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Cost vs. Safety

By , October 14th, 2009 | 4 Comments »

I’m all for saving money, but lately I’ve been focused less on buying the cheapest thing and instead looking at the overall safety and other problems associated with a product. You’ve probably heard about the lead tainted items from China, the BPA found in plastic that can cause hormone disruption, the PFOA found in microwave popcorn and other packaged foods that can cause cancer, the PVC fumes that leach from vinyl shower curtains and can make you sick, and the aluminum compounds in antiperspirant that can cause cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. We’re learning more and more about the chemicals and products that we’ve blindly assumed to be safe all these years and the news isn’t very pretty. And the funny thing is, most of these products that contain these problem chemicals are the cheapest on the market. They’re the things we reach for first when we want to save money.

In the last year or so I’ve started wondering about the true cost of saving money. Sure, I have more money in the bank, but am I compromising my future health with my money saving ways? In some respects, no. Saving money has led me to make my own cleaning products which is keeping me from being exposed to all the chemicals in conventional products. And my desire to save (and health concerns) has led me to cut way down on my makeup and other body product purchases which is keeping me away from many more chemicals. And I don’t eat out as much and I grow a lot of my own produce so, again, I’m cutting my chemical consumption. I buy used, not new, cars so I’m not being gassed with that new car smell which is really the off-gassing of plastic, carpet, paint, and PVC. All good things.

But I (at least until very recently) used plastic storage ware and bottles, antiperspirants containing aluminum, ate microwave popcorn, and bought PVC shower curtains, among many other things. Not only because they were the products I’d always chosen, but because they were cheap and convenient (but mostly cheap).

As I’ve learned more I’ve decided that, while there may be many ways I’m willing to save money, compromising my health isn’t one of them. Now I’m looking for products that have fewer chemicals, are organic, or as close to nature as I can get. That means glass containers instead of plastic. Tom’s aluminum-free deodorant instead of Secret. Hemp or fabric shower curtains instead of PVC. A stainless steel water bottle instead of plastic. Air-popped popcorn instead of microwave. Buying as many products as I can get in glass jars instead of cans that are often lined with PFOA-containing liners. Using paint that is free from VOC’s when I have to paint a room. Growing my own produce or buying local, organic products to minimize chemical exposure. Buying Burt’s Bees body products or using homemade alternatives instead of buying commercial products.

Shopping this way is more expensive and I still can’t eliminate everything that might be toxic to me. Almost every product that is “better for you” is more expensive. It means that I have to save money in other areas in order to afford these healthier alternatives. But I think it is worth it. Cancer rates are going up and I can’t help but think it has a lot to do with how/what we eat and the amount of chemicals that we are exposed to today. We’ve assumed that if chemicals are in wide use they must be okay, but I no longer believe that. I may be willing to do a lot of things to save money, but risking my health is no longer one of them. Whenever possible I’m opting for the safer product, even if it costs more.

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