Armed with some basic facts about toxic substances, you can reduce your exposure
to chemicals and lower the chance of harmful health effects.
Chemicals You Wont Find In ALL MIGHTY GREEN:
Liver and Kidney Damage
Found in: Used in some spot removers, floor polishes, ironing aids and other products.
Health Risks: Xylene has significant neurotoxic effects, including loss of memory. High exposure can lead to loss of consciousness and even death. It may damage liver, kidneys and the developing fetus. It is a severe eye and moderate skin irritant.
Found in: specialty solvent cleaners, furniture polish and shoe products.
Health Risks: This chemical can cause allergic sensitization, and kidney, bladder and central nervous system damage. It is an eye irritant.
Found in: bathroom cleaners and possibly some laundry detergents (more common in industrial formulations).
Health Risks: Rated by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as a possible human carcinogen. In an assessment of nitrilotriacetic acid (NTA), a related chemical that is analytically identical in solution, Health Canada concluded that the concentrations of NTA/trisodium nitrilotriacetate in drinking water are low enough that they don't constitute a danger in Canada to human health when ingested. The problem is that individually small doses add up in the environment and contribute to our overall toxic burden. In aquatic ecosystems, trisodium nitrilotriacetate can also cause heavy metals in sediment to redisolve and many of these metals are toxic to fish and other wildlife.
Found in: dish soaps and disinfectants, as well as a wide range of other household products. Look for it listed as an "active ingredient" in antibacterial products.
Health Risks: Toxic and a suspected endocrine disrupter that can mimic or interfere with the function of hormones. The European Union classifies triclosan as irritating to the skin and eyes, and as very toxic to aquatic organisms, noting that it may cause long-term adverse effects in the aquatic environment. Triclosan can also react in the environment to form dioxins, which bioaccumulate and are toxic. Triclosan is an anti-microbial agent and there is concern that its extensive use in consumer products is contributing to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, thus limiting treatment options for microbial infections. The Canadian Medical Association has called for a ban on antibacterial consumer products. Triclosan has been found to cause estrogenic activities in human breast cancer cells, which may stimulate the growth and development of cancer cells
SODIUM LAURYL SULFATE (SLS) AND SODIUM LAURETH SULFATE (SLES)
Found in: dish soap, liquid laundry detergents, cleaning towelettes, and toilet bowl cleaners
Health Risks: Sodium lauryl sulfate is a skin irritant and Environment Canada's preliminary categorization of this chemical indicates that it may be toxic to the environment. Sodium laureth sulfate is the "ethoxylated" form of this chemical, which is less harsh. However, the process of ethoxylation can leave behind traces of 1,4-dioxane, a possible human carcinogen that is persistent in the environment (see also DEA, MEA, TEA).
Found in: oven cleaners, bathroom cleaners, disinfectants, drain openers, and toilet bowl cleaners
Health Risks: Highly corrosive; can burn the eyes, skin and lungs and is a respiratory irritant. Long-term exposure in the air may lead to ulceration of the nasal passages and chronic skin irritation. If discharged in large quantities, sodium hydroxide can alter the pH of water. In 2005, a large spill of concentrated sodium hydroxide in the Cheakamus River canyon, north of Squamish, B.C., killed virtually all the fish in the river.
SODIUM DICHLOROISOCYANURATE DIHYDRATE
Found in: toilet bowl cleaners, deodorizers, surface cleaners, and disinfectants
Health Risks: Corrosive; severe eye, skin and respiratory irritant. It can also form chlorine gas, which will burn the eyes, nose and mouth. Studies have found that high doses of this chemical cause kidney damage. In its concentrated form, this chemical is very toxic to aquatic organisms and may cause long-term effects in aquatic ecosystems.
Found in: Abrasive cleaning powders.
Health Risks: Rated by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as a known human carcinogen. This natural ingredient (made from finely ground quartz) is hazardous as a dust if inhaled.
QUATERNARY AMMONIUM COMPOUNDS (QUATS)
Found in: bathroom cleaning products, all-purpose cleaners, fabric softeners, and degreasers.
Health Risks: Irritants and sensitizers that can induce an allergic response following contact with the skin. Quats are also known to cause occupational asthma in cleaning workers and preliminary evidence indicates they may cause adverse genetic and reproductive effects. Chemicals in this class are persistent in the environment and toxic to aquatic organisms. Like triclosan, quats are anti-microbial agents and there is concern that their widespread use in household disinfectants and cosmetics is contributing to antibiotic resistant bacteria, thus limiting treatment options for microbial infections.
