Is your home a toxic waste dump?
We know that everything we use on our bodies and in our homes eventually ends up in the environment. When you shower, clean your floors, wash your dishes, etc., everything...everything goes down the drain and ends up a water-treatment plant which filters out organic waste not the chemicals. Chemicals and their residues do not get filtered out yet they are considered "clean" and put back into the water system.
This process causes conventional cleaners to build up in the ecosystem and eventually starts to decimate the food chain. This toxification will go on to create algae bloom which is a rapid accumulation in the population of algae in freshwater or marine water systems, the algae uses up a considerable amount of oxygen and will essentially suffocate other living things such as fish, animals and necessary vegetation that live it the water. In addition to the environmental concerns, these chemicals have potential health risks such as cancer, reproductive and neurological problems, hormone disruption, asthma and other respiratory tract irritation, and many allergies.
According to Greenhome's Rachel Tardif "Only 7% of the 3,000 chemicals produced in amounts of 1 million pounds a year have been fully tested and virtually no data exists for about 50% of them. These chemicals can be especially dangerous in homes with children. A recent study showed that, between 1996 and 2006, nearly 12,000 children aged 1-5 were treated in emergency rooms for poisoning by household cleaners.* In fact, one U.S. child in 13 under the age of 6 will come in contact with a hazardous chemical, resulting in a call to a poison center.
Floor and furniture polish contain phenol, diethylene glycol, and other toxic compounds; glass cleaners have ammonia; metal cleaners have phosphoric and sulfuric acids; oven cleaners contain lye; drain cleaners have hydrochloric and sulfuric acids; all-purpose cleaners contain ammonia and chlorine; and toilet cleaners contain paradichlorobenzene. Even air fresheners, which are designed to "clean" the air, contain phenol, cresol, and formaldehyde. In fact, according to the American Lung Association, the air inside a home can be up to ten times worse than outside air."
But how can you tell if the products in your home are dangerous?
Three federal agencies make the determination of whether or not a product is hazardous. First, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is in charge of regulation of pesticides, insecticides, chlorine bleach, mildew removers, wood preservatives, rodenticides, fungicides. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates food, drugs, cosmetics, and personal care products and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is in charge of the regulations on cleaners, non-chlorine bleach, wood finishes, other household items except food, drugs, cosmetics, and personal care products.
Every product that you purchase has been tested by one of these agencies. Companies then have to label their products accordingly. The following four properties make products hazardous:
Toxic products are poisonous or causes illness; includes pesticides, solvents, and paint stripper. Flammable products catch fire easily includes gasoline, paints, paint thinner, lighter fluid, and aerosol products. Corrosive products causes skin or eye burns; includes drain cleaners and oven cleaners. Reactive products causes chemical reactions; includes chlorine bleach, ammonia, acids, and bases.
However, it gets tricky because each agency has its own labeling regulations and keywords. (How to Read a Label: Are There Toxic Products in Your Home? www.greenhome.com)
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):
Caution (III): least toxic
Warning (II): more toxic
Danger (I): most toxic and hazardous
The EPA does not allow "safe" to be used on the labels of pesticides. The above label warnings are all followed by phrases that identify specific health hazards and some environmental hazards. Labels must identify active ingredients, but not other (sometimes called inert) ingredients (other ingredients may include solvents, detergents, or propellants that pose their own hazards). Detailed use information must also be given.
Food And Drug Administration (FDA):
Must list all ingredients; no specific signal words.
Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC):
Caution and Warning mean about the same.
Danger is the most hazardous. What is not included is the carcinogens, environmental hazards (except pesticides), and chronic health hazards that the products contain. Very scary.
Here are a list of hazardous chemicals that can be found in household cleaning products:
Surfactants are a broad class of molecules that disrupt the surface tension of liquids as well as the interfacial tension between liquids and a solid. They have both a hydrophilic (water loving) and hydrophobic (water repellant) end, which means they are able to remove stains that otherwise could not be dissolved in water. They are the most important part of any cleaning product, and are found in all sorts of cleaners, especially all-purpose cleaners, detergents, fabric softeners, and stain guards.
The same qualities that make surfactants excellent cleaners also make them a potential hazard to the environment. They encourage water penetration in the soil and can help disperse other environmental toxins. Some are also known to damage aquatic organisms by interfering with the properties of membranes.
Notable dangerous or damaging surfactants-
Alkyl phenol ethoxylates/alcohol ethoxylates (APEO): APEOs are found in liquid detergents in the U.S., although they are banned in commercial products in other parts of the world. In the sewage system or environment they break down into a class of chemicals called alkylphenols, which are oestrogenic, meaning they mimic naturally occurring hormones. Oestrogenic compounds can disrupt the endocrine systems of fish, birds, and other wild animals.
Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA): PFOA is a chemical most associated with the production of non-stick cookware, but it is also the main ingredient in a number of fabric stain guards and carpet cleaners. In laboratory experiments, PFOA has been shown to be a carcinogen and to be disrupt the immune and endocrine systems of fish and mice. At the moment, PFOA is not legally recognized to be harmful to humans, but an EPA investigation is expected to publish its findings in 2012.
Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS): PFOS is a chemical similar to PFOA that is also used as a fabric stain guard and carpet cleaner. It has been shown to disrupt the immune and endocrine systems, and high concentrations have been found in a variety of wildlife species worldwide. A correlation has also been found between high PFOS concentrations in humans and chronic kidney disease. Due to pressure from the EPA, American manufacturers have phased out the use of PFOS, but it can still be found in cleansing products manufactured abroad.
Phosphates are a specific class of molecules that can act as surfactants and water softeners. Several types of phosphates are commonly used in household cleaners as stain removers and degreasers. When disposed of, these chemicals break down into different forms of phosphorus, a chemical essential for life. In waterways, this phosphorus is then utilized by algae and other microorganisms, which leads to unchecked growth and large algal blooms. This process, called eutrophication, is extremely disruptive to natural ecosystems and can cause permanent damage to waterways.
Trisodium phosphate (TSP, E339): TSP is a stain remover and degreaser that was used widely until the 1960s, when its use was widely restricted due to environmental concerns. Sodium triphosphate (STP, sometimes STPP or sodium tripolyphosphate or TPP): commonly used in detergents as a water softener.
Common household bleach is chlorine-based and usually consists of sodium hypochlorite diluted to 5.25%. When properly diluted and disposed of it poses little environmental danger, but can be hazardous to plants and wildlife when concentrated. It can also be dangerous to keep in your home: as with all cleaning products there is the risk of accidental poisoning to children and pets. In addition, bleach is irritating to the skin and mucous membranes and can release highly toxic fumes when mixed with other cleaners like ammonia.
VOLATILE ORGANIC COMPOUNDS
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) are organic chemicals with a high vapor pressure, which means they are likely to evaporate and enter the air at room temperatures. There are a wide variety of VOCs, including some released from natural sources such as mold, and their health effects are highly variable. At high enough concentrations, they can have effects ranging from eye, nose, and throat irritation to organ damage and cancer. They are most dangerous in enclosed areas such as homes and office buildings where they can build to high concentrations. Most commercially produced solvents, deodorizers, and disinfectant sprays contain VOCs, but they likely won’t be listed anywhere on the label.
Formaldehyde: This dangerous carcinogen is more commonly found in building materials and adhesives, but some furniture polishes also contain formaldehyde.
Perchloroethylene: Also known as perc, this chemical is the main cleaning agent used in dry cleaning. It can cause dizziness, fatigue, and headaches and is linked to high levels of cancer in dry cleaning employees.
Like their name suggests, petroleum distillates are a class of chemicals distilled from oil. There are obvious environmental concerns surrounding petroleum distillates: the mining of oil is incredibly destructive to natural systems and is a source of greenhouse gasses. Many of them are also toxic when released into the environment. Exposure to distillates can cause respiratory problems and skin irritation, and they are also very dangerous if ingested – products containing petroleum products are required to list them on the label in case of accidental poisoning.
Notable petroleum distillates-
Naphtha: This distillate is a main ingredient in a variety of solvents and cleaning fluids, particularly industrial degreasing solutions. It’s also used as fuel for camp stoves, lanterns, and torches. Mineral spirits: Also known as white spirit or Stoddard solvent, mineral spirits are also used as a solvent and degreaser.
Manufacturers of cleaning compounds are not required to tell you what's inside them and most cleaning products will not list all the ingredients on the label, so look at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website at http://householdproducts.nlm.nih.gov or the Environmental Working Group at http://www.ewg.org to see if any harmful chemicals are in the cleaning products you use.
Be wary of any advertising claims that boast "environmentally safe," "biodegradable," "ozone friendly," and "recycled” describing their products because there is minimal regulation on these terms, Also check out how the product is being used, stored, disposed of, as well as ventilation requirements.
What can you do to make safer choices? Look for products that have ingredients that are free of the chemicals listed above and make sure they are biodegradable so they are safe for the environment. We also have many more non-toxic, green options today that contain materials like citrus extracts, enzymes, vinegar or baking soda that are easily purchased on the shelves or online.