5 Everyday Products You Didn’t Know Had Pesticides
You thought pesticides were something sprayed on your lawn to annihilate weeds, but it may also show up in things you use everyday, like cleaners, antibacterial products, and even the shoes you’re wearing now. “They’re used to extend shelf life and kill critters that may harm us,” says Ann Blake, Ph.D., founder of Environmental & Public Health Consulting.
The downside? “Overuse of these ingredients can promote drug resistant superbugs,” says Blake. Meaning bacteria adapt, survive, and spread even when you treat them with drugs. Antibiotics may not even work when you get sick and need them the most. While you know to go organic to avoid pesiticides in your food, read on for where to uncover these five sly sources.Antibacterial hand soap: It contains an antimicrobial pesticide known as triclosan, which works by killing bacteria. However, it destroys both the bad and—potentially protective—good bacteria present on your hands, says Blake. What’s more, triclosan can be aborbed by your body through the skin and has been linked to endocrine disruption as well as antibiotic resistance. It’s so pervasive that in a 2014 study, researchers found it inside peoples’ nasal passages where it encourages the growth of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, making you more prone to infection.
Plus, research in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases found that the ingredient is no more effective than regular soap and hot water for cleaning hands. In a bind? Use an alcohol-based sanitizer. And keep an eye out for triclosan on ingredient lists as it’s not only in antibacterial soap. You can also find it in your toothpaste (particularly Colgate Total), acne treatment products, deodorant, and shave gels.
Cutting boards and food storage containers: Plastic products are often treated with, you guessed it, triclosan. Because items like these don’t have to list their ingredients, it can be harder to tell what’s in them—so you really can’t be sure. Look for claims like “keeps food fresher” as one clue that it's antibacterial, says Rebecca Sutton, Ph.D., senior scientist at the San Francisco Estuary Institute.
Because of the prevalence of triclosan—and so many of the products you use are plastic—it’s been found in the urine of 75 percent of people tested in research by the Centers for Disease Control. (The EPA is currently reviewing the true safety of triclosan.) Until then, go for wooden cutting boards to prep your food in the kitchen, which research shows are more sanitary and easier-to-clean than plastic anyway. Then, stash leftovers in glassware.
Household cleaning products: If it says it sanitizes, disinfects, or removes scum/biofilm, it’s got a pesticide. “It’s really hard to buy a cleaner that doesn’t contain a quat,” says Blake. That’s bacteria-killing chemical shorthand for this mouthful: quaternary ammonium compounds. Unfortunately, these may contribute to the development of asthma, particularly in people in the cleaning industry, says Sutton.
The alternative is simple. Things like soap, water, and hydrogen peroxide diluted with water work really well to clean, recommends Blake. Or, look up cleaning products on the Environmental Working Group’s guide to healthy cleaning, a database that Sutton helped create. One all-purpose cleaner that’s rated high: Dr. Bronner’s 18-in-1 Hemp Pure-Castille Soap (drbronner.com).
Workout gear: Nanosilver is a type of antibacterial in some exercise clothing, socks, and shoes. Unfortunately, you can’t be 100 percent sure if it’s in your stuff. Companies don’t have to say what’s in their product if they use vague terms like “fights odor” rather than “antibacterial.” The big risk is to the environment. “Every time you wash your clothing, some of the silver washes down the drain and can enter wastewater or sewage sludge where it’s toxic to aquatic life and the beneficial bacteria in soil,” says Sutton.
If you want to reduce exposure, avoid clothing labeled “anti-odor” or “antimicrobial.” And don’t worry about smelling bad. A new study in Applied and Environmental Microbiology found that synthetic fabrics—those most often used for workout apparel—actually smell worse than their cotton counterparts.
Dishtowels: On the label, some towels may include phrases like “specially treated for antimicrobial protection.” In that case, they may contain pesticides. You don’t have to buy any fancy brand. A regular dishtowel will work just fine. You’ll clean up your mess—and won’t be harmed in the process.