Cleaning Supplies Linked to Allergies, Breathing Issues

Updated 3 weeks ago Edited from a Press Release

Environmental Working Group’s investigation of more than 2,000 cleaning supplies on the American market has found that many contain substances linked to serious health problems.

EWG concludes that:

  • Fumes from some cleaning products may induce asthma in otherwise healthy individuals. A large and growing body of evidence links frequent use of many ordinary cleaning supplies at home or on the job with development of asthma and other respiratory problems. It is already known that cleaning product fumes may trigger attacks in persons previously diagnosed with asthma.
  • Common cleaning ingredients can be laced with the carcinogenic impurity 1,4-dioxane. Independent tests have detected the presence of 1,4-dioxane in numerous name-brand cleaning supplies. Other products contain preservatives that release low levels of cancer-causing formaldehyde.
  • Children born to women who held cleaning jobs while pregnant have an elevated risk of birth defects, according to a 2010 study by the New York State Department of Health.
  • Some cleaners can cause chemical burns and poisonings as well as less severe irritations and allergies. Severe physical reactions signal that consumers should take care anytime they use these products.
  • Despite these health concerns, cleaning product labels often do not give consumers enough information about their ingredients to allow people to make informed decisions on which ones are safer and which ones might harm their health.

Government agencies and independent research institutions have not adequately evaluated the safety of numerous substances found in cleaning products. Although government scientific and regulatory agencies have focused considerable attention on chemicals suspected of causing cancer, they have devoted far fewer resources to evaluating substances that may be toxic to the brain and nervous system, the hormone system and other organs. Investigating the full range of risks of cleaning products to public health and the environment should be an urgent priority. Yet the problem remains largely hidden from the view of the American consumer.

Inadequate assessment of the long-term health consequences of chronic exposure to potent chemicals in cleaning products stems in large part from the absence of federal regulations requiring safety tests and setting legally-binding upper limits on toxic ingredients and impurities. The Consumer Product Safety Commission is nominally responsible for overseeing dangerous cleaning products but has focused on child-safe packaging and other measures to prevent accidents.

Sound chemical policy is critical to identifying and removing from commerce harmful chemicals in everyday products like cleaning supplies. In the meantime, the EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning can be a valuable tool in helping consumers to reduce their exposures to products known to contain harmful ingredients.

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Cleaning Products and Asthma

People with asthma can be exceptionally sensitive to air contaminants, including those in ordinary cleaning products. A 2009 study led by Jonathan Bernstein, a physician and leading asthma and allergy researcher at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, measured worsening symptoms in asthmatic women after they had completed housecleaning tasks (Bernstein 2009).



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