What if the next time you ordered a sandwich at your favorite deli the waitress asked, “You want extra chemicals with that?”
Sounds crazy, of course, but it turns out that in this case fact may only be a hand washing away from fiction.
I’ve told you before about the growing threat of flame retardants and how they’ve already reached sky-high levels in our kids and our pets.
The harsh reality is that these toxic chemicals have been used for so long and in so many applications… from furniture to electronics… that the compounds, known as PBDEs, are so prevalent that they’ve even managed to hitch rides into our food supply in the forms of fast food and butter packaging.
Flame retardants are hitching a ride inside on your hands
Now, frightening new research done at the Boston University School of Public Health suggests that the invisible dust that sticks to the natural oils on our hands is likely providing a sort of superhighway for PBDEs to speed right into our bodies.
And, of course, once there, the chemicals can wreak havoc with our health, slashing fertility in women and testosterone production in men, disrupting thyroid function, and causing developmental issues in kids.
The new study tested 31 workers from eight different office buildings around Boston for PBDE exposure. Researchers checked the PBDE levels in dust vacuumed from the office floors, in alcohol swabs the workers had wiped their hands with, and finally in the workers’ blood.
Not surprisingly they found PBDEs in the dust from each of the offices. However, they also found significant amounts of the chemicals on the swabs taken from the workers’ hands. And, as you may already have guessed, the more PBDEs they found on a worker’s hands the higher the levels of chemicals that were found in his blood.
The researchers say the findings are a major clue about how PBDEs may be finding their way out of the air and dust we are surrounded with and into our bodies. Normal activities like, for example, typing on a keyboard, picking items up from a pantry or store shelf, and even sorting through paperwork can expose your oil-covered hands to PBDEs.
Once they are attached to your hands simply just touching your mouth—or the food that eventually ends up in your mouth—you can transfer the compounds from outside your body to inside. Suddenly it’s easy to see how we can be unknowingly gobbling down PBDEs with every meal or face touch.
But there IS some good news.
Regular hand washing slashes blood levels or PBDEs
The simple act of washing your hands a couple of times per day can greatly reduce your exposure. Workers who reported washing their hands more than four times a day had on average about three times lower blood levels of PBDEs then did others tested.
So be sure to wash your hands several times a day, be especially diligent about doing it before preparing or eating any meals, and encourage your kids or grandkids to do the same.
And if those in your household need a little encouragement why not print out a couple of these “The Zen of Handwashing” instructional sheets, and post them strategically in the bathroom and kitchen as a gentle reminder? Just be sure to avoid triclosan-loaded antibacterial soaps and opt for plain old soap and water instead.
Now that I think about it, I suppose this news gives the old saying about a “hand-to-mouth existence” a whole new meaning.