9 Known Carcinogens That Are Found in Everyday Products

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This article has been written and reviewed for legal accuracy and clarity by Tort Defenders’ writers and staff and is as accurate as possible. This content should not be taken as legal advice from an attorney.

While lifestyle choices and family health history can increase your risk of developing cancers, contact with certain substances can also cause the illness. Studies have linked these substances, known as carcinogens, with an increased risk of cancer. 

Some carcinogens have a proven link, while others have a probable connection. You can avoid both categories to limit your cancer risks, but getting these substances out of your home may be more difficult than you think. Certain substances are either in common household items or byproducts of certain ingredients.

Here is a look at nine different carcinogens found in homes or contained in common household products. 

Asbestos  

Asbestos is a cancer-causing mineral used in insulation and fireproofing starting in the 19th century and continuing until the 1980s. Many older homes and commercial buildings may contain asbestos, which can be released into the air, increasing cancer risks. Asbestos exposure can lead to mesothelioma, a cancer affecting the lungs and abdominal cavity. 

Asbestos can also contaminate consumer products. For instance, traces of the mineral were found in talcum powder, leading to lawsuits and claims from victims who unknowingly exposed themselves to cancer risks by using the products. 

You can inspect your home for asbestos, which was common in buildings from the 1930s to 1970s. Professionals can remove it while avoiding contaminating the air. Even though it is no longer used in buildings, asbestos still has some uses, and plans to phase it out completely were only recently adopted by the EPA. 

Benzene  

Benzene is a solvent used in chemical and medicine manufacturing. It is also a component of crude oil and gets released in cigarette smoke. 

Most people won’t come into contact with benzene; it is in liquid form, but it easily becomes airborne and gets inhaled. It can also seep into water, which is what happened during the well-known Camp Lejeune water contamination crisis. Scientists link long-term benzene exposure to leukemia and other serious illnesses. 

Benzene is not outlawed, but regulations limit its use. People who work in the chemical, mining, and pharmaceutical industries may come into regular contact with benzene and could use respirators and personal protective equipment (PPE). People exposed to car emissions, such as auto mechanics, and those who live near industrial areas where benzene gets used may also suffer from long-term exposure. 

Formaldehyde 

Formaldehyde is best known as an all-purpose fungicide and disinfectant. It actually has many uses in everything from synthetic wood and particleboard production to fabric and paper coatings. It also appears in common household products, including hair dyes and some paper products. 

Formaldehyde has been found in chemical hair straightening products. Such products pose a significant risk for cancer because they directly contact your body. Formaldehyde exposure has been linked to breast, ovarian, and hormone-related cancers in women.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the U.S. National Toxicology Program (NTP) both list formaldehyde as a carcinogen, while the EPA considers the substance as possibly carcinogenic. 

Acrylamide 

Acrylamide is a chemical that forms in foods when they are put under high heat during baking, roasting, or frying. For instance, bread and coffee can produce acrylamide during baking and roasting, respectively. The chemical is also present in some deep-fried foods like French fries. 

Acrylamide is unique because it does not come from chemicals in packaging or pesticides. Instead, it gets produced by sugars and acids in the food that get released during heating. 

While most groups consider acrylamide a possible danger to human health, there is not much definitive research on its long-term effects. Also, it is difficult to avoid since it can occur in many different cooked or processed foods and drinks. Currently, a well-balanced diet with some raw foods is the best option for limiting any dangers related to acrylamide. 

Aflatoxins 

Aflatoxins are naturally occurring carcinogens produced by molds. The cancer-causing fungi can contaminate food, increasing the cancer risk in people who then eat the food products. Foods affected by aflatoxins include corn, rice, nuts, cooking oils, and various fruits. 

The mold can spread to the food while it is still growing or after it is stored and processed following the harvest. Because this can occur naturally, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers aflatoxins “unavoidable contaminants.” 

Food producers can test for aflatoxins, but the FDA contends that ingesting small amounts occasionally will not lead to an increased risk of health problems. You can research specific brands of potentially contaminated food to see if the producers test for aflatoxins. 

Cadmium 

Cadmium is a natural substance that gets extracted from metals like zinc and copper. It has applications in manufacturing, where it is used to reduce the chance of corrosion. Most people are exposed to cadmium in manufacturing settings where metal-containing products like batteries and coatings are produced. They typically inhale fumes or dust, which can cause lung cancers. 

Cadmium dust can also contaminate food produced near manufacturing facilities. However, most people in the general public are exposed to cigarette smoke, which also contains cadmium. 

People who don’t smoke or live with smokers typically do not have to worry about cadmium exposure. Those exposed in industrial settings may consider respirators or masks to limit exposure. 

Radon  

Radon is a naturally occurring gas that gets released from soil and rocks. Trace amounts of radon are in the air, and almost everyone inhales them at levels that aren’t high enough to cause health issues. 

However, radon can cause lung cancer if people are exposed to high levels of the gas in an enclosed setting. It can enter buildings through foundation cracks or leaks. People inside can be exposed to high levels of radon, increasing their cancer risks. People who live in low levels and basements often have the highest risk. 

A majority of the people who develop lung cancer due to radon exposure are also cigarette smokers, though more than 10% of radon lung cancer deaths are people who do not smoke. 

You can test the air in your home for radon and take mitigation steps, such as using exhaust fans, to lower the concentration of the gas in your home. 

Glyphosate  

Glyphosate, a herbicide used in popular weed-killing products like Roundup, has been linked to cancers. There is a debate over the dangers of glyphosate, with the IARC considering it a probable carcinogen and the EPA classifying it as a possible carcinogen. The company that owns Roundup has settled some lawsuits and lost others brought by cancer patients contending their illness was caused by the chemical. 

You can also ingest glyphosate in your food since it is commonly used in agriculture. However, the people with the highest risk of developing cancer due to long-term exposure are those who work in landscaping or agriculture and use products like Roundup regularly.

You can avoid glyphosate exposure by opting for non-toxic weed-killers or pulling out weeds manually. Wearing gloves, long sleeves, and masks during application may also reduce your risk of developing cancers. 

Processed Meat 

Processed meats, which are preserved with chemicals or curing techniques, are very common because of their longer shelf life. Digestive cancers in the stomach or colon are commonly associated with processed meats, with carcinogens forming during the curing process. 

Common culprits include hot dogs, smoked meats, sausages, and deli meats like salami and ham. While occasionally eating these products is not risky, they can increase risks for digestive cancers if eaten regularly. 

Eating a balanced diet and opting for fresh meats or non-animal protein sources is a good way to limit the risk from processed meats. 

You will likely encounter carcinogens during your daily activities, but if you can limit contact and keep products with these substances out of your home, you can lower your risk of cancer.

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