It's no secret that almost all conventional household cleaners contain some toxic ingredients. Many contain carcinogens or suspected carcinogens, as well. When consumers buy commercial cleaning products, we expect them to do one thing, clean.
We use a wide array of scents, soaps, detergents, bleaching agents, softeners, polishes, and specialized cleaners for bathrooms, glass, drains, and ovens. But while the chemicals in cleaners foam, bleach..., and disinfect to make our dishes, bathtubs and countertops gleaming and germ-free, many also contribute to indoor air pollution, are poisonous if ingested and can be harmful if inhaled or touched. In fact, some cleaners are among the most toxic products found in the home. Some cause acute or immediate hazards, such as skin or respiratory irritation, watery eyes, or chemical burns, while others are associated with chronic, or long-term effects, such as cancer.
The most acutely dangerous cleaning products are corrosive drain cleaners, oven cleaners, and acidic toilet bowl cleaners, according to Philip Dickey of the Washington Toxics Coalition. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health has found that one-third of the substances used in the fragrance industry are toxic. But because the chemical formulas of fragrances are considered trade secrets, companies aren't required to list their ingredients but merely label them as containing "fragrance."
After cleaning liquids disappear down our drains, they are treated along with sewage and other waste water at municipal treatment plants, then discharged into nearby waterways. Most ingredients in chemical cleaners break down into harmless substances during treatment or soon afterward. Others, however, do not, threatening water quality or fish and other wildlife.
Another environmental concern with cleaning products is that many use chemicals that are petroleum-based, contributing to the depletion of this non-renewable resource and increasing our nation's dependence on imported oil.
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