Originally published March 28 2008
Don’t Offend Others With Second-Hand Chemicals
by Roger Harris
(NaturalNews) Feel overwhelmed by cleaning tasks? There's one way to actually take control over the toxins that may be stressing out your nervous and detoxification systems – stop using chemicals on your body and in your house. You'll also be doing your family, friends, neighbors and the environment a favor by not putting chemical fumes in the air.
Smelly chemical cleaners leave behind a film which can make a person ill, even if they're not the one using them. Second-hand cleaning chemicals, perfumed detergents and fabric softeners can be compared to second-hand smoke – they can affect others negatively too.
Most modern cleaning formulas are concoctions of chemicals, many of which are toxic. A 1991 EPA study of 31 fragrance products found toluene; a neurotoxin, carcinogen and a chemical designated as Hazardous Waste, in all of them. Other petroleum derivatives were also found in fragrances, including known toxins capable of causing birth defects, thyroid and central nervous system disorders in addition to allergic reactions, according to a report to the legislature by a Committee on Science & Technology.
I and my chemically-sensitive partner have banned such cleaning chemicals from our house, replacing them with non-toxic cleaning supplies, some which were our grandmothers' favorites and others new to the market, such as a botanical soap which can be used for everything from brushing your teeth to doing your laundry.
Recently, my partner and I were enjoying the morning sunrise from our deck when our neighbor cranked up her fabric softener-filled dryer, which exhausted the "spring breeze" fragrance into the neighborhood air. My partner contracted a headache and dizziness and had to retreat indoors to "fresher" air. One look at the ingredients in fabric softener helps us to understand why fabric softener can cause a toxic assault.
What's In Those Dryer Sheets?*
* Benzyl Acetate: Linked to pancreatic cancer
* Benzyl Alcohol: Upper respiratory tract irritant
* Ethanol: On the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Hazardous Waste list and capable of causing
central nervous system disorders
* A-Terpineol: Can cause respiratory problems, including fatal edema, and central nervous system
* Ethyl Acetate: A narcotic on the EPA's Hazardous Waste list
* Camphor: Causes central nervous system disorders
* Chloroform: Neurotoxin, anesthetic and carcinogen
* Linalool: A narcotic that causes central nervous system disorders
* Pentane: A chemical known to be harmful if inhaled
To help ourselves and the neighbors breathe more easily, we've ordered an amazing new alternative - Static Eliminator™ woven sheets - which take static cling out, and soften fabric without any toxic chemicals. Author and long-term advocate of natural cleaning methods, Annie Berthold-Bond, suggests making your own dryer sheet by placing a teaspoon of a natural, fragrance-free hair conditioner on a cotton cloth that you throw in with your dryer load. Since we often line dry our clothes, we use a little baking soda to soften and deodorize them in the wash.
For the washer, there are now many fragrance-free, chemical-free laundry soaps available although old-fashioned Borax works well on its own, or to boost other detergents. Or simply opt out of laundry soap altogether by using Laundry Disks or natural "Soap Nuts."
Don't be fooled by national detergent brands that say they are "unscented." They usually contain masking fragrance that can be just as irritating to your skin, lungs and nervous system.
According to the Hawaii Department of Health's Alternatives to Household Hazardous Products guide, "Detergents are derived from scarce petroleum, are non-biodegradable and usually contain chemical additives such as fragrances and colors. Dish detergents cause more child poisonings than any other household product. Automatic dishwashing powders contain high concentrations of phosphates which, when released into streams and storm drains, kill fish and other aquatic life."
Seventh Generation now makes a Free & Clear (no dyes or fragrances) version of its biodegradable, non-toxic soap for the sink and automatic dishwasher. Or you can use the old favorites, Borax or baking soda, which work especially well in hard water because of their alkalinity.
Grandma's staple, baking soda, can not only be used as a deodorizer in the laundry as well as in the refrigerator, but as an all-around household cleanser too. A little on a sponge can be used to wash your dishes, as a non-abrasive scrub for your ceramic cook-top surface, and to clean spills from the inside of your oven. For baked-on goo, just sprinkle some baking soda and hot water on the mess, leave overnight, and wipe off with a scrub sponge in the morning.
To kill mold, our favorites are vinegar, Borax, Bon Ami cleanser, or the strong hydrogen peroxide solution in Ecover Bleach, available at our local health food store.
To clean windows, a small amount of vinegar and a squeeze of dish soap in a bucket of water will replace those blue, ammonia-based window cleaners, and newsprint will wipe the glass streak-free.
Opt For Fresh Air
My partner and I are lucky to live in Hawaii because we don't need air fresheners as warm trade-winds usually blow in our open windows 24-hours-a-day. But for those of you who can't always leave the windows open, turn on your exhaust fan and put out a bowl of baking soda, vinegar or organically grown flowers instead of reaching for commercial air freshener.
Last fall, a group of environmental organizations - the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Alliance for Healthy Homes and the National Center for Healthy Housing - asked the federal government to begin regulating air fresheners. Scientific studies show that air fresheners coat our nasal passages and "freshen" by deadening our nerves with harmful chemicals linked to asthma, developmental problems in babies (fragrances cross the infant's blood brain barrier unimpeded), and cancer in laboratory animals, according to the petition sent to two federal agencies.
The environmental groups complained that in houses, offices and restrooms, Americans suffer significant exposure "to a veritable cocktail of dangerous and potentially dangerous volatile organic compounds. In cases of mold and damp indoor environments, air fresheners may hide an indicator of potentially serious health threats to the respiratory system."
One inventive alternative developed by a chemically sensitive individual to freshen the air and reduce mold is the Hygenaire® device, which fans out a small amount of citrus seed extract into the room. Since mold can be a huge problem in humid areas, we put one in our bathroom as well as our closet.
So to reduce your body's toxic load, clean, disinfect and deodorize with the simple, natural, non-toxic standbys of your grandmother. Or shop wisely and explore the "green" offerings of responsible companies that are defining the future of the marketplace and the health of your home.
* Par a 1991 EPA Study, and the possible effects of exposure.
About the authorRoger Harris is a writer and environmental advocate living on the Big Island of Hawaii. He has formed a network to provide alternatives to pesticides and chemicals, www.GreenerWorld.net to help the citizens of Hawaii and the world choose a healthier future.
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