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Check your home cleaning supplies: Even ‘green’ may be toxic

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
What toxins are in your cupboard?

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is again helping consumers weed out toxins in the home. Some of the top offenders may surprise you. The group has put some commonly used household cleaners into their “Hall of Shame” because of harmful chemicals that can make consumers think they’re buying safe home products to keep their environment healthier – when in fact, the opposite is true. Even cleaners labeled ‘safe’ and ‘green’ can contain toxins, making manufacturer claims a stretch.

The EWG lists the following cleaners that are toxic, which that might want to get out of your cupboard to make spring cleaning safer for you and your family.

According to a team of researchers that includes chemists, toxicologists, public health officials and attorneys, many cleaning products that claim to be environmentally friendly simply are not. Others contain harmful chemicals that have been banned in Europe because their associated with cancer and even blindness. In some cases the ingredients aren’t’ listed, making it impossible to know whether or not they’re safe.

Jane Houlihan, EWG’s senior vice president for research and co-author of the Cleaners Hall of Shame report said in a statement. “Almost any ingredient is legal and almost none of them are labeled, leaving families at risk. Our Hall of Shame products don’t belong in the home.”

A comprehensive database of toxic cleaning products used in the home is due for completion in the fall of 2012. The current list is a partial database.

Nneka Leiba, a senior analyst for EWG adds “As we’ve been working on this database for the last few months, we realized Americans really need to be aware of some of the ingredients in these products. We feel we have to release some of this information early.”

In an e-mail, Ken Cook, President of the EWG, said the discovery of toxins in household cleaners “shocks” him, even though he’s been working to keep consumers safe from harmful products for almost 20 years. He urges consumers to learn the truth so you can keep your families safe.

The worst toxic offenders include Simple Green All Purpose cleaner, which contains a red blood cell damaging and eye irritating solvent known as 2-butoxyethanol. The solvent in Simple Green can be absorbed through the skin. Though instructions for use recommend diluting the product, it’s sold full strength, which could mean high exposure for consumers to the toxin.

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The fine print on Whink Rust Stain remover, sold to clean porcelain, carpet, sinks and color-fast fabrics warns: “May be fatal or cause permanent damage and causes severe burns which may not be immediately painful or visible.”

Technical information for workers states “will penetrate skin and attack underlying tissues and bone.” Workers are advised to use the product in a well-ventilated area and wear goggles, gloves and a safety mask, yet consumers are instructed only to wear latex gloves.

Citrus cleaning products not so harmless

Citrus and pine oil cleaners are far from harmless. Citra-Solve Cleaner & Degreaser contains high concentration of d-limonene that comes from the peels of citrus fruit. When sprayed, the chemical can react with the ozone and form fine particulate matter that penetrates deep into the lungs. When sprayed in the air, products containing d-limonene and orange oils from citrus peels can form formaldehyde that is classified as causing cancer by the U.S. government.

According to CAMEO chemicals.noaa.gov, "Symptoms of exposure to this compound may include irritation and sensitization of the skin. It may also cause eye irritation and damage." It's also listed as an eye and skin irritant.

The lesson from the warnings on fine print is that consumers should read labels carefully. Avoid cleaners that say poison or danger or fatal if inhaled or swallowed and always following directions.

Spic and Span Multi-Surface and Floor Cleaner, Scrubbing Bubbles - Antibacterial Bathroom Cleaner & Extend-A-Clean Mega Shower Foamer, Mop & Glo Multi-Surface Floor Cleaner, DampRid Mildew Stain Remover Plus Blocker, and EASY-OFF Fume Free Oven Cleaner all contain chemicals that have been banned in other countries.

Some cleaning sprays, including Clorox, Fantastik, Febreze, Formula 409, Easy-Off, Lysol, Mr. Clean and Spic and Span are laced with ingredients that can cause asthma. The EWG recommends that consumers avoid any spray products with ethanolamines (MEA, DEA and TEA) and “quats”. Best practice is to avoid cleaning sprays altogether.

Even Comet cleanser is suspect because it contains hidden ingredients linked to asthma, cancer and reproductive abnormalities. Tests showed Febreze Air Effects emitted 89 air contaminants. There are some other surprises too. Check your cupboards and consider getting rid of the worst toxins that are common household cleaners. You can read the rest of the report here.

EWG Cleaning Product Database Hall of Shame

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