This article is the fourth in a series of posts exploring the Essential Six Elements of Whole Health, the core of our health philosophy and the foundation for our work with our nutritional therapy clients.
If you thought the topic of toxic personal care products was a bit daunting, the topic of toxic household products and building materials is positively overwhelming.
The air inside of our homes is often more toxic than air outside, and there are several culprits for this, namely chemical-laden household cleaning products and pesticides, the furniture in the home and the actual building materials used to build, finish out and decorate the home.
First, not unlike the huge assortment of cleansers meant for our body, there are cleansers for every room of the house and all surfaces imaginable.
Most of these cleansers contain chemicals with health consequences similar to those in personal care products- the biggest ones being cancer-causing chemicals, endocrine disruptors, reproductive toxins, neurotoxins and chemicals that damage bodily organs, like the liver and lungs.
Oftentimes, household cleaning products will actually contain a higher level of these toxins than products meant for the body, since they aren’t actually applied to the skin.
However, typically there is some contact with these substances and the fumes are inhaled, settle on the skin, in the nose and eyes and most leave a residue on the surface that was cleaned, which is often touched- especially by children.
I won’t go into each and every issue with household cleaners, because honestly, there are too many issues to mention. I will say that it’s fairly safe to assume that if you are using a name-brand, store-bought, advertised on TV product, the odds are it’s laden with toxic chemicals.
What about greener cleaners?
There has been a huge consumer push over the past couple of decades to switch to greener cleaners, and several companies, like Seventh Generation, have been providing non-toxic options for years.
The mainstream industry has recently responded to the lost profit and increased demand for healthier cleaners and they have created new “green” product lines.
How big is the market for green cleaners?
“Green” cleaning product sales quadrupled, from $17.7 million in 2003 to $64.5 million in 2008, according to Green Cleaning for Health, a white paper released by Air Quality Sciences (AQS).
By 2013, green cleaner sales were expected to reach $623 million and account for 30 percent of the household cleaners market, compared with just 3 percent in 2008.
Just how green are the “green” cleaners?
A recent study was conducted to determine just this.
A room-size environmental chamber was cleaned twice, once with conventional and once with ‘green’ floor cleaner, window cleaner and general-purpose cleaner. The green cleaners released fewer measurable air contaminants and lower levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Conventional general purpose cleaners released six times more VOCs than their green counterparts. The green general purpose cleaner released one-fifth (20 percent) as many contaminants as the conventional general purpose cleaner.
Overall, certified green products emitted one-half (50 percent) as many contaminants as conventional cleaning supplies.
Half is good, right? Isn’t that a safe product then?
Well, it’s better.
But, I wouldn’t say “safe”.
Some certified green products released measurable levels of substances that could pose a significant risk to children’s health. When used at full-strength, a well-known cleaner, which claims to be “non-toxic,” gave off 93 different air contaminants.
One disinfectant powder cleanser emitted 146 distinct chemicals. So if those are the GREEN cleaners, imagine the number of chemicals in conventional household cleaners- yikes!
Can’t I just read the labels?
Sure, that’s a step in the right direction.
However, once again, the lack of formal regulation makes it hard to trust the claims on labels declaring these products safer, healthier or more ecologically friendly. There’s also the subject of lack of safety testing, or the problem with reliability when tests are performed within the industry itself.
Bisphenol-A, often referred to as BPA, and which we’ve written about before, has gained a lot of media attention in recent years.
This widespread chemical is just one example of how dangerous chemicals can be, with the smallest measurable amount EVER tested, .23/1,000,000,000,000 (that’s 0.23 parts per trillion) with the ability to change cellular signaling.
At a slightly higher rate, BPA causes breast cancer in mice, slightly higher still causes prostate cancer in mice, and even an increment higher than that causes insulin resistance in mice- a huge link to obesity and diabetes.
The current EPA “safe level”, that is, ALLOWABLE, contamination is 50 parts per billion (linked to a study done in the 1980s testing the weight loss potential of BPA in mice, the weight loss happened (due to illness) at 50 parts per million, so they allowed for 1000 fold “safety buffer” without any further testing- huh??)
