The Environmental Working Group – famous for its fabulous Skin Deep Cosmetic Data Base and annual sunscreen report, has just released a report on cleaning products used in the home and workplace, especially schools.

The findings are down right scary to think what the average person, and especially kids are being exposed to each day. And then we wonder where all this child hood asthma, allergies and other conditions come from.

What the EWG has found from their air pollution tests of school cleaning supplies, is hundreds of contaminants, including ones that cause asthma, cancer, and many more which have never been evaluated for safety!

In this article, we will thus look further at some of the products who were the culprits, what this means for our health and what we can do about bringing some changes to this.

The Findings of the Report

The EWG tested 21 cleaners that were used in 13 large California school districts. The findings showed a release of a brew of airborne chemicals, including a number that have been linked to asthma or cancer by state and federal health authorities.

Testing of these chemicals, found that when used as directed, the products released 6 chemicals known to cause asthma, 11 contaminants that are known, probable, or possible cancer-causing substances in humans, and hundreds of other compounds for which there is little or no hazard information. Overall, testing revealed 457 chemicals emitted by the products tested.

So what are the most toxic culprits in the ingredients?

The 6 known to cause asthma are:

  • formaldehyde
  • styrene
  • methyl methacrylate
  • ethanolamine
  • alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride
  • didecyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride

The 11 that are probable or possible human carcinogens are:

  • formaldehyde
  • styrene
  • chloroform
  • trichloroethylene
  • benzene
  • 1-chloro-2,3-epoxypropane
  • acetaldehyde
  • N-ethyl-N-nitroso-ethanamine
  • 2-butoxyethanol
  • ethylbenzene
  • quartz

You can find the detailed results here.

Now don’t go running to your cleaning bottles looking to check if they have these ingredients. The reason for that is because you won’t find them. Both Canadian and American labels laws for cleaning products do not require the full ingredients to be disclosed on the label to the public. In fact you do not have to see any ingredients on the labels. Canada has somewhat started to change this, but we are far still from where we need to be.

And you may be thinking, why are our schools using such toxic substances where our kids spend most of their days? Well, it may be even more disheartening to hear that many schools have actually moved away from more toxic substances and these are the “improvements”.

The good news is that some schools have switched to “green” cleaning products. The tests results of these showed that although they are not perfect, they do decrease chemical exposure mainly by reducing the amount of volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) and have less air contaminants.

You can read the full EWG Cleaning Product Report here.

Cleaning Product Culprits

Some of the most toxic substances that they found are also ones which some of us use in our homes. These include:

  • Comet Disinfectant Powder Cleanser

    A general bathroom/floor cleaner that released 143 contaminants when used as directed, including formaldehyde, benzene, chloroform and 4 other chemicals identified by the state of California as causing cancer or reproductive harm.

  • Simple Green

    A general purpose cleaner that released 92 chemicals into the air, including two linked to cancer (2-butoxyethanol and acetaldehyde) and one linked to cancer and asthma (formaldehyde).

  • Febreze Air Effects

    An air freshener that gave off 88 airborne contaminants including acetaldehyde, a chemical linked to cancer.

  • Clorox Regular Bleach

    Released 8 air contaminants, including one linked to hormone disruption and neurotoxicity

  • Pine-Sol Original Cleaner

    A general floor cleaner, released 18 air contaminants, including formaldehyde.

The Price: Our Health

So what is the problem with all these cleaners?

The biggest problem is that our health pays for it directly or indirectly. Some of the more unfortunate people, whose bodies are more sensitive show signs of toxicity right away.

If you experience, difficulty breathing, chest irritation, coughing, runny nose, water eyes, headaches or itchiness when around cleaners – this is your body’s way of saying it does not like them and is trying to protect itself from them.

Some of us do not feel any symptoms around cleaners and thus think that they are not harmful to us. However, every breath that you take of a cleaner exposes your nasal passages, throat and lung airways, and even organs to harmful substances. Our lung’s optimal production is decreased and this may make us more susceptible to infections like colds or flus. Anything that you breathe in that passes into the blood, which many of these chemicals do, is then fair game to wreak havoc on your internal organs. This of course gives your liver one nasty work out that it does not need, in order to clean this out of your system.

