So you think that using “green”, “natural” or “organic” personal care, cleaning and laundry products protects you from toxic chemical exposure? Think again. Professor Anne C. Steinemann of Civil and Environmental Engineering and public Affairs at University of Washington participated in a study that tested 25 fragranced products used everyday, including brands labeled, green, natural, organic, non-toxic or scented with essential oils with disturbing results.
Steinemann and her colleagues investigated volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in 25 common care products including laundry products, personal care products, cleaning supplies and air fresheners. The study found 133 VOCs total, with an average of 17 VOCs per product. But the most alarming is that every product had at least one substance classified as toxic or hazardous under U.S. federal laws, including the 11 brands tested labeled as “green” or “natural”. Some of them contain toxic substances and known carcinogens. In fact, “green” and “natural” products emissions were not significantly different than other products.
Exposure to fragrances and toxic chemicals found in this study is not safe. Previous work clearly shows that fragrances can lead to many adverse effects including asthma, breathing problems, headaches and allergies. Some of the substances found are linked to cancer and others are suspected to create hormones imbalances. And if you think that you’re safe because you’re using products scented with essential oils, there’s bad news. Emissions from products with essential oils were not really different from the others. Each product containing essential oils emitted at least one toxic substance.
According to an article published by Steinemann,
“Nearly half of the products emitted chemicals that have no safe exposure level. These chemicals are classified as carcinogenic Hazardous Air Pollutants by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA’s position on these carcinogens is that not even one molecule of exposure is safe or risk-free. Eleven of the products emitted one or more probable carcinogens (acetaldehyde, 1,4-dioxane, methylene chloride, and formaldehyde).”
What’s even more frightening is that consumers like you and me have no way to know if a product contains one of those substances, as most of them are not listed in the ingredients or the safety data sheet (MSDS). Because the US regulations do not require full ingredients listing in consumer products, or any ingredient part of the mixture called “fragrance”, we simply can’t know if a product is safe. I don’t know if you’re like me, but I hate when I’m deprived from my right to choose what I expose myself to.
What you can do to minimize toxic exposure
The safest thing to do might be to stop using commercial products altogether. Instead of air fresheners, ventilation is a far better option. Use simple natural products to clean, like vinegar and baking soda. You can also make your own products with simple natural ingredients. There are many “do it yourself” recipes and methods on the web for cosmetics and personal care products. Making your own personal care products and cosmetics is a good way to better control what you put on your skin, and it can even be a fun thing to do. But if you must buy commercial products, choose unscented products made only with natural ingredients.
Are you concerned with your potential toxic chemical exposure levels? What do you do to minimize your risk? Do you think that government should have better laws to protect consumers?