When you turn down the cleaner aisle of your grocery store, there is usually no mistake where you are. The smell of the chemicals in the air is potent. This smell gets into the air through outgassing. Outgassing is the absorption of chemicals through the plastic containers into the air we breath. Outgassing does not stop when you get products home; it continues, albeit in a less concentrated form, into the air we live in and breath every day. Chemicals are taken into the system not only from inhalation or through the food we eat, but also by absorption through the pores of the skin.
In 1980, the EPA mounted a five year study of twenty of the 800 known VOCs (volatile organic compounds). VOCs are synthetic chemicals, known to have toxic affects, that are found in paints, varnishes, glues, dyes, inks, pens, perfumes, polish remover, and certain cleaning products. The investigation included indoor and outdoor air. EPA scientists estimate that typical exposure to six of the most common VOCs could result in 5,000 cancer cases per year. VOCs are third, after cigarette smoke and radon, as indoor air hazards.
The result of the study show that indoor air is far more toxic than outdoor air. This was even true in heavily polluted areas like Los Angeles and New Jersey. EPA statistics show that women who work at home are 55% more likely to develop cancer than women working away from the home.
The US production of organic (carbon based, usually made from petroleum) chemicals is doubling every ten years. There are over 270 million tons of hazardous chemical waste produce in America per year. That is one ton for every person every year! This waste winds up leaching out of landfills or leaking out of the underground storage tanks meant to contain them and winds up in our water supplies and the soil that grows the food we eat.
The following is a list (by no means exclusive) of some of the chemicals found in our home and some of the negative effects they may have:
Ammonia: Found in cleaners, antiperspirants, baby care products, beauty products, disinfectants, fabric softeners, furniture polish, and personal care products. Ammonia can cause irritation to the eyes and respiratory tract, conjunctivitis, tracheitis, pulmonary edema, pneumonitis, skin burn, and vestication.
Ethanol: Found in cleaners, beauty products, contraceptives, disinfectants, fragrances, mouth wash, nail polish, paint removers, sunscreens, and skin and personal care products. Ethanol can cause central nervous system depression, anesthesia, impaired motor coordination, vertigo, drowsiness, stupor, coma, hypothermia, and sometimes death.
Formaldehyde: Found in mold & mildew cleaners, particle board, carpets, carpet pads, foam, many adhesives, paints, furniture, contraceptives, cosmetics (we put it on our faces), skin and personal care products, and household cleaning products. Formaldehyde is known to irritate the eyes, lungs, skin, the lining of the esophagus and trachea, and cause cancer. Formaldehyde has over 50 different synonyms, as do many toxic chemicals, that chemical manufacturers use to disguise it in products.
Nitrobenzene: Found in furniture polish. Nitro Benzene cause cancer, birth defects, genetic changes, and heart, liver, kidney and central nervous system damage, and sometimes even death.
Creosol: Found in cleaning products, disinfectants, paint removers, and personal care products. Creosol affects the central nervous system and can cause depression, hyperactivity, and irritability.
Toluene: Found in nail polish, paint thinners, paint removers. Toluene can cause fatigue, muscle weakness, and confusion. Inhaling the fumes can lead to psychosis, and liver and kidney damage.
Phenol: Found in air fresheners, disinfectants, paint removers, furniture polish, mold & mildew cleaners, fragrances, lipstick, nail polish, lip balm, and personal care products. Phenol is linked to cancer, respiratory damage, respiratory arrest, and circulatory failure, paralysis, coma, and death.
Phosphates: Found in detergents. Phosphates wide up in lakes and streams where they promote algae growth. To much algae suffocates the fish.
Before WW II, when chemicals became mass produced, there was no such thing as SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome), there was never any CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome), and, no one ever heard of ADD (attention deficit disorder). People will react differently to different substances. At least 15% of the population are chemical sensitive. This means they have a reaction when exposed to the slightest amount of chemicals found in households. What does that mean for the rest of us? Are we not affected by these household chemicals? No, not at all. It just means were are not aware of their affects until they have manifest as a cancer or some other deadly disease. Rather than have an early warning system like the chemical sensitive people, the remaining 85% have to wait for the chemicals to strike us to really understand their affects.
What can we do to protect our health and the health of those we love? By the time we wait for the government to regulate the industry it may be too late. We must st
art where we have power. Our shopping dollars. Collectively we’ll make a big difference when we start spending our dollars with the companies that care about our health and the environment.
- Lawson, L. (1993). Staying Well in a Toxic World. Chicago, IL: The Noble Press.
- Dadd, D. L. (1984). Nontoxic and Natural. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.
- Setterberg, F. & Shavelson, L. (1993). Toxic Nation. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.
- Munson, C. (1995). The Safe House. Flagstaff, AZ: The Book Express.