The Dangers of Chemical Household Cleaners
Every day, people within our society are exposed to harsh chemicals that are damaging to one’s health. These chemical compounds are found in our foods, household cleaners, detergents, furniture, air fresheners, and clothes, as well as many other places throughout our environment--many of which we have no control over. Our culture willingly poisons itself each day in an attempt to make itself clean. People have become so obsessed with the idea of sanitizing and killing germs that they will go to any lengths to do so. However, what many don’t realize is, while they may destroy germs, the chemical cleaners sitting under most American’s kitchen sinks actually leave behind a toxic residue. What we must ask ourselves is this; is it really necessary to use harsh chemical compounds simply for cleaning our homes?
Study by the Environmental Working Group
The Environmental Working Group(EWG) came out with a study in April of 2012 examining the ingredients and labels of over 2000 products. They then came up with the EWG Cleaners Database Hall of Shame with their picks for the worst products available today.
Listed below are just a few examples of the EWG's findings.
EWG Cleaners Database Hall of Shame:
Common Household Brands with Asthma Causing Ingredients:
Spic and Span
One can say it is common knowledge that chemical substances are dangerous and should be used with caution. Just by looking at the back of any household cleaner, the warning labels requiring well ventilated areas and no contact with skin etc., make this evident. Yet still the product is used with little to no thought given to seriousness of the danger. In actuality, exposure to chemical compounds found in many common household cleaners have been linked to many serious illnesses and diseases, perhaps the most well known being asthma. According to an article from the Breast Cancer Fund, various common household items contain toxins that have been directly linked with breast cancer (“Chemicals in Household Products”).
In the United Stated today, there are more than eighty-three thousand different chemicals known to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), many of which are used in products and manufacturing (Environmental Protection Agency). The adverse effects of being exposed to such different combinations of substances are not clear, but perhaps we need to stop and question why it is that disease has become so prevalent, and consider whether chemicals may be one of the contributing factors
EWG Cleaners Database Hall of Shame Cont'd:
Product May be Fatal if Inhaled in Concentrated Form:
Glade Air Freshener Sprays
Air Wick Automatic Air Fresheners
Old English Furniture Polish
Spot Shot Carpet Stain Remover
Dangers to Children:
Children especially, are extremely vulnerable to chemicals. Because their bodies are still developing, the effect of chemical compounds can alter the natural processes of their development, such as their nervous and reproductive systems (Bongiorno 178). Exposure is greater for small children, due to the fact that they crawl on floors containing leftover toxic residue from chemical cleaners, and often put their hands in their mouths. Author Lori Bongiorno states in her book Green Greener Greenest, that “pound for pound, children take in more contaminants than adults.” Parents should take this information seriously. Already, two generations have been raised in this chemical loving society, and disease and sickness have skyrocketed with these generations.
Assuming a Product's Safety:
Our society is too trusting in its commercial products. For some reason we assume that if a product has made it onto store shelves, then it has been thoroughly tested and deemed not hazardous. This, however, is not the case, the regulations for chemical cleaners in this country are laughable. It is a virtual free-for-all for companies as long as they report to the EPA the chemicals that are used, and if there are no studies proving severe health risks, the product makes it onto the shelves. The tests however are not necessarily thorough, and possibly bias, as companies provide their own product testing (Environmental Protection Agency). There is also no law stating that companies must list the complete ingredients on the label for consumers’ knowledge, leaving people in the dark about what chemicals their cleaning products really contain.
Household Product Database:
Products Containing Formaldehyde:
Tetra Pond Fish Treatment
Gerber Baby Wash with Lavender
Soft Soap Body Wash, Ultra Rich Shae Butter
Dynamo 2x Ultra Concentrated Laundry Detergent, Sunrise
Murphy Oil Soap Multi-use Wood Cleaner with Orange Oil, Pump Spray
Assessing a Product's Danger:
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Household Product Database is a good tool for consumers to see the current risk for thousands of products containing chemical compounds. While some products are shown to have limited risk, others prove to be more serious, many including harmful carcinogens that have been linked with cancer. One product example out of hundreds is quite disturbing. This product is Gerber Baby Wash with Lavender, and it contains trace amounts of formaldehyde--a known carcinogen--in its ingredients. Actually, formaldehyde and water are the only ingredients listed, the other ingredients remain unspecified(National Library of Medicine). It seems astonishing that a known carcinogen can be included in a product that is specified for those most precious and vulnerable in our population.
Some products without known carcinogens also pose certain risks, such as Lysol Brand Disinfectant All Purpose Cleaner with Bleach 4in1 Pump Spray, which has been labeled by the Hazardous Materials Identification System as posing a serious health risk (National Library of Medicine). The label on this product warns that "persons with heart conditions or chronic respiratory problems such as asthma, emphysema or obstructive lung disease" should not use this product, and strongly implies use in well ventilated areas--yet it is used inside the home. This is a popular product that is used in homes across the country and many consumers are unaware that it poses serious risks to their health.
Are Chemical Cleaners Even Necessary?
Some may argue that the only way to protect ourselves from sickness is by using chemicals to destroy germs, and that the risk to chemical exposure is worth it. This may arguably be the case for certain institutions such as hospitals and medical facilities. However, what our culture needs to realize is that it is not necessary to use hazardous chemicals to clean our homes. One can easily achieve a home that is clean and healthy by using natural “green” products, or simple homemade cleaners. Keeping counters and bathrooms wiped down and free of messes is just as effective as using chemical based products, without leaving the toxic residue. Many natural plant based substances such as thyme or lemon, are capable of keeping a home clean and healthy. It is not necessary, nor is it possible to completely rid our homes from germs. Actually, daily exposure to germs can help the body to build immunities, thereby protecting itself from future disease (Paddock). Eliminating all germs from our environment will only work to make our bodies less efficient at battling sickness.
What consumers in our society need to consider is whether using chemical based cleaners is worth the potential risk. If one can achieve nearly the same level of clean using plant-based products, without the hazards of toxic residue, then it should be an easy choice between the two. If one truly values his or her health, as well as the health of one’s family, it is important to consider what the long time effects of chemical exposure could bring, and whether or not it is a risk worth taking.
How do you clean your home?
Bongiorno, Lori. Green Greener Greenest: A Practical Guide to Making Eco-Smart Choices a Part of Your Life. New York: Penguin Group, 2008. Print.
“Chemicals in Household Products.” Breast Cancer Fund. N.p., 2010. Web. 18 January 2013.
Environmental Protection Agency. Summary of the Toxic Substances Control Act. EPA, 23 August 2012. Web. 19 January 2013.
"EWG Cleaners Database Hall of Shame." Environmental Working Group. EWG, 24 April 2012. Web. 16 Feb. 2013.
National Library of Medicine. Household Products Database. NLM, January 2013. Web. 18 January 2013.
Paddock, Catharine PhD. “Childhood Exposure To Germs May Help Immunity.” Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 26 Mar. 2012. Web. 22 January 2013.