In the last 7 years, over 150 studies conducted by non-industry scientists have linked BPA to serious health problems. In the same time frame, however, 12 studies funded by industry have found NO health problems at any level.
So how do you really find safe cleaners?
Well, it’s amazing what you can do with three things: plain vinegar, water and baking soda.
Vinegar and water will clean just about every surface, naturally disinfecting it. The smell of vinegar dissipates quickly. Baking soda makes a nice, non-scratching scouring powder and it’s great for bathrooms, scrubbing stains and stuck on messes in the kitchen, along with its deodorizing properties.
We also have several natural housecleaning recipes on our website for everything from scouring powder to laundry and dishwashing products. There are also commercially available non-toxic cleaners, from brands like Seventh Generation.
There are many great books on the market that include natural cleaning product recipes and discuss the various options for outfitting a home with safe furniture and building supplies.
Just as you are better off to choose natural cleaners for the home, care should be taken to use only natural methods for controlling insects and other pests, treating weeds and fertilizing the grass. Take every precaution to avoid commercial chemical pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers.
Be mindful when treating inside the home and the outside perimeter as well as treating the lawn, on plants and in gardens.
Chemical pesticides & herbicides are nasty inventions with one goal- to kill. Unfortunately they are not very discriminatory and while they may not kill humans, simply because we are larger than ants, mice or weeds, severe damage can be done nonetheless.
Children and pets are even more susceptible to damage. You just have to walk down the pesticide and lawn care aisles at your local home improvement store to experience the effects of these dangerous chemicals- we suggest you skip that area of the store altogether.
Furthermore by supporting chemical companies, you are unfortunately supporting their other dubious inventions and endeavors, like genetically modified foods (GMOs) and weapons of war.
That bottle of weed killer isn’t so innocent. Fortunately, there are numerous natural and organic methods for pest control & lawn care and these are easily found at local stores, online and research is widely available.
Furniture is a large source of toxic contamination in the home, with volatile organic compounds (VOCs), formaldehyde, phthalates and flame retardants being some of the main concerns.
It’s wise to research furniture materials and their possible toxicity. Most commercially available furniture contains some toxic material from plywood/fiberboard to foam cushions and flame retardant sprays.
This applies to everything from rugs to couches, ottomans, desks and tables, mattresses and even household goods like towels and kitchen mats. Fortunately there are options for just about every item, made from natural materials and free of these unhealthy components.
Searching online and in specific non-toxic living books will yield several companies who are operating responsibly.
The same need for research applies to home building materials. There are obvious, visible concerns like carpeting, paint and other decorating materials which you may have already heard contain toxins.
Mainstream companies have created some safer materials and there are companies that offer very safe options. For most people, addressing these more superficial sources of toxins can be adequate for restoring and maintaining health.
However, for those who are extra-sensitive or have lingering health problems, digging deeper might be helpful.
Nearly every material used in the construction of a home contains chemicals of varying toxicity levels, unless it’s specifically a green, or non-toxic home.
Sealants, caulks, adhesives, drywall, wood used for framing the house, countertop materials and cabinetry all contain substances that are harmful to health.
Now unless you are beginning a new construction project, you really don’t have control over these things.
Even then, there are very few options on the market for safe versions of some of these products. There may be steps you can take to minimize your exposure, such as keeping the house in good repair to avoid exposure to some of these materials.
Repairs can be completed using the safest materials possible. Other sources of contamination, like mold, need to be prevented as much as possible or dealt with quickly and professionally if already present.
Another source of contamination in the home is something that can’t be seen, but can certainly be felt, for some more than others.
We’re talking about electromagnetic pollution, or “electro-smog”.
Studies are continuing to come out revealing the harmful effects that electro-magnetic fields, called EMFs, have on our bodies. Children are especially susceptible to damage from EMFs. Read more about EMFs and how to avoid them HERE.
The next part of this article addresses appropriate detoxification and conscious health-care decisions. Find that HERE