Scientists Sound Alarm: Numerous Harmful Chemicals Emitted by Everyday Household Cleaning Products

Household cleaning products are laden with dangerous volatile organic compounds (VOCs), posing significant health hazards and contributing to the problem of air pollution. A recent peer-reviewed study conducted by Environmental Working Group (EWG) scientists has unveiled disconcerting insights into the potential health risks associated with common household cleaning items. This comprehensive investigation scrutinized 30 cleaning products, encompassing multipurpose and glass cleaners, air fresheners, and more. The research, published in the Chemosphere journal on September 12, has illuminated that these everyday products may discharge hundreds of perilous VOCs.

The study involved the examination of both conventional and “green” cleaning products, revealing a total of 530 distinct VOCs across the 30 products. Among these, 193 VOCs were identified as hazardous, capable of causing detrimental health effects such as damage to the respiratory system, an elevated risk of cancer, and developmental and reproductive issues.

Impact on Indoor Air Quality:
VOCs present in cleaning products exert a considerable influence on both indoor and outdoor air quality. However, indoor air is typically contaminated two to five times more than outdoor air, and in some cases, this disparity can be as high as 10 times. Certain products continue to emit VOCs for days, weeks, or even months. Dr. Alexis Temkin, a senior toxicologist at EWG, emphasized the significance of this study, calling for increased awareness among consumers, researchers, and regulators regarding the potential hazards associated with the multitude of chemicals infiltrating our indoor air. She suggested that one effective way to mitigate exposure to hazardous VOCs is to opt for “green” products, especially those that are both “green” and “fragrance-free.”

The study’s findings affirm that products labeled as “green” emitted significantly fewer VOCs compared to their conventional counterparts, with an average reduction of about half. Furthermore, “green” products labeled as “fragrance-free” exhibited the lowest VOC emissions, nearly eight times fewer than conventional products and four times fewer than “green” products that included fragrance in their composition. This pattern also held true when considering the number of VOCs deemed hazardous in these products. On average, “green” products emitted just four hazardous chemicals, as opposed to approximately 15 in “green” products with added fragrance and a staggering 22 in conventional products. This suggests that choosing “green” or “green” and “fragrance-free” cleaning products is a prudent choice for individuals concerned about indoor air quality and potential health risks.

Health and Environmental Implications:
The health risks associated with VOCs are particularly alarming due to the substantial number of Americans who may encounter them in their workplaces. Research indicates that individuals working in the cleaning industry face a 50 percent higher risk of developing asthma and a 43 percent higher risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Women working in this field also confront an elevated risk of lung cancer. Additionally, children’s health may be at risk, as some studies have indicated that increased exposure to specific indoor cleaners during pregnancy and infancy is linked to a greater likelihood of asthma and wheezing in childhood.

The implications of this study extend beyond human health to environmental well-being. VOCs emitted by consumer products can contribute to outdoor air pollution, exacerbating existing environmental concerns. A study from 2018 estimated that approximately half of the VOCs responsible for air pollution originate from consumer products. Therefore, transitioning to eco-friendly cleaning products represents a straightforward and effective means of reducing exposure to harmful chemicals, which may be particularly crucial for the health of women and children, as noted by Samara Geller, EWG’s senior director of cleaning science.

Reference: “Volatile organic compounds emitted by conventional and ‘green’ cleaning products in the U.S. market” by Alexis M. Temkin, Samara L. Geller, Sydney A. Swanson, Nneka S. Leiba, Olga V. Naidenko, and David Q. Andrews, published on September 12, 2023, in the Chemosphere journal. DOI: 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2023.139570.

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