Category Archives: Scholarly

Toxins in Your Home, Part 3

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.


Toxins in Your Home, Part 2

This article is part two of a series of three about toxins in the home. Part two will focus on government and regulations. Three government agencies will be introduced, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Occupation Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), as well as some facts about the agencies that will shed some light on their effectiveness in keeping toxins out of our lives.

In 1970 in response to public pressure concerning the environment, the EPA was formed by congress. President Nixon said, “Our national government today is not structured to make a coordinated attack on the pollutants which debase the air we breath, the water we drink, and the land that grows our food. “But congress overrode his veto.

The EPA vigorously introduced regulations in it’s opening moves. They halted $100 million projects and banned smoking advertisements on television. A brake was put on advancing chemical technology and the increased creature comforts that such technology provided. Industry was furious and thousands lost their jobs. Shortly afterwards the EPA fell behind in its work after Congress bogged down its work load by ordering it to review every major chemical registered since 1947.

In 1973 the EPA passed a chemical pesticide (DBCP) that was known to cause sterility. During the years one young man worked with the chemical, he was sterile and unable to have a child with his wife. This changed when he stopped working with DBCP and his sterility was reversed. He and his wife had a baby shortly before he died of a brain tumor at the age of 27.

In 1979 the EPA finally issued a ban on DBCP. This didn’t stop a certain manufacturing company from considering production of it. They weighed the possible fines and legal fees and included these in their operating costs. They also weighed the cost of the positive publicity that it would take to reverse the negative publicity that the chemical received in the EPA decision. Eventually they decided not to go ahead with the project.

The process of removing a hazardous chemical from the market can be lengthy. Court battles are often fought between the chemical manufacturers and the EPA. It took twelve years to ban the chemical 2,4,5-T, a pesticide linked to birth defects, miscarriages and even death. The chemical industry put a lot of money into defending it because there was a lot of adverse data. They felt that if 2,4,5,-T was easily taken off the market by the EPA “witch-hunts,” newer chemicals with less data would fall more easily. During those twelve years the chemical was still manufactured and illnesses linked to it continued to be reported. The battle ended only when Dow Chemical decided to stop manufacturing it due to the negative publicity. There was no court ruling!

Chemicals banned by the EPA can still be manufactured within our borders and exported to other countries. Almost a third of the chemicals exported to other countries are not registered for use in America (243 million pounds annually). One-fifth of those have been banned from use in America by the EPA Many of these chemicals are used to grow food that is imported back into the U. S. According to the FDA, in the late 70’s, 10% of all the food imported to the U. S. contained illegal levels of pesticides.

The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) regulates the safety of the food and drugs we ingest. In order for a new drug to make it to the market it goes through several tests (all done by the manufacturer). First they are screened for possible toxicity and then they are tested on animals. If they are deemed safe by the manufacturer then an application is submitted to the FDA. If the data checks out, the FDA will approve further testing. This further testing is done on humans. If proven effective the company can file a New Drug Application.

In 1977 the FDA banned saccharine due to its link with bladder cancer. This decision caused such an uproar that the FDA backed down and reversed its decision. As with chemicals and pesticides, a drug that is banned by the FDA can still be exported for use in other counties.

OSHA began its operation 27 days after the EPA began. The purpose of OSHA was to free the workplace from hazards that are likely to cause injury or death. OSHA has the power to inspect the workplace, issue citations, and in severe cases, shut down a factory.

In 1972 OSHA was corrupted with politics and was essentially turned into a fund raiser for the Nixon re-election. It took a few years to reverse the corruption and for OSHA to become effective.

By the mid-seventies O. S. H. A was attempting to categorize all of the carcinogenic chemicals in the workplace to aid in providing a safer work environment. The chemicals companies formed a coalition to halt OSHA’s efforts. With a million dollar budget, they were able to downplay the role of workplace carcinogenics in the rising U. S. cancer statistics to only about 5% of all cancer cases.

In 1977 OSHA limited the worker exposure to Benzene to one part per million due to its link with leukemia and deaths. The Industry claimed this standard was too costly and took the case before the Supreme Court to lower the standard. OSHA claimed that no amount of exposure to a known carcinogen is safe. Justice Stevens did not want OSHA to have power to impose enormous costs on industry with its “no safe level” theory and the standard was lowered to ten parts per million. Stevens mentioned that a safe workplace is not equivalent to a risk free workplace.

As with any organization, the number of forces that act upon it affecting its effectiveness are numerous. While the intention of government agencies can be good, they are still parts of greater systems. Effectiveness in bringing about change will take some time.


