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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

New Study Finds Toxic Chemicals in Many Conventional Cleaners

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New Study Finds Toxic Chemicals in Many Conventional Cleaners

Contributed by Seventh Generation

Call it another nail in the coffin of conventional cleaning products: A new study has found that literally dozens of popular household cleaners contain undisclosed toxins that have been linked to asthma, fertility and other problems. The research points out something most consumers still don't realize. Namely, that the household products they think are safe really aren't.

The new report, from Montana-based non-profit Women's Voices for the Earth, examined Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for dozens of top-selling conventional cleaning products and found that most of formulas they studied contain one or more chemicals linked to any number of negative health effects.

MSDS are chemical information summary sheets whose use in manufacturing and commercial settings is required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. These standardized forms provide varying degrees of additional data about the chemicals, products, or formulas used by a specific facility or in a specific product. They must be prepared for the employees of any company that handles the chemicals or products in question so that everyone can better understand the hazards associated with the materials with which they're working. Since federal regulations do not require cleaning product manufacturers to fully disclose all the ingredients their formulas contain on product labels, an MSDS for a particular product is usually the best and often only way to figure out what hazards it contains.

Even so, MSDS do not necessarily list all the ingredients a cleaner contains. The law requires that only those hazardous ingredients present in levels above one percent (or one tenth of one percent for carcinogens, neurotoxins, and teratogens (chemicals capable of affecting fetuses) need be disclosed even though many chemicals pose a clear and present danger in lesser amounts. In addition, MSDS' need only list materials that meet the agency's official definition of hazardous. If a chemical has not yet been formally placed on OSHA's lists of known hazardous materials, it doesn't need to appear on an MSDS.

In studying cleaning product MSDS, Women's Voices for the Earth found that a number of chemicals linked to asthma and reproductive disorders kept appearing, including:

• Monoethanolamine (MEA), a solvent that appeared in laundry detergents, and all-purpose and floor cleaners.

• Ammonium quaternary compounds, disinfectants used in disinfectant sprays and toilet cleaners.

• Glycol ethers, like 2-butoxyethanol, solvents added to glass cleaners and all-purpose spray cleaners.

• Alkyl phenol ethoxylates (APEs), surfactants used in laundry detergents, stain removers, and all-purpose cleaner.

• Phthalates, fragrance carriers that were discovered in glass cleaners, deodorizers, laundry detergents, and fabric softeners.

Scientific studies have linked EGBE to reproductive problems like testicular damage, reduced fertility, death of embryos, and birth defects. People exposed to high levels of EGBE for a few hours experience nose and eye irritation, headaches, vomiting and a metallic taste in their mouths. A 2006 California Air Resources Board study on indoor air quality and cleaning products found that people using common products that contained EGBE could be exposed to amounts up to 12 times higher than that state's one-hour safe-exposure standard.

Because manufacturers rarely offer complete ingredient disclosure on their cleaning products' labels, there's really only one thing consumers can do to protect themselves and their families from any hidden hazards those products contain: Only buy products whose labels tell you everything they contain. Don't rely on promises of safety or environmental benefits. Even products marketed as earth-friendly can contain toxic ingredients. Where cleaners are concerned, ingredients labels speak louder than claims. Knowing what ingredients are in the products you use, and keeping your family away from any that keep secrets is the healthiest advice a person can receive.

To find out more about conventional cleaning products, obtain a free on-line copy of the new study, and learn about the Women's Voices for the Earth Safe Cleaning Products initiative visit

[To find cleaning products on OTA's searchable directory, click here]

To find products that are safe for you, your family and the environment that are made without the toxic chemicals go to

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