TRUE OR FALSE:
If my household cleaners were dangerous, the company that makes them wouldn’t be allowed to sell them to me; as a consumer without a chemistry degree, it’s their job to make sure I’m safe, right?
FALSE. A chemical ingredient isn’t required to be proven safe before entering the American market. Rather, it’s the other way around! A chemical must first be proven unsafe by "substantial health concern of unreasonable risk”. That's awfully vague. And that’s not the worst part: manufacturers are permitted to provide their own safety testing data without any independent oversight. This doesn’t exactly seem like an ethical process, does it?
Very few known chemicals have been thoroughly and independently tested, placing consumers at the mercy of chemical manufacturers. Unfortunately they have only one interest, and it’s not your health. As the saying goes, business is business!
Despite the fact that the CDC has detected levels of hundreds of untested chemicals in the blood and urine of Americans, only five have been removed in 50 years! There are more than 80,000 known chemicals in existence.
According to experts, on average 62 toxic chemicals are found in the American home. These harmful substances linger on surfaces long after use, causing chronic health problems and interacting in dangerous ways with one another.
We’ve created the following guide to help you dodge our TOP TEN most common hazardous chemicals in use today:
Infants, the elderly, and people with asthma are especially at risk to the dangers of ammonia, a respiratory irritant. Regular exposure can lead to chronic bronchitis, scarring, asthma, and is harmful for anyone with a respiratory disorder of any nature. And worst of all, mixing ammonia and bleach while cleaning can result in a deadly chemical reaction.
Bleach is not only dangerous on its own, but becomes even more hazardous when combined with other cleaning agents. Bleach has also been linked to higher rates of respiratory illness (influenza, recurrent tonsillitis) in children with regular exposure.
Although it has long been touted as a mold killer, recent studies have shown bleach to be surprisingly ineffective, and in some cases actually worsening mold growth! In fact the EPA recommends avoiding bleach when treating mold growth.
In a 1915 World War I battle, one of the first ever chemical warfare agents was deployed: chlorine gas. More than 150 tons of lethal chlorine gas was fired on French forces with devastating results. 100 years later, Americans are using chlorine in everything from swimming pools to cleaning products to drinking water.
Chlorine is a suspected thyroid disruptor, and a known acute respiratory irritant. It’s found in scouring products, toilet bowl cleaners, mildew treatments, and laundry products.
Sometimes referred to as Formalin, this is a KNOWN CARCINOGEN. It is absorbed primarily through inhalation and skin contact. Great care should be taken to avoid this chemical, as it is associated with multiple forms of cancer!
Formaldehyde can be found in multi purpose cleaners, furniture dusting products, laundry detergents and fabric softeners.
LYE (SODIUM HYDROXIDE)
We’ll keep it short and sweet: Lye is BAD news. It should go without saying that any chemical sold in a ready to use strength that can melt your skin, cause blindness, acute respiratory failure and induce a coma, should have no place in a home.
Lye is found in oven cleaners, drain cleaners, de-greasing and de-scaling products.
Perc is a neurotoxin and is classified as a possible carcinogen. It is found in carpet and upholstery cleaners, spot cleaners, and dry cleaning agents. The State of California is taking steps to phase out Perc completely by 2023 due to known health risks, and the EPA previously ordered dry cleaning businesses to eliminate its use by 2020.
Phthalates are an increasingly recognized danger, but you won’t find them properly listed on product labels. Instead, you’ll often see “fragrance” to indicate a phthalate. This is because the chemical formulas of fragrances are protected trade secrets.
Why you should care: The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health has found that at least one-third of the substances used by fragrance chemical manufacturers are toxic. Phthalates are known endocrine disruptors, posing a danger to the reproductive system as well as the developing fetus. You’ll find them in household cleaners, air fresheners, and scented soaps.
QUARTERNARY AMMONIUM COMPOUNDS (QUATS)
Quats have been strongly linked to the promotion of drug resistant bacteria, or superbugs. They are also a leading cause of dermatitis, and a suspected culprit in many respiratory disorders, possibly leading to adult onset asthma. Quats are commonly found in antibacterial soaps, fabric softener, and dryer sheets.
Trisclosan is a probable carcinogen and endocrine disruptor. It also promotes superbugs, and is found in many hand soaps and dishwashing detergents. While products containing Triclosan claim to be “antibacterial” or “antimicrobial”, recent studies have shown that it offers little to no advantage over using non-Triclosan soaps. Simply put, good ol’ soap will do the job just as well.
There is also increasing concern over the concentrations of Triclosan showing up in our waterways, where it is toxic to aquatic life.
Although 2-Butoxyethanol may cause mucus irritation and contribute to pulmonary edema, narcosis, and liver and kidney damage, manufacturers aren’t required to disclose its presence in a product. Thanks to trade secret protections for fragrances, it’s difficult to know whether your multi purpose and glass cleaners are free of it.
Exposure to 2-Butoxyethanol is known to cause damage to red blood cells. It’s found in a wide range of home cleaning and automotive products.
You might be thinking:
All of this info is well and good, but what can I do about it? Vote with your dollars and change your shopping habits. It's SO easy! There are many fantastic DIY cleaning recipes available online. If that's not your jam, be careful to buy your natural cleaning products from a company with an excellent track record of ingredient safety and transparency (...ahem).
--Happy cleaning from your friends at Humble Suds!