Written by: David Zielski
My thirteen-year-old daughter recently called me up to say she had cleaned the whole kitchen and bathroom herself. So many emotions ran through me at that moment. First, I was shocked by the fact that no one asked her to do so. I was also happy that she had done this but anxious at the same time because this was a Thursday afternoon and knowing that during the next 24 hours would come my payback, a ride home from a party or a couple of her friends sleeping over for the weekend. But the one thing I was not feeling was worried that my little girl was exposed to toxic chemicals that most of us use in our homes. Two years ago we made the switch to all natural non-toxic cleaning products.
Up until a few years ago, most household and commercially purchased cleaning products were "petro-chemically" derived or "synthetic". These types of products are literally made from crude petroleum oil. As our use of these cleaners in our homes, schools, and workplaces has grown over the last 60 years, the incidence of diseases like cancer and asthma has grown dramatically as well, and many experts see a clear connection between the two. It's a picture vividly painted by the numbers: From 1973 to 1998, the overall incidence of cancer increased by almost 25%. In the last 20 years, asthma rates have skyrocketed almost 50%. Americans now spend billions every year to deal with allergic diseases including a brand new one called multiple chemical sensitivity whose symptom is currently reported by 15-30% of the U.S. population.
Children are more vulnerable to environmentally caused diseases than adults. This is because children are of course smaller, and their systems are still developing. A child's ability to flush out environmental toxins is not developed until they are around seven years old so they absorb and retain more toxins than adults. For example, children absorb about 50% of the lead they are exposed to, while adults absorb only 10-15%.
Here are some shocking facts compiled by the City of Boulder, Colorado:
· Indoor air is often two to five times more contaminated than outdoor air.
· Childhood asthma has nearly doubled in the last 20 years (American Lung Assoc.) and some cleaners may be triggers to asthma attacks.
· The average home contains 25 gallons of hazardous chemicals - a major portion of these can be found in household cleaning products.
· In 1999, 92% of all poisonings occurred in the home.
· Cleaning products are involved in 11% of poisoning exposure in children less than 6 years of age.
· 70,000 synthetic chemicals are in production today. Many are suspected to cause cancer or other health effects, but only 600 have been adequately tested.
Many people who are exposed to a variety of petrochemicals in our environment do not reach acute toxic exposure, which leads to cancer or death. However, they may experience an array of subtle symptoms, including headaches, rashes, or breathing difficulties, which, while less dramatic, can be extremely debilitating. These effects are even more devastating in young children. Compounding this problem is the difficulty of isolating which chemicals present in homes, schools, offices or even cars is causing the problem.
The manufacturers of the traditional cleaning products are protected by trade secret labeling laws, which do not require them to list all ingredients. Although chemical information is required by law on products used in the workplace, this toxic information is not currently required on the products we use daily in our homes. Kathy Cooper, Sr. Environmental Law Researcher states: "Most consumers assume that if it's on the store shelf, it has been tested and it is safe. That is far from the truth. The Government and manufacturers are currently under no obligation to tell us about long-term toxicity of common household cleaners". Children's developing bodies are more vulnerable to toxins than those of adults, says Susan JunFish, who used to work for the Environmental Protection Agency. And they're more likely to get toxins into their bodies. Their hands are on everything and then go in their mouths-an average of ten times an hour, according to one study.
These toxic cleaning products are slowly gaining attention, not only by environmentalist groups but on a City and State level as well. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the city of Seattle have taken the first step towards recognizing the importance's of Environmentally preferable cleaning products and has awarded contracts to companies that meet certain criteria. These products will have less of an impact on the environment than their traditional counterparts because they are generally less toxic and contain lower concentrations of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), ozone depleting chemicals (ODCs), and carcinogens. Environmentally preferable cleaning products must also be offered in recycled-content, recyclable and/or reduced packaging.
Our children are what we live for. We go to great lengths to shelter and protect them from all that is bad in the world. Why subject them to harsh toxic chemicals when there are alternatives available that are both safe and effective. By switching to all natural non toxic cleaners, you will not only be helping your children, you will be helping yourself, your pets and the precious environment we inhabit.
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