Did you know that according to environmental experts the average house contains up to 62 toxic chemicals? Many of these are found in our cleaning products and we’re exposed to them routinely. Some of them pose immediate risks such as burns but others are linked to long term health issues such as asthma, cancer, reproductive disorders, hormone disruption and neurotoxicity. Although it may be difficult to avoid exposure to toxic chemicals altogether, it is possible to reduce it significantly by taking more care about what you spray around your home and workplace.
Some of the ingredients found in the most commonly used cleaning products include:
Often related to obvious accidents involving swallowing and burning, breathing in bleach whilst cleaning can aggravate allergy sufferers and lead to severe respiratory problems for lungs and heart such as asthma and chronic bronchitis. Never mix bleach or ammonia with other chemicals as they can release lung damaging gases which can be fatal. Ammonia mixed with lye (found in oven cleaner) produces chloramine gas that was used as a chemical weapon in World Wars I & II? Bleach and ammonia are more commonly found in glass and oven cleaners.
Found in many fragranced household products such as air fresheners, dish soap, and even toilet paper phthalates (often listed as fragrance in ingredients) are known hormone disruptors. This means they interfere with the body’s natural chemical messages by mimicking or blocking the actions of hormones. Exposure mainly occurs through inhalation but can also happen through skin contact with scented soaps. Choose fragrance-free or all-natural organic products.
Mostly found in window, kitchen and multipurpose cleaners it gives them a characteristic sweet smell, but belongs to the category of ‘glycol ethers’, a set of powerful solvents that cause sore throats when inhaled. Continuous exposure or inhaling at high levels can contribute to narcosis, pulmonary edema and severe kidney and liver damage.
Found in oven cleaners and drain openers, it is otherwise known as lye and is extremely corrosive. If it touches your skin or gets in your eyes it can cause severe burns.
Found in scouring powders, toilet bowl cleaners, mildew removers, laundry whiteners and household tap water, there are many avenues of exposure through fumes and skin. Unfortunately there’s not much escape from chlorine as it’s also in the water supply to get rid of bacteria. Chlorine is a respiratory irritant at an acute level and is suspected to be a serious thyroid disruptor.
While the market is regulated there is still evidence that dangerous amounts of many toxic chemicals can affect human health. Manufacturers argue that in small amounts these toxic ingredients aren’t likely to be a problem but when we’re exposed to them routinely it’s impossible to accurately measure the risks. The concern is daily, weekly, chronic exposure over a lifetime, and many people are convinced that cutting down their exposure to toxins played a critical role in recovering from serious illness. On an environmental level, after cleaning liquids disappear down drains, they are treated along with sewage and other waste at municipal plants, then discharged into nearby waterways. Whilst some chemical cleaners break down into harmless substances during treatment, others threaten water quality or fish and other wildlife.
A good piece of advice is that you take a look at the conventional household cleaning products tucked away in your cabinets. Most of the labels say hazardous to humans and domestic animals. Nowadays there are ecological products which are just as efficient and completely safe to use.
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