  • Trost, C. (1984). Elements of Risk: The Chemical Industry and its Threat to America. New York, NY: Times Books.
  • Davis, L. N. (1984). The Corporate Alchemists: Profit Takers and problem Makers in the Chemical Industry. New York, NY: William Morrow.

Toxins in Your Home, Part 1

“Toxins in Your Home” will appear in this publication as a three part series. The first and current article is about the history of the chemical industry. The second will look at government regulations and how they affect the chemical industry, and the final article will be about the toxic chemicals that may be found in your home.

The chemical industry has it’s origin with the medieval alchemists who believed they could turn base metal into gold. During their pursuit for such a miracle, many new chemicals were discovered, many of which had benefits for human kind. However, none too often, these alchemists eventually wound up poisoning themselves and/or the clients they served when one of the elixirs they produced turned out to be harmful or fatal.

In the United States, the chemical industry got it’s start in the later part of the 19th century when great discoveries in science were made. These included the verification of the atom, the discovery of the electron, proton and neutron, and the creation of the periodic table of elements. These discoveries gave scientists and engineers the tools necessary to break down chemical elements and reconstruct them into synthetic chemicals. Chemical companies cropped up all across America and Europe creating new solutions to improve the quality of life.

There was a great deal of competition amongst these companies to grab a greater share of the market, make a better chemical and a better profit so they could continue to thrive and create ever better chemicals to make life a little bit easier.

These companies really became tested after WW1 when many companies folded. During the war, there was a great expansion in the industry as supplies from Europe were cut off and chemicals were needed for the war effort. After the war, the demand was greatly reduced. Many companies folded. Only the larger ones were able to survive as they had the resources needed to convert their war time goods into consumer products. For those that survived, this time was very lucrative. During the depression, Midland Michigan, the home of the Dow Chemical Company, was known as “the town that never knew the depression,” as a constant demand for new chemicals kept the towns people almost continuously employed. the chemical companies were creating so many new products, nobody really knew what many of them could be used for. They would create them and ship them out leaving the end product up to the final manufacturer.

This pattern was once again repeated during WW2. There was a great expansion in the industry, followed by a lull in which facilities had to adapt to manufacture consumer products. Once again, after that war, the companies that survived thrived in the chemical industry. Manufacturers raced to create ever new and more effective products to meet the growing consumer demands for better “elixirs” of life.

During this century over 6 million new chemicals have been produced, 55,000 of which have made it to the market place. Many of these chemicals have barely been tested for their effects on human life.

The chemical industry operates within a framework of tremendous competition. It takes about ten years from the time a new chemical is created to the time it is available on the market. During this time, a company can spend hundreds of millions of dollars developing a new product. A U. S. patent will protect a product for 17 years. In that time, the inventing company can enjoy a monopoly on the product in hopes of earning some of its investment back. After the patent wears out (about seven years after the product hits the market), competition arises; (many times a competing company will have a factory built and ready to operate the day a patent runs out). Competition greatly lowers the price of the product to just above the profit point. If the inventing company hasn’t reclaimed its original investment during the monopoly period, it is bound to take a loss. Needless to say, there is a race within our current economic system to get a product developed and out on the market as fast as possible to increase the likelihood of a profit.

During this development period, a lot can go wrong. After millions of dollars, and years of research, a product could be found to be unsafe and the company would suffer a financial loss. Accidents can happen in the manufacturing and shipping process. Chemicals can be dumped into the environment, and workers in the research facilities and/or manufacturing plant can be exposed to life threatening compounds. Because of wind and ocean currents, unnatural compounds have been found as far away as the South Pole and the bottom of the ocean.

Every setback will reduce the company’s chance of reclaiming its investment and turning a profit. All too often, natural human defense mechanisms can set in, such as the rationalization that in order to survive it is acceptable to hurt others, or, the denial that something is actually wrong, causing harmful products to be produced by the hundreds of thousands of tons and shipped to our homes or dumped into the environment.

After understanding the systems in which the chemical industry operates, it is possible to have some compassion. People don’t set out to intentionally harm others; however within a given economic/political system we can become myopic and unaware of the consequences of our actions. In the case of the chemical industry we need to be able to focus on what is wrong and not who is wrong. Pointing fingers will result in the building of barriers and prevent us from taking the necessary steps to change!


  • Davis, L. N. (1984). The Corporate Alchemists: Profit Takers and Problem Makers in the Chemical Industry. New York, NY: William Morrow.
  • Whitehead, D. (1968). The Dow Story: The History of the Dow Chemical Company. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.