How Clean is Clean?
Household cleaning products may not be as clean as you think. Unlike food labels, cleaning product bottles aren’t actually required to list all of their products' ingredients.
If Sen. Al Franken and Rep. Steve Israel have their way, however, new legislation will change that. Franken has introduced the Household Product Labeling Act of 2009, proposing a change to labeling rules (as of now, immediately hazardous chemicals have to be listed, but substances that could be hazardous over time don’t).
"When my wife Franni and I were raising our own kids, we were constantly concerned with what we used to wash their cribs, their pacifiers, the floors and surfaces they played on," says Franken. "This is just a common-sense measure to help parents keep their kids safe and healthy," adds Franken, who says moms and dads have a right to know what chemicals their child is exposed to.
Israel has also introduced a separate labeling bill that goes as far as suggesting that any product that doesn’t comply with complete labeling "shall be treated as a misbranded hazardous substance."
Here’s what you should know about some of the products you might have at home right now.
Photo Credit: AMANITO
Chemicals: Triclosan, surfactants, petroleum distillates, optical brighteners.
What they do: Everyday laundry products are among those containing chemicals that children are exposed to, pretty much starting at birth. Triclosan has been linked to harm to fetuses and infants, and even the American Medical Association recommends against use of the chemical at home. Studies have also shown that triclosan affects male and female reproductive hormones, which could potentially increase risk for breast cancer, according to the National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides.
Surfactants present in many detergents don’t easily biodegrade, which could mean toxic chemicals leaching into the ground water and the ground, potentially harming plants and animals. Plus, optical brighteners that make your clothes appear whiter and brighter could cause rashes and eye irritation, and petroleum distillates have been linked to an increased risk of cancer.
An alternative: Homemade Detergent
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Chemicals: Triclosan, chemical fragrances.
What they do: “Dryer sheets coat all your clothes with a layer of toxic chemicals. When you wear those clothes, your body moisture causes those chemicals to come into contact with your skin and be absorbed directly into your bloodstream,” according to NaturalNews.com. So your clothes might smell good, but the potentially cancer-causing chemical fragrances that make your clothes smell “clean” can absorb into your skin.
An alternative: Reusable laundry balls (natural fragrances are optional).
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Chemicals: Triclosan, Ethoxylates.
What they do: Triclosan is a common chemical found in dish soaps and other liquid soaps, and as we mentioned earlier, may disrupt reproductive hormones and could cause breast cancer. Ethoxylates, such as 1,4-Dioxane, are even in some "green" cleaners but are known cancer-causing agents. In animal testing, even low levels of exposure to the chemical have caused cancer.
An Alternative: Homemade Dishwashing Detergent
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Chemicals: Triclosan, Ethoxylates.
What they do: Triclosan, the main antibacterial ingredient in many hand soaps, has been found in many streams and rivers and can disrupt thyroid hormone function in bullfrogs and other animals and aquatic life.
An alternative: EarthSense Certified Liquid Hand Cleaner
Note: Triclosan can also be found in everyday hand soaps including Softsoap, Dial and Bath & Body Works products, according to research by the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit working to protect public health and the environment. In light of the flu season, however, the Consumer Specialty Products Assocation, a trade group, has criticized the EWG for its report. “It is irresponsible to alarm consumers about using disinfectants and other antimicrobials that help protect against H1N1 and other viruses at a time when consumers should to be taking the necessary measures to protect themselves and their families,” CSPA President Chris Cathcart said in a statement.
Photo Credit: craiglea123
Chemicals: Phthalates, Ethyl Acetate, Diazolidinyl Urea, Propylene Glycol.
What they do: Cosmetics makers often use several chemicals to make your everyday, clump-free, smudge-free mascara. In addition to being possible eye irritants, phthalates have been linked to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, ethyl acetate may irritate the eyes and skin, propylene glycol makes it easier for substances, including harmful ones, to penetrate your skin and diazolidinyl urea used as a preservative could cancer-causing impurities according to the Northwestern Health Sciences University.
