What Are the Benefits of Organic Cleaning Products?By Jomana Papillo-Krupinski
The scientific community has extensively documented the occupational hazards of long-term exposure to industrial cleaning chemicals. However, it has only recently become apparent that household use of commercial cleaning products also poses hazards to human health and the environment. By choosing nontoxic cleansers, consumers can help to improve indoor air quality, prevent disease and protect the environment.
The Organic Misnomer
The National Organic Program operates under the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 and is federally regulated. This program applies only to food---not to cleaning products. However, there are independent organizations that use science-based standards to evaluate which cleaning products are safer to use and gentler on the environment. These include Green Seal and Design for the Environment. These logos will appear on cleaning products that have passed the stringent screening performed by scientific review teams.
Standard cleaning products may contain chemicals such as chlorine, phthalates and volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, to name only a few. Chlorinated materials break down into organochlorine compounds, which are stored in human fat cells and tissues. Phthalates, often used to add fragrance to cleaning solutions, are known to cause reproductive toxicity and disrupt the endocrine system, says the Science and Environmental Health Network. The Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, warns against VOCs, stating: "Many organic compounds are known to cause cancer in animals; some are suspected of causing, or are known to cause, cancer in humans." The EPA also found that the levels of some organics are often two to five times greater indoors than outdoors. By avoiding commercial cleaning products that contain these chemicals, consumers can protect themselves from unnecessary exposure and illness.
Most cleaning compounds employ the use of surfactants, chemicals that help to dissolve and release grime. However, a family of surfactants known as nonylphenols is particularly bad for the environment. These chemicals actually become more toxic as they break down, and they take the longest to disintegrate. This prolonged time in the environment damages water quality and threatens organisms.
According to the Home Safety Council, "Accidental poisoning is the second-leading cause of home injury death, yet many caregivers are not taking the proper steps to keep family members safe from poisoning in the home." Every year, Poison Control Centers receive reports of more than two million poisonings. Consumers with small children can better protect them by replacing dangerous chemicals with nontoxic alternatives. In addition, making cleaning products at home with common household ingredients such as vinegar, baking soda and castile soap is an even safer option. These ingredients can be found at the supermarket and are inexpensive. Recipes for homemade cleaning products can be found in books and on reputable websites, including the official blog of the United States EPA.
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