New EWG Guide Exposes Health Risks of Household Cleaning Products and Suggests Alternatives

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

Next time you´re shopping, take note of the products that you´re purchasing to clean the kitchen, disinfect the bathroom or scrub the floors. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has found that, while many household cleaners are known to have toxic substances, other so-called “green” cleaners contain harmful ingredients as well.

The findings, included in the EWG´s Online Guide to Healthy Cleaning, reveal how various cleaning products may include toxic ingredients and can be connected to a variety of health complications like asthma and allergic reactions. According to the EWG, it is the first online guide to offer a grading system that rates 2,000 different household cleaning products on a scale from “A” to “F” on the disclosure of substances and safety of contents. These products include items like bathroom cleaners, laundry soaps and stain removers.

“Keeping your home clean shouldn´t put you and your family at risk, and with EWG´s new online guide you won´t have to,” remarked Rebecca Sutton, an EWG senior scientist, in a prepared statement.

“Quite a few cleaning products that line store shelves are packed with toxic chemicals that can wreak havoc with your health, including many that harm the lungs. The good news is, there are plenty of cleaning products that will get the job done without exposing you to hazardous substances.”

The organization discovered that only seven percent of the 2,000 cleaners offered enough information regarding their ingredients. Over a period of 14 months, scientists at EWG looked at company websites, product labels and technical documents. They also compared the substances in the cleaners to results found in various medical and scientific journals as well as international databases on substance toxicity.

While cosmetics, drugs and food products sold in the U.S. are legally required to have ingredient labels, cleaning products are not subject to this rule. As such, the scientists discovered that some companies included information on only some of their ingredients on product labels and websites. A small number of companies only listed a few ingredients or used vague terms in describing the contents, and some companies provided no information at all about the substances contained in their product.

The guide further detailed the health impact cleaning products can have in the office. According to a Forbes article by contributor Amy Westervelt, the U.S. Department of Labor´s Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) requires that manufacturers provide Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) on products that could be potentially harmful in the workplace. For instance, the cleaning products used by custodians in office buildings are required to have the data sheets. However, the products sold to the individual consumer for at-home use do not include the lists of ingredients.

For the study, the EWG collaborated with other organizations such as Women´s Voice for the Earth.

“Women´s Voice for the Earth has been a terrific partner in our efforts to eliminate toxic chemicals from cleaning products, and we applaud its research and advocacy on behalf of human health,” said Sutton in the statement.

The EWG hopes that the online guide may be of use to consumers, and instead of using certain commercial products, the organization advises consumers to look into safer alternatives. For example, the EWG noted that individuals can open windows or use fans in place of air fresheners since air fresheners contain substances that can cause asthma and allergies. Another recommendation is to use a small amount of vinegar in your washing machine rinse cycle instead of using fabric softener or dryer sheets which can exacerbate allergies, cause asthma and irritation of the lungs.

“There is simply no excuse for companies who hide ingredients and make toxic products,” said Erin Switalski, Executive Director of Women´s Voices for the Earth. “That´s why we are so pleased that EWG is releasing this new database. This tool will give women the information they need to vote with their pocketbooks until we have regulations in place that assure all products are safe.”

Some companies are already disputing the results of the EWG´s guide.

“It distorts information about products,” Brian Sansoni, a representative of the American Cleaning Institute, told WebMD. “It could mislead people.”