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Household Products: Toxic Ingredients & Safe Alternatives

by Sarah Cimperman, ND


Research studies done by government, academic and independent researchers reveal that before babies are even born, their bodies are contaminated with up to 358 different chemicals. They include flame retardants, pesticides, fragrances, insulating materials, industrial coolants and lubricants, perfluorocarbon used to make non-stick cookware, and bisphenyl A (BPA) used to make plastic and epoxy resins found in electronics, metal cans, and plastic food and beverage containers. Many of these chemicals have been linked to cardiovascular disease, type two diabetes, weakened immune systems, imbalances in thyroid and sex hormones, and even cancer.

Last April, the President’s Cancer Panel, a joint effort by the US Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute, urged everyone to reduce their exposure to chemicals in foods, water, cigarette smoke, medicines, medical tests and household products. 

But identifying dangerous chemicals can be difficult if not impossible. A study recently published in the Environmental Impact Assessment Review analyzed 25 common household products and found toxic ingredients in every single sample. Cancer-causing compounds were also detected in nearly half of the products tested. Products included best selling brands of laundry detergent, dryer sheets, fabric softener, soap, shampoo, lotion, hand sanitizer, deodorant, dish detergent, all-purpose spray, household disinfectant and air fresheners (solids, sprays and oils).

Each product was placed in an enclosed glass container at room temperature and the surrounding air was analyzed for evaporated chemicals using gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS). All together, the 25 products released 421 chemicals, including 133 different volatile organic compounds (VOCs), contaminants with known effects on the environment and/or human health. Of the 133 VOCs identified, 24 are classified as toxic or hazardous under US laws.

Researchers found that alone, each product emitted an average of 17 VOCs and at least one toxic or hazardous compound. Almost half the products (11 out of 25) contained carcinogens recognized by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Manufacturers of household products are not required to list all ingredients on the labels, nor are they required to disclose any ingredients regarded as "fragrance." (And a single "fragrance" can contain several hundred ingredients.) In the study, only one of the 133 VOCs (ethanol) was listed on a product label and only two were listed on any material safety data sheet, a widely used system for cataloging information about a chemical’s risks, safety and effect on the environment.

 

What can you do to protect yourself and your family?

Here are my top twelve recom-mendations:

1. Remember that labels like "green," "organic" and "natural" are not legally defined. The Household Product Labeling Act is currently being reviewed by the US Senate. Contact your senators and urge them to require product labeling that protects consumers and the environment, not manufacturers.

2. Use cookware made of cast iron, stainless steel, copper, glass or ceramic. Avoid non-stick cookware.

3. Avoid food and beverages that have been in plastic containers or metal cans. Use stainless steel or glass water bottles.

4. Look for fragrance-free household and personal products.

5. Research personal products on the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Safety Database (www.cosmeticsdatabase.com). Search by product, ingredient or company to read safety reviews and make good choices when selecting items like soap, shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, contact lens cleaner, make-up, nail polish, sunscreen, hair care and baby products.

6. If your air is malodorous, open some windows and circulate the air. As an alternative to air fresheners, use essential oil diffusers with 100% pure essential oils. Avoid perfume oils.

7. Pure essential oils are not only aromatic, they are also anti-bacterial and can be used in solution to clean kitchen and bathroom surfaces (see recipe below). Tea tree essential oil is especially effective at removing mold and mildew.

8. Use baking soda as an abrasive agent to remove residue and stains from glass, ceramic, stainless steel and silver. Add a few drops of water to make a baking soda paste for cleaning the stove, sink, counters, toilet and tub. You can also use baking soda paste as an alternative to toothpaste.

9. To keep drains free of blockages, flush them with boiling water on a weekly basis. To unclog drains, first pour 1 cup of baking soda down the drain, then pour in 3 cups of boiling water.

10. Use olive oil to polish wood furniture. Mix 3 parts of an inexpensive olive oil (not extra virgin) with 1 part freshly squeezed lemon juice. Apply it with a soft cloth, rub briskly and allow the area to air dry. (You may want to test a small area before you apply it to an entire piece of furniture.) The solution is only good for one day, so mix up just enough for your immediate needs and discard what you don’t use.

11. Coarse salt can be used to scour cookware. To remove rust stains, sprinkle salt over the area, squeeze fresh lemon juice on top and allow it to sit for several hours before you wipe it off.

12. Use white vinegar to wash windows and floors, polish mirrors, and soften laundry (add one half cup to the rinse cycle in place of store-bought fabric softener). White vinegar is the base for my non-toxic all-purpose cleaner which can be used on counters, sinks, stove tops, appliances and tiles.

 

Non-Toxic All-Purpose Cleaner

1 cup white vinegar

5 drops tea tree essential oil

5 drops lavender or orange essential oil

½ cup water (optional)

Add all the ingredients to a new, clean spray bottle. Label the container with the ingredients and date. Store it out of the reach of children.

To use, shake the bottle gently to incorporate any essential oils that may have separated. Spray the cleaner on dirty surfaces and wipe off with a clean wet sponge. For tougher cleaning jobs, omit the water and leave the solution a few minutes longer before wiping it off. Do not use this cleaner on wooden or delicate surfaces.

References used in the writing of this article are available upon request.

Dr. Sarah Cimperman is a naturopathic doctor in private practice in New York City. For more information, call 646-234-2918 or visit www.drsarah cimperman.com. Read her blogs online at adifferentkindofdoctor.blogspot.com and naturopathic gourmet.blogspot.com.


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