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A dozen hormone-altering chemicals and how to avoid them

No one wants to consume toxic chemicals in our food or water, but how can we know what to avoid?

Now there is some guidance from the Environmental Working Group’s recently released “Dirty Dozen” list of one type of chemicals — those that disrupt the production of hormones.

EWG researchers compiled the list by scouring the scientific literature and identifying the most hazardous and widely used hormone-disrupting chemicals that pollute the environment and ultimately our bodies. These substances are frequently found in food, water and consumer products, and studies have linked them to a wide array of health problems, including cancer, birth defects, lowered sperm count, lowered IQ and thyroid disease.

The Keep A Breast Foundation funded the research.

EWG says these are 12 of the worst hormone disrupters and offers some tips on how to avoid them:

BPA: This chemical found in plastics imitates the estrogen in your body. BPA has been linked to everything from cancer to reproductive problems, obesity, early puberty and heart disease and, according to government tests, 93 percent of Americans have BPA in their bodies.

Go fresh instead of canned — many food cans are lined with BPA — or research which companies don’t use BPA or similar chemicals in their products.

Say no to paper sales receipts, since thermal paper is often coated with BPA. Avoid plastics marked with a “PC,” for polycarbonate, or recycling label No. 7.

Dioxin: Dioxins form during many industrial processes when chlorine or bromine are burned in the presence of carbon and oxygen.

Dioxins are difficult to avoid because the food supply is widely contaminated. Products including meat, fish, milk, eggs and butter are most likely to be contaminated. Cut down on your exposure by eating fewer animal products.

Atrazine: This chemical is widely used on the majority of corn crops in the United States, and consequently, it’s a pervasive drinking water contaminant. Atrazine has been linked to breast tumors, delayed puberty and prostate inflammation in animals.

Buy organic produce and get a water filter certified to remove atrazine.

Phthalates: Studies have linked phthalates to hormone changes, lower sperm count, birth defects in the male reproductive system, obesity, diabetes and thyroid irregularities.

Avoid plastic food containers, children’s toys (some phthalates are already banned in kids’ products), and plastic wrap made from PVC, which has the recycling label No. 3.

Some personal care products also contain phthalates, so read the labels and avoid products that simply list added “fragrance,” since this term sometimes means hidden phthalates.

Perchlorate: A component in rocket fuel, this substance contaminates much of our produce and milk, according to EWG and government test data.

Reduce perchlorate in your drinking water by installing a reverse osmosis filter. As for food, it’s pretty much impossible to avoid perchlorate, but you can reduce its potential effects by making sure you are getting enough iodine in your diet. Eating iodized salt is one good way.

Fire retardants: These chemicals, known as polybromimnated diphenyl ethers or PBDEs, have been found to contaminate people and wildlife. They can imitate thyroid hormones and disrupt their activity.

It’s virtually impossible to avoid exposure to these, but passing better toxic chemical laws that require chemicals to be tested before they go on the market would help, EWG says.

In the meantime, use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter, which can cut down on toxic-laden house dust; avoid reupholstering foam furniture; take care when replacing old carpet as the padding underneath may contain PBDEs.

Lead: Lead harms almost every organ system in the body and has been linked to an array of health effects, including permanent brain damage, lowered IQ, hearing loss, miscarriage, premature birth, increased blood pressure, kidney damage and nervous system problems.

Keep your home clean and well maintained. Crumbling old paint is a major source of lead exposure, so get rid of it carefully.

A good water filter can also reduce lead. Studies have also shown that children with healthy diets absorb less lead.

Arsenic: Arsenic is lurking in your food and drinking water. If you eat enough of it, it will kill you. In smaller amounts, arsenic can cause skin, bladder and lung cancer and can also disrupt hormone functioning.

Reduce your exposure by using a water filter that lowers arsenic levels.

Mercury: This naturally occurring but toxic metal is found in mercury-contaminated seafood. Pregnant women are the most at risk from mercury’s effects.

For people who want to eat seafood without mercury, wild salmon and farmed trout are good choices.

Perfluorinated chemicals: The chemicals, known as PFCs, are used to make nonstick cookware. They are so widespread that 99 percent of Americans have these chemicals in their bodies.

Skip nonstick pans as well as stain and water-resistant coatings on clothing, furniture and carpets.

Organophosphate pesticides: Organophosphates can affect the human body in ways such as interfering with the way testosterone communicates with cells, lowering testosterone and altering thyroid hormone levels.

Buy organic produce.

Glycol ethers: The European Union says that some of these chemicals “may damage fertility or the unborn child.” Children who were exposed to glycol ethers from paint in their bedrooms had substantially more asthma and allergies.

Avoid cleaning products with ingredients such as 2-butoxyethanol (EGBE) and methoxydiglycol (DEGME).