EVERYBODY IS GOING GREEN – Dr. Stephen Chaney

Biodegradable cleaners are finally in fashion…
BUTMany of the cleaners that we buy in the supermarket – and some of the biodegradable cleaners that we buy in the health food store – release toxic fumes in our homes that can adversely affect our health and our children’s health. The prevalence of child-hood asthma has increased 74% between 1980 and 1994 and has continued to increase in the years since. Evidence has accumulated in recent years that some of the increase may be caused by early exposure to toxic chemical fumes in the home.

Why is that?

The American consumer keeps demanding cleaners that work better. (It’s considered a big plus if they require no effort) and are easy to use. (Don’t bother with messy liquids and pastes you just spray it on.

And manufacturers have been willing to oblige by adding ever more exotic chemicals to household cleaners and putting them in aerosol spray cans. And of course, no one opens their windows any more. That would be wasting energy by letting the cooled or heated air out.

The result is that these toxic chemicals accumulate in the air that we breathe in our own homes. In fact, the Environ-mental Protection Agency has stated that the air inside our homes is often more polluted than in Los Angeles or New York on a smoggy day.

A number of studies have pointed to an association between these toxic household fumes and child-hood asthma, but I’d like to focus on one particularly good study that was published recently in the European Respiratory Journal (31:54-57, 2008). The results from this study were clear. Higher house-hold chemical exposure during pregnancy was associated with a 41% increase in childhood asthma in children with no know allergies.

What does that mean to us? It means that it is not enough to select household products that are safe for the environment. We also need to select products that we use in our homes on the basis of their safety for us and our family – not just of the basis of cost and convenience. Dr. Stephen G. Chaney

(For information on the toxic chemicals in these and other common household products visit www.householdproducts.nlm.nh.gov. )