Found in: Many fragranced household products, such as air fresheners, dish soap, even toilet paper. Because of proprietary laws, companies don’t have to disclose what’s in their scents, so you won’t find phthalates on a label. If you see the word “fragrance” on a label, there’s a good chance phthalates are present.
Health Risks: Phthalates are known endocrine disruptors. Men with higher phthalate compounds in their blood had correspondingly reduced sperm counts, according to a 2003 study conducted by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Harvard School of Public Health. Although exposure to phthalates mainly occurs through inhalation, it can also happen through skin contact with scented soaps, which is a significant problem. Unlike the digestive system, the skin has no safeguards against toxins. Absorbed chemicals go straight to organs.
Found in: dishwasher detergents, laundry detergents, and bathroom cleaners.
Health Risks: Function as a fertilizer in water. High concentrations of phosphates in bodies of water can promote harmful algal blooms and increase weed growth. This can cause oxygen levels in the water to decline, potentially killing fish. Excess algal growth a can also plug filtration devices at water treatment facilities and affect the taste and odor of the water, resulting increased costs of water purification. Certain algae blooms produce chemicals that are toxic to animals and people who drink the water. New regulations took effect in 2010 that limit phosphorus concentration in household cleaning products to 0.5 per cent — a big improvement. But why not opt for phosphate-free brands?
PERCHLOROETHYLENE OR “PERC”
Found in: Dry-cleaning solutions, spot removers, and carpet and upholstery cleaners.
Health Risks: Perc is a neurotoxin, according to the chief scientist of environmental protection for the New York Attorney General’s office. And the EPA classifies perc as a “possible carcinogen” as well. People who live in residential buildings where dry cleaners are located have reported dizziness, loss of coordination and other symptoms. While the EPA has ordered a phase-out of perc machines in residential buildings by 2020, California is going even further and plans to eliminate all use of perc by 2023 because of its suspected health risks. The route of exposure is most often inhalation: that telltale smell on clothes when they return from the dry cleaner, or the fumes that linger after cleaning carpets.
Found in: It is used in mothballs and some washroom deodorizers and urinal blocks.
Health Risks: This highly volatile registered pesticide is in the same chemical class as DDT. It is a suspected carcinogen, and may cause lung, liver and kidney damage.
Found in: shampoos, commercial moisturizers, shaving gels, personal lubricants
Health Risks: Parabens are hormone disruptors. Parabens are chemicals with estrogen-like properties (estrogenic activity in the body is associated with certain forms of breast cancer) that are added to countless cosmetics and personal care products as preservatives and to inhibit bacterial growth. They have been detected in 99 percent of breast cancer tumors tested, with 60 percent of the tumors containing five or more parabens.5 Research has also shown that higher concentrations of parabens appear in the upper quadrants of the breast, close to where antiperspirants are applied.
Parabens are the most widely used preservatives in cosmetics, and single products typically contain multiple types of parabens, such as methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, or benzylparaben.
NONYLPHENOL ETHOXYLATES (NPES)
Found in: liquid laundry detergents, stain removers, all-purpose cleaners, air fresheners, toilet bowl cleaners, degreasers, and car wash products.
Health Risks: Degrade into nonylphenols (NPs), which can mimic the hormone estrogen. In laboratory experiments, NP has been shown to stimulate the growth of human breast cancer cells and cause adverse reproductive effects in fish and other aquatic organisms. Several chemicals in this class are listed as toxic substances under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. Environment Canada required companies to develop plans to reduce NPEs in cleaning products (as well as textiles and pulp and paper products) by 95 per cent by the end of 2010, but stopped short of banning these chemicals. As of July 2010, only 63 per cent of manufacturing facilities subject to the planning requirement had met the target, although the use of these chemicals in products has declined significantly.
Found in: mothballs, and some other pest repellants, as well as in deodorizers.
Health Risks: This registered pesticide is listed as a suspected carcinogen in California. As a reproductive toxin, it is transported across the placenta and can cause blood damage. It can cause liver and kidney damage, and corneal damage and cataracts. Skin exposure is especially dangerous to newborns.
Found in: As a solvent in a number of cleaning products, including some furniture polishes and abrasive cleansers.
Health Risks: This corrosive ingredient can severely irritate and burn skin and eyes, and can even cause blindness if splashed in eyes. It can cause liver and kidney damage, and long-term exposure can result in bronchitis. It reacts with nitrites (added as a preservative in some products, or present as a contaminant) to form carcinogenic nitrosomines. Morpholine is a moderate to severe eye, skin and mucous membrane irritant.