Over time of course, exposure like this can increase the presence of asthma, allergies, respiratory illnesses and even cancer. Some chemicals can also affect our endocrine system and throw our hormones out of balance, bringing in as well the problems with early maturation in kids, or infertility in adults. In truth though, we do not know yet the full ramifications of all these chemicals on our bodies and future generations.

Bottom line health is decreased from exposure to chemicals in general, and in kids has also been linked to more school days missed from infections and even poorer performance academically.

What Can You Do

The first thing to realize is that today we do have a choice.

I know that when some people hear stuff like this despair and avoidance often takes over, but this is not going to make the problem go away. Ignorance only goes so far, and I always encourage people to get proactive about a situation they are not comfortable with to bring about change, no matter how small that change may be. So thinking that “oh everything is bad today, what’s a little cleaner going to do?” is not a proactive approach. Every little bit either adds to the toxic load in your body or takes away from it.

In other words, do what you can. Empower yourself. Start by taking small steps and usually you will find this continues to open doors to you and offer solutions where before you thought there were none.

For example, perhaps you cannot dictate what cleaning products will be used in your workplace or child’s school, but you can make changes in your home.

Other people dismiss things like this, with thoughts that perhaps it is not “that bad” or else the government wouldn’t allow it. Sorry, but that argument doesn’t stand a chance. If only we all knew “what” the government does allow. Others yet feel like they cannot be bothered to change, it would just be too inconvenient.

Well all I have to say is, really? I mean especially if you have kids, listen to what you are saying or thinking. In one way we do everything we can to protect our kids and on the other hand, sometimes the easiest things we can change, are the ones we resist the most.

We know enough today, that most, if not all commercial cleaning products are toxic to some extent. If you need more proof for this, go over to Europe and check out the labels they have on some of the same cleaning products we have here, that clearly state “possible carcinogen” and other similar warnings. Just because we are lacking in leadership on this front over in North America, don’t mistaken it for meaning that we don’t yet know how bad these things are, because others do. And we are only talking about health here, never even mind the horrendous toxic and polluting effects these products have on the environment – the same place which we depend for our clean air, water and soil.

Remember, every little bit helps!

At Home

  • Remove all commercial cleaners from your home. No excuses on this one. Among some of the ones mentioned above, common culprits include companies like Mr. Clean, Clorox, Lysol, Ajax, Windex and the list goes on!

  • Remove all commercial air fresheners. Again no excuses on this one. No matter what the situation is at your house, whether a smelly pet or the kid’s sports equipment, start by doing one of the most simplest things people have done for centuries - open your windows on a regular basis and air out your house. Yes, this means even in the winter. Popular air fresheners like Air Wick, Febreze and Glade are a huge waste of your money and your health. If not convinced of just how bad these colorful toxins are, check out the article from Natural News “Popular Air Fresheners Found to Contain Toxic Chemical.”

  • Transition to respected and certified green cleaners. No, Clorox Green Works is not one of them. I have attached a list you can reference at the end of the article.

  • Ultimately the goal is to move towards simple things that have been tried, tested and true for generations like vinegar, baking soda, regular soap, and water. Too often we think we are killing armies of some monsters when we think of micro-organisms. But the truth is today we have more people dying of respiratory conditions and cancers than any micro-organism infections in the West. In fact we have messed up our balance with them so much, and they were never out to get us the way popular media would have you believe. We need to bring back a healthy balance when it comes to micro-organisms.

In the Workplace

  • Do not be afraid to voice your opinion whether in your own workplace or your child’s school. Start by asking questions and inquiring what types of products are used. If you are not satisfied with the answer, suggest and politely demand alternatives. Naturally some places will do everything they can to not change, but we have to remember that change starts when people start speaking out.

  • Organize a petition or committee to change the current cleaning products.

  • Bring some facts to members, other parents or employees to educate others on just how important this is.

  • Here is a green cleaning resource kit from the EWG on how to talk to your child’s school to make changes.

  • Get creative and remember, every little bit helps!

More Resources

Finally here are some more resources to empower you to make changes:

  1. Top 10 Environmentally Friendly Home Cleaning Products

    These are not perfect, but they are way better than the commercial cleaners.

  2. Guide to Less Toxic Products

    This is a fantastic resource showing people what and how to substitute for common toxic cleaners, to more natural and less toxic ones both for our health and the environment.

  3. Frequently Asked Questions About Cleaning Supplies and Your Child’s Health

    The EWG has put together a great resource to answer some of the most popular questions parents may have on this topic.