Spring is in the air and spring cleaning will soon be here. Have you thought about the safety of the cleaning products you use around the house? According to some consumer polls, many people don’t seem that concerned. The problem with this is simple – the negative health effects may take years to surface so we don’t connect the use of a chemical-based cleaner today with an illness in the future! Cleaning products are large contributors to VOC levels in our homes as discussed last month in our Indoor Air Quality tips. The chemical ingredients in many cleaning products are carcinogens, endocrine disruptors and neurotoxins. They are especially damaging to children’s delicate immune systems. Let’s take a closer look at just some of the chemicals commonly found in traditional cleaning products:
1. Formaldeheyde – the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administaration (OSHA) states “Formaldehyde is classified as a human carcinogen and has been linked to nasal and lung cancer, with possible links to brain cancer and leukemia.” This chemical is used as a disinfectant in many cleaning agents including dishwashing liquids, fabric softeners and carpet cleaners.
2. Perchloroethylene (PCE) – The EPA states, “The main effects of tetrachloroethylene in humans are neurological, liver, and kidney effects following acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term) inhalation exposure.” and “Animal studies have reported an increased incidence of liver cancer in mice, via inhalation and gavage (experimentally placing the chemical in the stomach), and kidney and mononuclear cell leukemia in rats.” According to scorecard.org this chemical is a recognized human carcinogen and a suspected liver toxicant, kidney toxicant, neurotoxicant, reproductive toxicant, respiratory toxicant and skin toxicant.
3. Monoethanolamine (MEA) – OSHA reports the health effects from exposure to this chemical as an eye, throat and skin irritant with cumulative liver, lung and kidney damage. This chemical is used as a surfactant in laundry detergents, multipurpose spray cleaners and floor cleaners.
4. Phenol (APE’s) (Triclosan) – According to the Department of Health and Human Services “Short-term exposure to phenol in the air can cause respiratory irritation, headaches, and burning eyes. People who had skin exposure to high amounts of phenol had skin burns, liver damage, dark urine, irregular heart beat, and some died.” Commonly used as a surfactant in laundry detergents, stain removers and multipurpose cleaners.
5. Phthalets – DBP, DEP, DEHP, DzBP and DMP are abbreviations for some of the phthalate derivatives. Europe and 14 other countries have banned this endocrine disruptor and suspected human carcinogen. The chemical is used to soften plastics and as a carrier for artificial fragrances in glass cleaners, laundry detergents, fabric softeners and deodorizers.
6. Propanols - the MSDS sheet for this chemical states it “Has been found to cause cancer in laboratory animals. Skin, eye and respiratory irritant.” The Department of Health and Human Services reports that this chemical is reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen. This chemical is used in dishwashing liquids and laundry detergents.
7. Ehtylene glycol butyl ether (EGBE) or 2-butoxyethanol – according to the EPA is a “possible human carcinogen”. The Deartment of Health and Human Services reports that animal studies have shown destruction of red blood cells, reproductive problems and birth defects with exposures to this chemical. It can be found in glass cleaners as well as multipurpose cleaning agents.
There are hundreds of other chemicals with their root words and synonyms. The best database for health risks of chemicals and the ingredients listed by manufacturer’s products can be found at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services website: www.householdproducts.nlm.hih.gov/index.htm.
Have you read the ingredients list on your favorite cleaning product – whoops there is no list. Why? Unlike other parts of the world such as the European Union, manufacturers of cleaning products here in the United States aren’t required by law to list the ingredients. How are we to protect ourselves and our children? The answer: use natural plant-based cleaners that actually list all of the ingredients. We like Earth Friendly Products including their ECOS line of laundry detergents. They use coconut-based surfactants, essential oils and a little known ingredient that my mother and grandmother used to clean the house – vinegar! Another manufacturer, Sun and Earth uses the power of orange oil to create an effective cleaner that actually smells good too! Both work without those noxious and sometimes harmful fumes. These cleaners are now available at nearly the same price as chemical-based cleaners and they work just as well.
A great report for further information about the health effects of chemicals in household cleaners was written by the Women’s Voices for the Earth and can be found at: www.womenandenvironment.org/campaignsandprograms/SafeCleaning/Hazar...