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Awakening From a Silent Spring: Are Everyday Household Products Safe?

Updated on September 3, 2012

A recent study by the Silent Spring Institute, an environmental health research organization, shows that a range of everyday household products have harmful chemicals and those chemicals are not always listed on product labels.


What this study says

In this study, actual products were tested for the presence of chemicals. The products included everyday items such as shower curtains, perfumes, air fresheners, laundry detergents, shampoos, and sunscreen and included “alternative” products - those listed as “safer.” The majority of all these products were shown to have chemicals that may contribute to negative health outcomes, such as breast cancer, growth and reproduction issues, and asthma. Moreover, many of those chemicals were not listed on the product label.

While this research is not surprising, it does add to the growing evidence that many of the products we use in in our day-to-day lives may not be as safe as we think. In addition, since the product labels are not complete, we have no way of knowing. The study suggests that current safety testing standards should be improved to better protect consumers. The Silent Spring Institute advises consumers to be cautious when using skin products, to avoid vinyl products and those containing fragrances or anti-bacterials, and to wash with soap and water.

On the other hand

Industry critics, however, say that this research is biased and that the scientific methods are not rigorous enough. They argue that the amount of chemical exposure in these types of products is too low to harm individuals and that there is not scientific proof that exposure to the chemicals studied are related to the harmful health outcomes mentioned. They also claim that protections are in place to ensure consumer safety, and this type of study simply serves to increase consumer fears.

Do you think safety standards for chemicals in everyday products are strong enough to keep consumers safe?

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Weighing the different sides

While there may be differences of opinion about whether this study is scientifically rigorous enough, leaders on both sides of this issue feel strongly that their argument has merit. On one hand, environmental advocates caution that we are surrounded by potentially harmful chemicals that may negatively impact our health and may be a contributing factor to the increases we’re seeing in cancer, asthma, and a whole range of negative health outcomes. On the other hand, industry critics fiercely defend their rigorous practices for ensuring consumer safety.

Different forces are at work here - environmental advocates who are fighting an uphill battle to educate and protect consumers, and industry organizations who are fighting to sell their products without increased costly regulation. In the end, it may behoove us all to be careful, as it is nearly impossible to know how the unique mix of chemicals we’re each exposed to each day might interact with our unique bodies to create a harmful outcome. On the other hand, life is short and meant to be enjoyed, why bother being anxious about something you probably can’t control? Time will tell, hopefully in our lifetime.


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    • LauraGT profile image

      LauraGT 6 years ago from MA

      Kaz - thanks for reading and for the book recommendation. What the government "allows" and how they regulate different products is so interesting. Something I plan to investigate more!

    • KarenCreftor profile image

      Karen Creftor 6 years ago from Kent, UK

      Looking forward to seeing those hubs Laura :D

      I think it's also worth mentioning that a lot of people have a blind faith as far as what the government and organizations allow. the amount of times I've heard people say 'but they wouldn't allow it if it was harmful'. They also allow cigarettes, alcohol, refined sugar and flour, heavy metals and many other scary products/ingredients for that sake of profits so why should toiletries/cosmetics be any different?

      I got a very helpful book called 'what's really in your basket'. it gives a traffic light rating on each ingredient. I also like the rule of..if you can't pronounce it reject it.

      I toally agree Laura that it's also a personal thing. We live in a 'one size fits all' society when everything right down to our diets are very personal!

      ~Kaz x

    • LauraGT profile image

      LauraGT 6 years ago from MA

      Thanks Healthy. Glad to get you thinking! More hubs on this type of topic to come. :)

    • profile image

      Healthy 6 years ago

      Great Hub and really well explained. I am very careful about the natural products we bring into our house but you really have me thinking more about this. Thanks for a great summary! Keep up the "both sides" summaries, I like that.

    • LauraGT profile image

      LauraGT 6 years ago from MA

      Nellieanna and Savanahl - thanks so much for your thoughtful comments. We can all just do our best to educate ourselves (and others!) and try to reduce exposure as much as possible. Thanks for the perspective.

    • savanahl profile image

      savanahl 6 years ago

      Great hub with very interesting information. I think this is the price we pay for making everything so convenient. Everything is processed and full of chemicals. Unless you live on a farm, grow your own food and make your own clothes it's hard to escape these products. It just seems that everything nowadays is harmful or causes cancer. Thanks for sharing this information.

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 6 years ago from TEXAS

      Laura - Thank you for this informative hub. Yes, the majority of products people use regularly and routinely for cleaning are toxic and dangerous for our health.

      I'm a real believer in using plain, pure soap. If personal cleansers don't say "SOAP" on the package, they are actually some form of detergent, and no matter how many 'lotions' are added, they're pretty much like using dish detergent on one's body. Detergents are derivatives of fossil fuel products. So give attention to that nice smelling (highly perfume) "BAR" or liquid body cleaner and ask yourself whether you'd bath in your dish detergent. The lotion added may just exacerbate the drying, toxicity. There are better alternatives,

      But what goes INTO our bodies can be equally unsavory. Generally the stuff on the central aisles of the grocery store are highly processed with more non-food ingredients than nature's bounty and generally what's on the periphery of the store are composed of more natural items, though they also may have been treated with external preservatives, grown in non-organic circumstances - or have various additives and damaging processing, too. Things like fruit juices and dairy products fall into that category.

      Since few folks can grow all our own food or make all our cleansers from scratch, we simply need to be aware and alert to what we're bringing home to use and become more fussy about it.

    • LauraGT profile image

      LauraGT 6 years ago from MA

      Hi KarenCreftor. Thanks for your comments. I agree - there's so much that's unknown about how mixes of chemicals impact on people. Another another issue that different people's bodies have different reactions to chemicals, so what's ok for some, is not ok for others. I share your passion for this topic!

    • KarenCreftor profile image

      Karen Creftor 6 years ago from Kent, UK

      Good hub~ anything to get people thinking about what we are doing to our bodies gets my vote!!

      What the scientists don't tell you is they test the effects of chemicals indiviually, yet it's when they come together and have the cokctail effect that the damage is done.

      Also most of the studies done into what's safe and what isn't is paid for and carried out by the companies trying to sell the products, so they are done in a very biased way guaranteed to get the resuts they want.

      As you can see I'm passionate about this topic hehe.

      ~Kaz x


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