This page has some tips to reduce your exposure to chemicals that threaten brain development, from our report “No Brainer: The impact of chemicals on children’s brain development: a cause for concern and a need for action“, published in March 2017.
However, the protection of future generations’ brains requires proper policy measures, as laid out in the policy recommendations of this report. You can help ensure that governments and the EU make these vital improvements by contacting your government and the politicians that represent you, including Members of the European Parliament, if you live in the EU. For details see our Take Action as a citizen page.
In the meantime, individuals can reduce their own exposure to an extent, see some ideas below:
If you want to minimise your exposure to pesticides (some of which are known or suspected neurodevelopmental toxic chemicals), the best way to do this is to switch to organic food. PAN Europe has a useful consumer guide, and the European Commission has a web site promoting organic farming which has more information. You should also avoid the use of pesticides in your own house and garden.
Harmful chemicals can bioaccumulate up the food chain, with chemicals being stored in fat cells. Therefore if you eat meat, cut off the fatty parts and try to stick to lean meat.
Fish (particularly oily fish) can help brain development, but the oils in some fish also contain high levels of chemicals which have accumulated over time (for example methyl mercury and PCBs). The European Food Safety Authority has recently stated:
Limiting consumption of fish species with a high methylmercury content is the most effective way to achieve the health benefits of fish whilst minimising the risks posed by excessive exposure to methylmercury…
EFSA recommends that individual Member States consider their national patterns of fish consumption and assess the risk of different population groups exceeding safe levels of methylmercury while obtaining the health benefits of fish. This particularly applies to countries where fish/seafood species with a high mercury content – such as swordfish, pike, tuna and hake – are consumed regularly.
Food packaging uses a wide range of chemicals, and the regulation of chemicals in packaging materials is not as good as it should be. In particular, current EU laws do not properly control the chemicals used in paper, card, inks, glues and coatings.e To reduce your exposure, try to reduce your use of packaged food and instead buy more fresh products. Store cereals and rice etc in glass jars.
Do not use food packaging for purposes other than for what it was sold. For example, don’t microwave in plastic boxes that aren’t marked as microwave-safe, and microwave in glass if you can.
Even when foods are sold stating they should be cooked in their packaging, this may not be the best option. For example, the Danish Co-op supermarket stopped selling microwavable popcorn as all brands contained PFC chemicals – though now they have found alternatives.
In general, it is advisable to minimise the use of cleaning products. Use natural cleaning brands, in particular, look out for products with independent ecolabels such as the EU Ecolabel, the Blue Angel or the Nordic Ecolabel.
Soaps, shampoos and cosmetics
In the EU, all cosmetics must have an ingredients list, which makes it easier to avoid problem chemicals. Note that this list does not include identification of the chemicals in perfumes and fragrances.
Till receipts and other thermal paper
Most thermal paper, such as till (cash) receipts, contain BPA, a known hormone disrupting chemical. The BPA can leach out and get into our bloodstream. Minimise your handling of receipts or other thermal paper. The EU has agreed to ban this chemical, but this will take time to come into force, and there are concerns that similar chemicals will be used to replace BPA. Don’t let children play with receipts!
House dust has been found to have quite high levels of a range of problematic chemicals, including phthalates, brominated flame retardants and bisphenol A. It is generally a good idea to make sure you clean your home frequently in order to reduce the build-up of dust.
Asking companies about chemicals in their products
You can write to companies (or contact them on social media) to ask them about specific chemicals, about hormone disrupting chemicals in general or about chemicals that have been defined as being of very high concern under the EU’s REACH chemicals regulation.
Under REACH, a company must tell you if their product contains such a chemical – the European Chemicals Agency ECHA has a page explaining the process.
Finding out about chemicals
- ECHA’s official database has a simple ‘info card’ available for up to 120,000 substances.
- The European Trade Union Institute’s Risctox database gives information on a widerange of chemicals.
- ChemSec’s ‘Substitute it Now (SIN)’ list focusses on those chemicals with particularly problematic properties.
Other sources of advice about avoiding hazardous chemicals:
- Breast Cancer UK has a set of pages explaining how you can reduce your exposure to hazardous chemicals.
- Project Nesting from Women in Europe for a Common Future, particularly aimed at those who are pregnant.