Found in: many cleaning products, including oven cleaners, tub and tile cleaners, laundry pre-soaks, floor strippers and carpet cleaners.
Health Risks: This chemical may cause liver, kidney and reproductive damage, as well as depression of the central nervous system. Inhalation of high concentrations - when cleaning an oven for example - can cause dizziness or even coma. The chemical can also be absorbed through the skin. It is a moderate skin irritant, and a severe eye irritant.
Found in: Used in stain removers.
Health Risks: Methylene chloride is a carcinogen, a neurotoxin and a reproductive toxin. On inhalation, it can cause liver and brain damage, irregular heartbeat, and even heart attack. It is a severe skin and moderate eye irritant.
Found in: Used in a wide range of products, including some furniture polishes. Formaldehyde may be released by other chemicals, eg.quaternary 15.
Health Risks: In lab tests, formaldehyde has caused cancer and damaged DNA. Formaldehyde is also a sensitizer, with the potential to cause asthma. Several laboratory studies have shown it to be a central nervous system depressant. Exposure to formaldehyde may cause joint pain, depression, headaches, chest pains, ear infections, chronic fatigue, dizziness and loss of sleep. While formaldehyde naturally occurs in the human body in minute amounts, it is estimated that 20 per cent of people exposed to it will experience an allergic reaction.
DEA (Diethanolamine), MEA (Monoethanolamine), TEA (Triethanolamine)
Found in: liquid laundry detergents, all-purpose cleaners, floor cleaners, car wash products, degreasers, dishes soap, oven cleaners, and glass and surface cleaners
Health Risks: Can react with nitrites to form carcinogenic nitrosamines. Nitrites may be present as preservatives or contaminants in other products, or in some water sources. These ethoxylated alcohols may also be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a possible human carcinogen that is persistent in the environment. 1,4-dioxane can be removed during the manufacturing process, but there is no easy way to know if that has occurred. DEA is a mild skin and severe eye irritant. MEA is known to induce asthma in workplace settings.
Found in: It is used as a solvent in many all-purpose cleaning products, especially 'citrus' and 'orange' cleaners. Also listed on labels as citrus oil and orange oil.
Health Risks: This chemical is produced by cold-pressing orange peels. The extracted oil is 90% d-limonene. It is a sensitizer, a neurotoxin, a moderate eye and skin irritant, and can trigger respiratory distress when vapours are inhaled by some sensitive individuals. There is some evidence of carcinogenicity. D-limonene is the active ingredient in some insecticides.
COAL TAR DYES
Found in: most types of cleaning products.
Health Risks: Derived from petrochemicals, and may be contaminated with trace amounts of heavy metals like arsenic, cadmium and lead. There is concern that synthetic dyes may cause cancer and that heavy metals can harm the nervous system and cause other adverse health effects.
Found in: Scouring powders, toilet bowl cleaners, mildew removers, laundry whiteners, household tap water.
Health Risks: The health risks from chlorine can be acute, and they can be chronic; it’s a respiratory irritant at an acute level. But the chronic effects are what people don’t realize: It may be a serious thyroid disrupter.
Found in: Window, kitchen and multipurpose cleaners.
Health Risks: 2-butoxyethanol is the key ingredient in many window cleaners and gives them their characteristic sweet smell. It belongs in the category of “glycol ethers,” a set of powerful solvents that don’t mess around. Law does not require 2-butoxyethanol to be listed on a product’s label. According to the EPA’s Web site, in addition to causing sore throats when inhaled, at high levels glycol ethers can also contribute to narcosis, pulmonary edema, and severe liver and kidney damage. Although the EPA sets a standard on 2-butoxyethanol for workplace safety, If you’re cleaning at home in a confined area, like an unventilated bathroom, you can actually end up getting 2-butoxyethanol in the air at levels that are higher than workplace safety standards.
BLEACH Sodium Hypochlorite
Found in: a wide range of household cleaners.
Health Risks: A corrosive chemical, sodium hypochlorite is an eye, skin and respiratory irritant, as well as a sensitizer. It is especially hazardous to people with heart conditions or asthma, and can be fatal if swallowed. It may be a neurotoxin and toxic to the liver.
Found in: Polishing agents for bathroom fixtures, sinks and jewelry; also in glass cleaner.
Health Risks: The people who will be really affected are those who have asthma, and elderly people with lung issues and breathing problems. It’s almost always inhaled. People who get a lot of ammonia exposure, like housekeepers, will often develop chronic bronchitis and asthma. Ammonia can also create a poisonous gas if it’s mixed with bleach.