Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Elbow Grease And Toxins

What's In Your Household Cleaning Product

by Donnalynn Polito

In looking at what pollutes our water, what comes to mind are the cleaning products that we use in our home. We are so used to disinfecting every surface and trying to make everything mirror bright and squeaky clean that we miss what happens next.

What happens to our water and the life it sustains after we wash all these cleaning agents down the drain?
It’s not only our water that’s getting “treated”. We also miss what these cleaning agents may be doing to us in our closed-in home environments.

So, let’s take a look at what goes into a cleaning product and do we need to use the chemicals we’ve been slathering all over our homes and then pouring down the drain.

One of the most common ingredients used is ethylene-based glycol. Ethylene-based glycol is a water soluble solvent. The EPA has classified ethylene-based glycol as a hazardous air pollutant.

Another concern comes from the terpenes. Terpenes have great solvent properties and they smell nice. They are also used widely throughout the home as cleaning products and air fresheners.

Terpenes aren’t good for the environment because they rapidly react with the ozone. What they produce are particles with properties that are like smog called hydroxyl radicals and nitrate radicals. They also release formaldehyde, which is can irritate our respiratory system and is also classified as a carcinogen.

Our exposure to these various chemicals, vapors and particles by themselves are below levels established to be of any danger to us. The problem comes in when these pollutants are added to already existing outgassing from materials in the home.

In other words, things like our furniture, kitchen cabinets, floor coverings, plywood and wood products also release formaldehyde. In combination, these levels could very well be toxic.

As a green designer, I have often heard about indoor air quality being 2.5 times more toxic than outdoor air quality.
In one study of household cleaning products and air fresheners, done by the University of California Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, they found that using air fresheners and an ionizer (producing ozone as a by-product) could lead to formaldehyde exposures greater than the California guideline.

The formaldehyde exposure can then be increased even more from the outgassing of other typical household items like furniture, wood products along with other products, as explained earlier.

What happens with chemicals is that they are tested individually for safety, but they are not tested in conjunction with other chemicals. And how could they be, after all, there’s something like 5,000 plus new chemicals being made a year.

I have only mentioned a few of the complications that using standard cleaning products can produce. The Cancer Prevention Coalition has an extensive list of hazardous ingredients and chemicals found in household products.

Here's a solution that avoids those toxins and can make a difference to you, your family and to the little duckies in the water. Check it out. These products are effective and harmless and provide a cleaning solution that is safe and natural.

The garden is a place where we tend to really pile it on. According to the Cancer Prevention Coalition, we spend billions of dollars a year in pesticides!

By the way, ecolivingGreenstyle has been doing a series on Xeriscaping (landscape, garden and water conservation). If you would like to learn about Xeriscaping, get resources and tips about making green living easy, sign up for DYI Greenstyle Tips in the sign-up box right over there on the left.

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