As the days grow chillier, you may be feeling the call to spruce up your living space before the long winter months. However – especially if you or someone in your family has respiratory problems such as asthma, COPD or emphysema – it’s a good idea to know about the products you’ll be using to clean or redecorate your home.
According to the EPA, indoor air can be two to five times more toxic than outside, even in industrial areas! Why? Roughly 80,000 chemicals and compounds make up our everyday household products, with about 1,800 added yearly. Only 200 have ever been tested for toxicity, and only five have ever been banned.
Volatile Organic Compounds (a.k.a. VOCs) show up in building materials, caulks and paint strippers, paints and lacquers, furnishings, cleaning supplies, pesticides, permanent markers, glues, copier and printer toner, and much more. The fumes that off-gas from these products have health effects including eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, nausea, and damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system.
Phthalates are a family of chemicals used as softeners and solvents in products including vinyl (synthetic linoleum, PVC, Plastic #3), air fresheners, detergents, cleaning supplies, and just about anything containing “fragrance” as an ingredient. They can damage the liver, kidneys, lungs and reproductive system, particularly the developing genitals of young boys.
Formaldehyde is a toxic adhesive, bonding agent and solvent that acts as a preservative in some paints and coating products. Most often it’s used as an adhesive resin in pressed wood, plywood, and medium-density fiberboard products such sub-flooring, decorative wall covering, shelving, cabinetry and furniture. Formaldehyde is also used to add permanent-press qualities to clothing and draperies. Health effects may include eye, nose, and throat irritation; wheezing and coughing; asthma attacks; fatigue; skin rash, and severe allergic reactions.
You probably noticed that cleaning supplies showed up in two of these three rogues’ lists…and for good reason. In 1989, the EPA disclosed that toxins included in common household cleaners (often inhaled as fumes during cleaning) are three times more likely to cause cancer than are other air pollutants. According to a 15-year study by the National Cancer Association, women who work in the home are at a 54% higher risk of developing cancer than women who work outside the home. The American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) warns that household cleaning products are a leading cause of long and short term poisoning in adults as well as in children.
What can you do to protect yourself and your loved ones?
First of all – educate yourself! Before you buy a product, check it out in the U.S. Health and Human Services Household Products Database. For a listing of products that have been screened and certified as safe, see GreenSeal.org.
Second – locate sources of healthy products. Look in the National Green Pages for eco-friendly hardware and houseware stores, or, if you’re feeling proactive, ask at your local stores for products without these toxins. They may already have them in stock – and if they don’t, you are providing an important educational service for your community.
Finally – with any product you use, always follow the instructions on the label, and don’t hesitate to call the manufacturer with questions if the instructions aren’t clear.
Just as you learn to be proactive about improving your health, you can empower yourself to create a healthy, safe environment for yourself and your loved ones!