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According to a National Academy of Sciences workshop, approximately
15 percent of the American population suffers from chemical sensitivity.
Researchers have traced this increased sensitivity to the proliferation
of synthetic chemicals in consumer products and furnishings.
According to the EPA, indoor air pollution is one of the nation's
most pressing personal health concerns. Peak concentrations of
20 toxic compounds - some linked with cancer and birth defects
200 to 500 times higher inside some homes than outdoors, according
to a 5-year EPA study that surveyed 600 homes in six cities.
of more than 400 toxic chemicals - some found in household products
and foods - have been identified in human blood and fat
a list of hazardous ingredients in household products.
Symptoms such as runny nose, itchy eyes, a scratchy throat, headaches,
fatigue, dizziness, skin rash, and respiratory infections are all
common reactions to indoor air pollution. Left untreated, long-term
exposure to indoor pollution can result in lung cancer, or damage
to the liver, kidney and central nervous system. Young children
are especially vulnerable to impaired lung function and respiratory
The risk for leukemia increases by four
to seven times for children, ages 10 and under, whose parents
use home or garden pesticides.
The risk of childhood brain cancer is associated with the use of
pesticide "bombs" in the home, pesticides to control
termites, flea collars on pets, insecticides in the garden or orchard,
herbicides to control weeds in the yard, including exposure to
two common pesticides available in garden shops - carbaryl and
In 1990, more than 4,000 toddlers under age four were admitted
to hospital emergency rooms as a result of household cleaner-related
injuries. That same year, 18,000 pesticide-related hospital emergency
room admissions were reported with almost three-fourths for children
age fourteen and under.
Methylene chloride, the propellant used in many aerosol products,
is carcinogenic. Some products containing methylene chloride have
been pulled from the market, but the carcinogen continues to be
found in many consumer products such as spray paint and stripper.
Not a single cosmetic company warns consumers of the presence of
carcinogens in its products - despite the fact that a number of
common cosmetic ingredients are carcinogenic or carcinogenic precursors.
Some experts estimate that 20 percent of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
cases among women are attributable to their use of hair dyes.
Safety Guidelines For Avoiding Carcinogens At home
- Read all labels carefully before using products. Be aware
of their uses and dangers.
- Leave products in their original
container with the label that clearly identifies the contents.
- Never put household products in food or beverage containers.
- Do not mix products unless the label directs you to do so.
This can cause explosive or poisonous chemical reactions. Even
brands of the same product may contain incompatible ingredients.
- Use only
what is needed. Twice as much doesn't mean twice the results.
Follow the label.
- If pregnant, avoid toxic chemical exposure
as much as possible. Many toxic products have not been fully
tested for their effects
on the unborn.
- Use products in well-ventilated areas to avoid inhaling fumes.
Open windows and use an exhaust fan, making sure air is exiting
outside rather than being recirculated indoors. Take plenty of fresh
air breaks. Be sure to use adequate skin, eye, and respirator protection.
- Do not eat, drink, or smoke while using hazardous products.
Traces of hazardous chemicals can be carried from hand to mouth.
can start a fire if the products are flammable.
- Clean up after
using hazardous products. Carefully seal containers.
HOUSEHOLD PRODUCTS: Questions and Answers
Q. What role do chemicals play in household products?
A. Production rates for synthetic petrochemicals skyrocketed from
1 billion pounds per year in 1940 to over 400 billion pounds per
year in the 1980s. Approximately 70,000 chemicals are now in commercial
production, many of which are used in household products. Many
of these chemicals accumulate in the human body and cause cancer
and other diseases, yet they have been inadequately tested or remain
completely untested for their safety. Only about 600 of these chemicals
are known to cause cancer. Many chemicals used in household products
are volatile. That means they become gaseous at room temperature
or are sprayed from an aerosol can or hand pump and thus take the
form of microscopic particles that are easily inhaled. They can
cause damage to the lungs or other organs as they are taken into
Q. Are hazardous chemicals from household products more dangerous
than outdoor pollutants?
A. Because indoor pollutants are not as easily
dispersed or diluted as outdoor pollutants, concentrations of toxic
chemicals may be
much greater indoors than outdoors. Peak concentrations of twenty
toxic compounds -some linked with cancer and birth defects - were
200 to 500 times higher inside some homes than outdoors, according
to an Environmental Protection Agency Study. Not surprisingly,
EPA experts say that indoor air pollution is one of the nation's
most pressing personal health concerns.
Q. Have products been pulled from the market because of their
A. In the last few years consumers have discovered
that some of the chemicals in household products whose safety was
granted are hazardous. For instance, methylene chloride (also known
as dichloromethane), the propellant used in many aerosol products,
is carcinogenic. Although some products containing methylene chloride
have been pulled from the market, this carcinogen continues to
be found in many consumer products such as spray paint and stripper.
More recently, it was learned that indoor latex paints used widely
for decades contained highly neurotoxic mercury-based fungicides.
But it was not until 1990 that manufacturers finally removed most
of these potent neurotoxins.
Q. What are some of the symptoms caused by chemicals in household
A. Symptoms such as a runny nose, itchy eyes,
a scratchy throat, headaches, fatigue, dizziness, skin rash, and
are all common reactions to indoor air pollution. Long-term exposure
to indoor pollution can result in lung cancer, or damage to the
liver, kidneys, and central nervous system. Young children are
especially vulnerable to impaired lung function and respiratory
Q. What types of products have the biggest cancer risks?
A. Certain cleansers and many brands of cat litter contain the
carcinogen crystalline silica. Some car cleaning products contain
formaldehyde. Fortunately, there are safe
alternative household products
Steinman, David and Samuel Epstein, MD, Safe
Shopper's Bible, Macmillan
Publishing Company, 1995.
Steinman, David, Diet for a Poisoned Planet, Ballantine Books,
Berthold-Bond, Annie, Clean & Green,
The Complete Guide to Non-toxic Housekeeping, Ceres Press, 1989, $8.95.
Dadd, Debra Lynn, The Nontoxic Home & Office, Jeremy Tarcher
Harte, John, Cheryl Holdren, Richard Schneider and Christine
Shirley, Toxics A to Z: A Guide to Everyday Pollution Hazards,
of California Press, 1991.
Needleman, Herbert and Philip Landrigan, Raising Children
Toxic Free: How to keep Your Child Safe from lead, Asbestos,
and Other Environmental Hazards, Farrar, Straus & Giroux,
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Cancer Prevention Coalition
of Public Health, M/C 922
University of Illinois at Chicago
2121 West Taylor Street
(312) 996-2297, Fax: (312) 413-9898