RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Preparing to have a big crowd over for the big Thanksgiving holiday? You could be serving up a dose of cancer-causers, allergens, and hormone disruptors alongside your healthy holiday dinner, according to the health advocacy group Women's Voices for the Earth (WVE). The culprit? Your clean house.
The group purchased 20 cleaning products and air fresheners from Clorox, Proctor & Gamble, SC Johnson, and a few other companies and had them independently tested for various chemicals and contaminants. And it turns out that even though these companies have committed to cleaning up their product lines and have even introduced "green" cleaning product lines, they're still contaminating your home. Here's a brief list of what WVE found:
Clorox Clean-Up with Bleach contained two cancer-causing compounds, carbon tetrachloride and chloroform, which you could easily inhale when using a spray cleaner like this one, or absorb through your skin if you touch a wet surface. Chloroform has been linked to various forms of cancer as well as liver disease, and animal studies suggest that carbon tetrachloride can cause breast cancer. What's disturbing is that Clorox doesn't know how either of those got into their cleaner, says Alexandra Gorman-Scranton, director of science and research for WVE. Chloroform is a disinfection by-product often found in chlorine-treated drinking water or in chlorinated swimming pools, so it's possible the chloroform in Clorox's cleaner was a contaminant introduced during processing. "But the levels you find in water and in swimming pools are 1,000 times less than what we found," she says. "That's not just a trace contamination."
Another cancer-causing contaminant, 1,4-dioxane, was detected in Tide Free & Gentle Liquid Laundry Detergent, Tide Liquid Laundry Detergent, and Simple Green Naturals Multi-Surface Care (which is marketed as a "green" cleaner). Dioxane is easy to remove, and in fact, Procter & Gamble, which manufactures Tide, has processes in place to remove it from its line of shampoos, where it's also hiding. "They obviously know how to do it," she says.
Hormone-disrupting chemicals do just what they say—disrupt the levels of hormones in your body, leading to bigger health problems like infertility, breast and prostate cancers, and metabolic disorders like diabetes, which are affected by changes in certain hormones (translation: these chemicals are making you fat). The not-so-good news? WVE found them in Febreze Air Effects, Glade Tough Odor Solutions with Oust Air Sanitizer, and Simple Green Naturals Multi-Surface Care.
These chemicals usually hide in synthetic fragrances, with the most problematic being phthalates, a class of chemicals used to keep fragrances from dissipating. What's worse is that both SC Johnson, which makes Glade products, and Simple Green say they have removed phthalates from their product lines. And though they may not be adding these intentionally, they're getting introduced somehow. "It demonstrates a broken system," Gorman-Scranton says. "No one's keeping them accountable for these harmful contaminants."
Proctor & Gamble does not use phthalates in its Febreze products, but those do contain something called synthetic musks, which are chemicals that accumulate in body fat and, in lab tests, have been found to trigger the accumulation of breast-cancer cells.
Toluene, another hormone disruptor that can also interfere with normal brain development in kids, was hiding in Pine-Sol Original Formula and Simple Green All-Purpose Cleaner. Where it came from is another mystery, says Gorman-Scranton. She says Clorox suspects it may have been created from a chemical reaction between pine oil and another chemical, but "it's a little bit shocking to have products creating toluene and they're not checking for these things," she notes.
Because synthetic fragrances are usually concoctions of hundreds of chemicals, it isn't a surprise that WVE found the potent allergens limonene, DL-Citronellol, linalool, eugenol, and coumarin in all but one of the products they tested, including green cleaners and "free-and-clear" products. Two products from Clorox's Green Works line—Natural Glass & Surface Cleaner and Natural Laundry Detergent in Original Scent—contained allergens, as did Tide's fragrance-free Free & Gentle detergent, Bounce Free & Sensitive fragrance-free dryer sheets. The two Simple Green cleaners, and Lysol's room sprays, Air Wick's scented oils and Glade's plug-in air fresheners, also contained these chemicals, which have been linked to skin reactions and asthma attacks.
The one product without allergens? SC Johnson's Pledge Fragrance-Free
Multi-Surface Everyday Cleaner.
"By and large, companies want to do right by their customers and provide good and healthy products," Gorman-Scranton says. But she hopes the report will spur lawmakers to create rules requiring cleaning companies to not only disclose ingredients on product packaging, but also to regularly test for contaminants such as dioxane, allergens, and chloroform. "No one's holding these companies accountable, so it's easy to let things slide."
Easy, but not healthy. Until the cleaning industry cleans up its act, your safest bet is homemade, carcinogen- and allergen-free cleaners, and we've got six easy recipes for you.