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FOUR CHEMICAL COMPOUNDS TO AVOID
Many cleaning products have ingredients derived from petroleum including alkylphenol ethoxylates APEs, which are used as inexpensive surfactants (agents that break down the surface tension of water so that it will interact with the grease and grime).
Alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs) are actually a class of hormone-disrupting compounds and take a number of forms. One of these most insidious offenders is nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), a surfactant found in laundry detergents and many other household cleaners.
NPEs break down in the environment into nonylphenol, and it is this compound which has been found to be an endocrine disruptor, known to alter the reproductive systems in fish, shellfish, and frogs (and, some scientists suggest, human males). Wastewater treatment facilities may or may not remove them, and septic systems generally do not. The European Union has banned NPEs. There is enough concern in the U.S. for the EPA to create the Safer Detergents Stewardship Initiative (SDSI), a program recognizing environmental leaders who voluntarily commit to the use of safer surfactants.
2. CHLORINE BLEACH
Chlorine bleach (aka sodium hypochlorite) is an all-purpose whitening agent used in housecleaning and laundry products. When chlorine hits the waterways, it interacts with organic matter, such as dirt, sewage, or leaves. This interaction causes the development of toxic organochlorines. Two commonly-known organochlorines are the insecticide DDT and dioxin, used in a wide range of manufacturing processes, such as the chlorine bleaching of paper pulp. Organochlorines occur any time chlorine interacts with organic matter, and this can include your home, when chlorine bleach is used on anything other than hard, non-porous surfaces.
Breathing small amounts of pure chlorine for short periods of time can adversely affect the human respiratory system, causing coughing and/or chest pain. It can irritate the lungs, eyes, and skin, as we have seen from our swimming pools (consider instead salt water pool systems, which contain much less chlorine).
Chlorine bleach is often touted as the supreme disinfectant, “killing 99.9% of germs” fast and effectively. But, killing all living organisms won’t make your house cleaner. A cleaner, safer nest for you and your family comes in a balanced ecosystem—aka your home—wiped down with plain hot water and a few green cleaning items.
There’s nothing like the smell of a clean house, but what does “clean” really smell like? A house cleaned without toxic chemicals won’t smell like much of anything but a sweet breeze, but many companies continue to design products that smell “nice.” The problem is that “nice” has been manufactured from chemicals that definitely are not nice.
Fragrance is often made with phthalates, chemicals linked to reproductive abnormalities and liver cancer in lab animals and to asthma in children. Fragrances contain many volatile organic compounds (VOCs). In fact, the list of chemicals needed make these lovely smells is astonishing, the most common being: limonene, linalool, citronellol, eucalyptol, geraniol, and ?-pinene. There are no laws regulating either the use of these chemicals or the full disclosure of the use. Three commonly-found VOCs are considered Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs): acetaldehyde, chloromethane, and 1,4-dioxane. Yet, they are still being used to add fragrance to air fresheners, cleaners, and laundry products.
Scientists have shown that smells trigger memories for us, and that is why fragrance has not only remained a key ingredient in home products but is now ubiquitous. If fragrance is important to you, then add a few drops of an essential oil like lemon or lavender to the any of your green cleaning mixes. Essential oils can be found at Whole Foods and in many other natural food stores.
The good news about phosphates is that they have been taken out of most laundry detergents, but they remain in automatic dishwasher detergents. Phosphates may soften water for detergents, but are they worth it? Phosphates contribute to the overgrowth of algae and aquatic weeds in our waterways. Excessive algae can completely disrupt an ecosystem, killing off fish populations and other aquatic life. In time, this will affect human lives. Choose cleaners without phosphates; there are many greener options.
Do note that there are no regulatory laws in the cleaning products industry, so you will find that even “green” products, from Ecover, Mrs. Meyer’s, Seventh Generation, and more, may still contain NPEs, pthalates, and other harmful toxins. They are not required by law to disclose every ingredient in every product. Stay tuned to our site, as we continue to report on these issues.