The average home today contains more toxic chemicals than the average chemistry laboratory at the turn of the century, and ingredients in common household products have been linked to asthma, cancer, reproductive disorders, hormone disruption and neurotoxicity.
More than 72,000 chemicals have been produced since WWII, but the majority of these synthetic chemicals have never been tested for acute or long term effects, or their combined or cumulative effects. Many of these chemicals created for use during the war have found their way into our homes. In Canada, there is no requirement warn consumers about the health hazards associated with long term exposure to these chemicals, or provide a detailed ingredient list. In fact, the EWG (Environmental Working Group) states that just seven percent of household cleaning products adequately disclose their ingredients. Many products common on North American shelves are now banned in the European Union.
Chemicals found in common household cleaners can be divided into three categories: carcinogens, which cause cancer; endocrine disruptors, which can lead to reproductive, developmental, behavioral and growth problems; and neurotoxins, which alter neurons, thereby affecting brain activity, causing a host of problems from headaches to loss of intellect.
When we use cleaning products the surfaces we clean are eventually in contact with our skin. Think laundry detergent, fabric softener and that sweater you're wearing right now. Since one of the most common forms of toxic exposure is through the skin we need to think about the residues we may be placing on our clothing through the cleaning products we choose.
The second most common vector for toxic exposure is the respiratory tract. Think of that perfumed smell that permeates the air when you clean the house. And what about those air fresheners or that spray oder remover? Here's a tidbit - when recently tested in the lab, one popular product designed to be sprayed on fabrics and in the air was found to emit eighty-nine toxic contaminants. Now that doesn't smell so pretty anymore.
And it's not just immediate exposure we are worried about, since most of the chemicals routinely used in common cleaners are bioaccumalative - meaning the chemicals do not purge easily from the body and over time add up to toxic levels. These toxic accumulations can lead to serious diseases such as cancer. A recent medical study suggests a correlation between certain occupations and bladder cancer - one of these occupations is house cleaning services.
So what can you do as a consumer? It's not too difficult to create your own cleaning products using basic ingredients like vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice and essential oils. Just ‘Google’ DIY cleaning products, or if you prefer to purchase your cleaning products, there are many household cleaning products that use natural ingredients, such as Ecover, Seventh Generation, VIP, and Nature Clean. They are readily available, at most grocery stores or in your community health food store's household cleaning section.
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