A Sneak Peek at the Environmental Working Group’s Household Cleaners Hall of Shame
May 10, 2012
Kyriaki (Sandy) Venetis in EWG Cleaners Hall of Shame, air pollution, allergies, asthma triggers, cancer, cancer, chemical burns, formaldahyde, greenwashing, homemade cleaning products, pollution, toxic household cleaning products

While we know that most household cleaners can be dangerous – which is why we put the safety latches on the cabinets to keep babies out– we may not realize just how dangerous they are even when properly used.

Image courtesy of enviroblog.org.

These days a lot of greenwashing (labeling products as natural) and other safety claims are made in advertisements to sell products by putting consumers’ minds at ease. The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a consumer advocacy non-profit group, decided to take a look at these claims and found some frightening results.

Jane Houlihan, EWG senior vice president for research and co-author of the EWG Cleaners Hall of Shame, said that, “Cleaning your home can come at a high price with cancer-causing chemicals in the air; having an asthma attack from fumes; or getting serious skin burns from an accidental spill.”

“Almost any ingredient is legal and almost none of them are labeled, leaving families at risk,” she added.

This Cleaners Hall of Shame is a preview of a more comprehensive EWG Cleaners Database project that is due for release in fall 2012.

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The current report defines greenwashing as cleaners being labeled non-toxic, green, or safe, while containing hazardous ingredients.

Among the worst offenders is Simple Green Concentrated All-Purpose Cleaner, which the EWG says is labeled non-toxic and biodegradable, but contains the solvent 2-butoxyethanol that can irritate eyes and if absorbed through the skin, can damage red blood cells.

“Worse, the company website instructs the user to dilute the product significantly for even the heaviest cleaning tasks. Yet it comes in a spray bottle that implies it should be sprayed full-strength. Such use would result in higher exposure (and risk),” said the report.

Also accused of greenwashing in the report is Citra-Solv Cleaner & Degreaser. The EWG cautioned that:

These concentrated liquids and ready-to-use sprays contains d-limonene and orange oils from citrus peels. According to the company’s worker safety disclosure, Citra-Solv concentrate is 85 to 95 percent d-limonene.

That the oils are derived from citrus implies safety, but sprayed into the air, they can react with trace levels of ozone air pollution to form ultra-fine particles (including formaldehyde) that penetrate deep into the lungs.

The California Air Resources Board advises people to limit the use of citrus or pine oil-based cleaners on smoggy days to avoid exposure to particulates and formaldehyde.

Other spray cleaners were found to have ingredients that have a high propensity of triggering asthma attacks.

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The EWG report found the following spray cleaners to contain asthmagens – ingredients that cause asthma: Clorox, Fantastik, Febreze, Formula 409, Easy-Off, Lysol, Mr. Clean, and Spic and Span.

The EWG found that many of the spray cleaners sold under these brand names are laced with “quaternary ammonium compounds or ethanolamine, ingredients classified as asthmagens by the Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics, a professional association of clinics and health experts.”

“These chemicals can trigger asthma attacks and can cause new cases of the disease in people who are asthma-free,” added the EWG.

As a green tip, the EWG recommends that consumers “skip spray products than contain ethanolamines (MEA, DEA, and TEA) and ‘quats.’ Beware of ADBAC, benzalkonium chloride, or ingredients with monium chloride in the name from the label or the company’s website. Do not use disinfecting sprays, since most of them contain asthmagens.”

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Another concern in the EWG report was laundry detergents containing formaldehyde, which is a known asthma and allergy trigger, as well as a carcinogen. The report spotlighted the following Phoenix brands: Ajax, Dynamo, and Fad Ultra liquid laundry detergents.

Regarding the Phoenix products, the EWG said that, “These contain formaldehyde, also known as formalin, classified as a human carcinogen by the U.S. government and World Health Organization. Formaldehyde can cause asthma and allergies. The company divulges the presence of formaldehyde in the products only on technical disclosures for workers.”

As a green tip, the EWG recommends that consumers “try safer do-it-yourself options first, before heavier duty options.


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