getting out of this alive!
    Life is a matter of cost/benefit tradeoffs. If she wants to make those choices for herself, I don't care (but that is not news). The problem is "news" outlets like WRAL trying to pass this off as sites like EWG as "good science".

  • Roy Hinkley Nov 12, 2015
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    Sure, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't take steps to mitigate your risk. People drive cars (which is risky) yet they also put on seat belts, turn on their lights in the dark, and usually even stay in their own lane.

  • Russell Chapman Nov 11, 2015
    user avatar

    This just in: Life is harmful.