Deciphering the New Report on Carcinogens (Including Styrofoam – Ha, Told You So!)

The 12th Report on Carcinogens put out by the National Toxicology Program added 7 ingredients to its list of known or strongly suspected human carcinogens. And none too soon, I might add.  The ingredients are a little tough to decipher, so we’re going to give you the low down on how to avoid these substances. It is particularly important to minimize your exposure to these substances if you have a high risk for cancer, are exposed to them frequently through work or other exposure, or if you’re pregnant or have little kids.  For the full report of all known carcinogens, you can click here.

1. STYRENE. Found in styrofoam. The cups in the Congressional Cafeteria were changed back to styrofoam due to Republican pressure this year. If it’s any consolation, you can take comfort in knowing that your elected representatives are slowing being poisoned by their bad choices. Read this post to learn more about the dangers of styrofoam which contains both styrene and benzene (another neurotoxin and carcinogen).

2. ARISTOLOCHIC ACIDS. This is an odd one. In 2001 the FDA issued a warning against Chinese Herbal Medicines and Herbal Teas containing or contaminated with this ingredient. The plants Aristolochea and Asarum are the source of these acids which have been used as anti-inflammatories and diet supplements. In addition to urinary bladder and urinary tract cancer, this ingredient has been linked with severe kidney disease and failure. The Chinese supplement Guan Mu Tong contains this ingredient. A partial list from the FDA is here.

3. CAPTAFOL (OR DIFOLATAN). This is a fungicide that was no longer produced after 1987 in the United States and no longer used after 2006. Don’t ask me why it took 20 years for people to stop using it – that’s above my pay grade. People were primarily exposed to this fungicide through agricultural applications and groundwater in the late 70s to mid 80s.  Suffice it to say, this one shouldn’t be at the top of your list of worries for present exposure.

4. GLASS WOOL FIBERS (THINK FIBERGLASS INSULATION). When we were kids my Dad worked for Owens Corning Fiberglass and we used to have lots of pink fiberglass rolls in our garage. It seemed so much like cotton candy that we loved playing with it, even though it was scratchy and we were not allowed to.  Well, now we know why! The danger of lung tumors developing from fiberglass insulation is lower than from “special purpose fibers” used in aircraft, spacecraft and acoustical insulation.  Nevertheless, it makes sense to wear a mask when removing insulation and replace fiberglass insulation with something safer and more eco-friendly like denim insulation (provided you can afford it, stuff is not cheap).

5. COBALT TUNGSTEN-CARBIDE. Used in making blades for tools. Basically you won’t have been exposed to this unless you work in a factory that makes blades using this ingredient or you live near a hard metal production or maintenance facility, such as in Fallon, NV.

6. FORMALDEHYDE. This is a BIG one and I’ll do a more comprehensive blog post on all of the possible risks for exposure.  Formaldehyde, as we’ve warned before, is in many products but it’s confusing because other chemicals are also made with or offgas formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is in many nail polishes, so make sure your nail polish is formaldehyde free (OPI is formaldehyde free, Sally Hansen and Orly are following suit).  It is also found in glues and resins, so opt for formaldehyde free wood products. Finally, it’s in car exhaust, tobacco smoke and even that new car smell is formaldehyde offgassing.  From what I understand formaldehyde is most dangerous in airborne form and the chemical DMDM hydantoin, found in many personal care products, works as a preservative by offgassing formaldehyde. So if you’re using a hairspray or detangler (Biolage Daily Leave In Tonic – very effective, hugely toxic detangler).  Another chemical Benzyl Alcohol is sometimes created by reacting phenylmagnesium bromide (C6H5MgBr) with formaldehyde. So, watch out for the Toxic Trio: Formaldehyde, DMDM Hydantoin and Benzyl Alcohol.

7. ORTHO-NITROTOLUENE. Okay, I’m going to admit this one is pret-ty technical so get ready. This ingredient is used in the manufacture of (or the manufacture of intermediates for) azo dyes and other dyes, such as magenta and various sulfur dyes for cotton, wool, silk, leather, and paper.  Exposure to this chemical is primarily through skin contact or inhalation, but it has also been found in U.S. water supplies, particularly near military training grounds and munitions production facilities and there have been documented cases of exposure through spills.  Bottom line: not a huge worry, but if you hear of a spill in your area, run do not walk to the next green planet.

8.  RIDDELLIINE.  The riddelliine-containing plant Senecio longilobus has been used in medicinal herb preparations in the U.S..  There isn’t a list of herbal medicines on the market containing this substance, but you can get more information about possible ingredients in herbal products that contain the Senecio plant (and hence, contain riddelliine) by clicking here.  A good rule of thumb is that if it says Senecio on the ingredients then you should avoid it.

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3 Responses to Deciphering the New Report on Carcinogens (Including Styrofoam – Ha, Told You So!)

  1. Anthony says:

    I have heard that “Green Earth” dry cleanining, which is silica based is a carciogenic, Could you supply some info. on this ?

  2. radon denver says:

    I have known for years that Styrofoam is very toxic, anything that you burn and gives off a thick black smoke can’t be that good for you! thanks for the list though!

  3. Pingback: Boohooing Over the Nanny State – NYC Proposed Ban on Polystyrene Cups & Containers | The Green Life

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