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Are We Killing Ourselves With Chemicals?

I’ve always been afraid chemicals in many of the products I and my kids use are hurting us. So in the past I’ve written about things like chlorine and PBDEs to help me keep the issue top-of-mind.

But it can be tough to keep track of all the harmful ingredients in the stuff we buy. The EPA has just made it a bit easier, though, by releasing its ToxRefDB database. You and me and anyone else can search and download thousands of toxicity testing results on hundreds of chemicals.

So this is what I did: I took five cleaning products off my shelf at home, looked at the ingredients (what few ingredients were listed, anyway; they don’t really want us to know, after all), then plugged the ingredient names into the new EPA database.

All Purpose Cleaner – This “Lemon Breeze” 4-in-1 disinfectant only had one ingredient listed: Alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chlorides, which, the bottle says, make up less than 1% of the solution. So they’re keeping secret 99% of what’s in there. I couldn’t find in the ToxRefDB the exact chemical combo indicated on the cleaner, so I’m assuming it’s relatively harmless (which is why they chose to display it on their bottle, presumably), but I’m also assuming the 99% of what they don’t disclose isn’t so harmless. Especially when you consider this warning written on the bottle: “Wash thoroughly with soap and water after handling and before eating, drinking and chewing gum, using tobacco, or using restroom.” Lovely.

Hair Clog Removal Gel – The old drain cleaner. Obviously hazardous to our health; this is something everyone knows to handle with care. There were only two ingredients listed, potassium hydroxide and sodium hypochlorite. Neither was listed on the ToxRefDB site. (The potassium hydroxide is basically lye, I think). So I threw them into the National Institutes of Health’s MESH database, and it shot back a ton of research on health dangers for both the potassium hydroxide and the sodium hypochlorite. But again, there’s nothing surprising about drain cleaner being bad for us.

Upholstery Cleaner – Gotta keep that couch clean and smelling fresh, right? So in exchange for that fresh smell, we get exposed to butoxyehtanol, which, while not listed as a carcinogen, is in the ToxRefDB has having been shown to cause developmental problems in rats and rabbits. It’s also an ingredient in the dispersant BP’s using on the Gulf oil spill, according to a report on ProPublica.

Abrasive Disinfectant – This one exhibits the trickiness of an exercise like this. The one ingredient listed is sodium dichloro-s-triazinetrione dihydrate. I couldn’t find much in the EPA database, but once I searched the MESH database, it returned an article that identifies this chemical as also being known as cyanuric acid, which has caused all sorts of problems in lab animals, from cancer growth to reproductive problems.

Wasp and Hornet Killer – And now we’re to the biggie. The TxRefDB site primarily covers chemicals found in pesticides, which, since they’re meant to kill things after all, probably pose the biggest risks to us. My can contained something called Prallethrin, which, while the EPA database says is “not likely be carcinogenic to humans,” it does list a number of studies showing it causes major damage in lab animals. The other ingredient it listed is called lambda-Cyhalothrin, which the TxRefDB says is inconclusive as to whether it’s a carcinogen, but that, again, messes up lab animals in many ways. The EPA links to another site that has details.

So what are our alternatives to all these hazardous chemicals? There are plenty of ways to clean with natural, nontoxic stuff like baking soda or vinegar. Matt Hickman over at Mother Nature Network has a great series of posts on purging chemicals from your cleaning routine.

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“Are We Killing Ourselves With Chemicals?”

  1. Blogger Michael Says:

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