An alternative: Afterglow Cosmetics Pure Soul Mascara.
Note: According to the EWG, products like hairspray, nail polish, nail polish remover, hair color, hair remover and medications have not been proven safe by the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA can’t actually require recalls of dangerous products, the agency says, since they’re a voluntary measure that companies take, but while the FDA continues to allow the sale of chemical-laden cosmetics that are banned in other countries, it has recently demanded that beverage makers selling alcoholic energy drinks prove their safety or else they’ll be pulled off the market. In the state of California, cosmetics containing potentially cancer-causing ingredients must be labeled as such.
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Chemicals: Formaldehyde, benzyl alcohol, camphor (which is on the EPA's Hazardous Waste List), dichlorobenzene.
What they do: Formaldehyde can actually deaden your sense of smell, and some air fresheners actually work “by coating your nasal passages with an undetectable oily film,” according to the Global Campaign for Recognition of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. Benzyl alcohol, camphor and dichlorobenzene could harm the nervous system, kidney and liver.
Alternatives: Beeswax or soy candles made with natural ingredients and diffuser reeds using essential oils may be a more natural alternative to air fresheners.
Photo Credit: SideAffecks
Floor Cleaners and Furniture Polish
What they do: If you like that lemon scent in your furniture polish then you’ll be interested to know that the smell might also be the source of potentially harmful chemicals. Potentially hazardous phthalates are used as a binding agent for fragrances, which often make a brand. Phthalates have been linked to negative developmental effects on boys, reduced sperm count in adult men, among other health problems.
An alternative: Homemade Furniture Polish
Note: Homemade concoctions of various household cleaners can also be harmful to your health. For instance, mixing a cleaner containing ammonia with a cleaner containing bleach can create toxic fumes in the form of chlorine gas.
Even in California schools, a variety of cleaning products including floor cleaners have been found to contain six chemicals linked to asthma, 11 possible carcinogens and 450 chemicals whose safety hasn’t even been determined, according to an Environmental Working Group study. Photo Credit: trekkyandy
Chemicals: Chloroform, benzene, formaldehyde.
What they do: It might make sense that any substance that can break down clogs of natural human hair might be harmful to the human body. Chloroform has caused cancer in lab tests of animals, and can affect kidney and liver function, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. Benzene can seep into the blood and bone marrow, cause dizziness, irritate the skin, eyes and respiratory tract, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Another bathroom cleaner, Comet Disinfectant Powder Cleanser, was also found to disperse more than 100 contaminants into the air, the EWG says.
An alternative: Homemade Drain Cleaner
Photo Credit: Lars Plougmann
Chemical: Diaminodiphenyl sulfone.
What it does: Epoxy resins are chemical compounds that are used to protect surfaces like furniture from other potent chemicals. Exposure to epoxies can result in eye, nose, throat, and skin irritation, skin allergies and asthma. They can affect the reproductive system and possibly even cause cancer, according to the California Department of Public Health. While epoxy resins are relatively safe when dry, sanding or burning a surface treated with the substance can also disperse harmful chemicals into the environment.
Alternatives: There are quite a few. Take a look at this discussion on the subject.
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Paints or Stains
Chemicals: Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).
What they do: Inhaling paint fumes can be very dangerous if done regularly. According to Essortment.com, "Both short and long term exposure to these fumes can and will most likely affect you in a variety of ways, which are more serious than often expected. This is not just a headache or a little nausea. Some studies have suggested that excessive exposure to paint fumes may increase the rate of miscarriage, as well as increasing the risk of childhood asthma. Those who get high huffing would do well to know that the American Academy of Pediatrics says that huffing can lead to instant cardiac arrhythmia or sudden sniffing death syndrome."
Here's an alternative.
Note: While numerous warnings by federal and state health officials have been made especially to parents about lead, which can accumulate in the body and lead to serious nervous system damage and other problems, the long-term effects of chemicals in paint haven’t been adequately addressed, according to Rep. Israel.
Photo Credit: AZAdam