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BEFORE YOU DO THAT
SPRING CLEANING...

Here are some facts I hope will help you choose your cleaners more wisely: each year in the United States there are between 4 and 7 million accidental household poisonings and most of them happen to children under the age of 5; the second most impacted group is the elderly, who may have difficulty reading the tiny warning print. Another impacted group is teenagers who intentionally "huff" toxics in an attempt to get "high". A Canadian study reported that women who work at home have a 54% higher risk of dying of cancer than women who work outside the home. Even if you're not in one of the groups named above you're not off the hook. The EPA warns that indoor pollution is 2-5 times greater than outdoor pollution.

What is a major source of indoor pollution? The answer is toxics outgassing. Even in tightly sealed containers these substances send their nasty fumes into the air we breathe. A trip down the cleaning aisle of the supermarket will prove this to you. You may have noticed that you don't feel well by the time you get to the end of that aisle. The cleaners do the same thing when they're under the sink or in the laundry or garage.

It is in your best interest to learn to interpret the verbiage on the back of the packaging of your favorite cleaners. Several years ago the skull and crossbones poison warning was replaced by three words: danger; warning; caution. They mean poison but frequently the warning verbiage is interspersed with a description of the tasks the cleaner will do. Danger means a taste to a teaspoon can be fatal to the average adult male. Warning means a teaspoon to an ounce can be fatal to the average adult male. Caution means an ounce to a pint can be fatal to the average adult male. Generally, these warnings are placed at the very bottom of the back panel in print about this size. Even if the print size were large enough to read without your glasses we tend to ignore written warnings.

At sometime, we all heard the admonition," Never assume". Nowhere does it hold more true than in the case of cleaners. Never assume that beacuse the cleaners are available at the market they are benign. Never assume that the government would never allow cleaners that could harm us to be placed on market shelves. Never assume that your favorite cleaner is safe to use without gloves and a mask. OSHA requires Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) to be readily available to workers and mandates they take the recommended precautions when working with toxic chemicals.

These precautions may take the form of mask, elbow length heavy duty rubber gloves, heavy duty rubber boots, respirator, or full hazardous material gear. The same chemicals are in our household cleaners (perhaps in lower concentrations) and there is no law requiring clothing precautions be printed on the label. Toxics enter the body one of three ways: they are inhaled, ingested or absorbed. If you don't feel well after you clean you would be well advised to take precautions! You may also wish to write or phone the company and request a copy of the MSDS for your favorite products.

One last thought or two - toxics are heavier than air so they tend to hang about 18-30 inches off the ground. Children and pets hang out in the same area, so it behooves you to choose your carpet cleaner, floor cleaner and furniture polish wisely. There are some companies that produce safe, effective, affordable cleaners. For the sake of your family search them out!

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Written by: Annie Green

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