Did you know that in Canada there are no requirements for manufacturers to disclose all ingredients or warn consumers about chronic health and environmental hazards associated with their products? Canadians spend nearly $275 million on household cleaning products per year. Most of these products can be harmful to you, your family and to the environment.
These products are marked with the poison, corrosive or irritant labels to warn consumers about acute health hazards associated with single or short-term exposure to chemicals in the product. Unfortunately there is no requirement in Canada for manufacturers to warn consumers about the health and environmental hazards associated with chronic, or long-term exposure to chemical ingredients in household cleaning products. We are exposed to these chemical residues at low levels on a daily basis.
Some of these chemical ingredients are associated with cancer, reproductive problems, asthma and other respiratory effects, and allergies. Cleaning products flushed down the drain also affect aquatic ecosystems.
When we clean our homes with these cleaners, they linger in the air and we breathe them in. In the U.S. researchers identified 133 unique volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) emitted from a sample of consumer products. Each product emitted between one and eight chemicals classified as toxic or hazardous under U.S. federal laws.
Chemicals in cleaning products can also enter our bodies by absorption through the skin or through ingestion of household dust and chemical residues left on dishes and cutlery. The following is a list of some of the dangerous chemicals that we expose ourselves to:
Found in most cleaning products
There are more than 3000 chemicals use in fragrance mixes. Many of these are irritants and can trigger allergies, migraines, and asthma symptoms. Synthetic musks used in detergents are thought to be endocrine disrupters that mimic or interfere with hormone function. Another common fragrance ingredient are Phthalates that are used in laundry detergents, fabric softeners and deodorizers. Glass cleaners and floor polishes also contain them. Air fresheners contain so many fragrance chemicals, including cancer-causing Benzene and Formaldehyde, as well as Phthalates and numerous VOC’s.
Nonylphenol Ethoxylates (NPEs)
Found in liquid laundry detergents, stain removers, all-purpose cleaners, air fresheners, toilet bowl cleaners, degreasers and car wash products
Stimulates the growth of human breast cancer cells and cause adverse reproductive effects. 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 in textiles and pulp and paper products by 95 per cent.
Quaternary Ammonium Compounds (Quats)
Found in bathroom cleaning products, all-purpose cleaners, fabric softeners and degreasers
These can induce an allergic response following contact with skin. They are also known to cause asthma in cleaning workers and evidence shows they may also cause adverse genetic and reproductive effects. Quats are anti-microbial agents and their widespread use in household disinfectants and cosmetics is contributing to antibiotic resistant bacteria, therefore limiting treatment options for microbial infections. The Canadian Medical Association has called for a ban on antibacterial consumer products.
Sodium Hydroxide (Lye and Caustic Soda)
Found in oven and bathroom cleaners, disinfectants, drain openers, and toilet bowl cleaners
This is highly corrosive. It will 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.
MEA (Monoethanalomine), DEA (Diethanolamine), TEA (Triethanolamine)
Found in liquid laundry detergents, all-purpose cleaners, floor cleaners, car wash products, dish soap, oven cleaners and glass/surface cleaners
These react with other chemicals and are a human carcinogen. DEA is a mild skin and severe eye irritant and is known to induce asthma in workplace settings.
Found in window, drain, toilet, bathroom, oven, stainless-steel, and all-purpose cleaners.
Vapours may irritate the skin, eyes, throat and lungs. People with asthma are particularly sensitive to the effects of breathing ammonia. It may also cause kidney and liver damage. The use in cleaning products results in much higher levels of exposure to vapours than from naturally occurring ammonia.
**These are just a few of the chemicals in everyday household cleaners. Next time you are down the cleaning aisle, take a few minutes to read the labels of your chosen cleaners and if they contain these toxic chemicals, maybe try an alternative. If you use products containing these substances make sure you have proper ventilation such as an open window or door when using them. Also regularly have your duct work cleaned as these substances, when becoming airborne, will settle into the dust and debris in the ducts and then will be continuously recirculated throughout your home every time your furnace or air conditioner is running.