The cleaning products that we use to wipe down our countertops, wash our dishes and clothes and scent our air contain potentially toxic chemicals, and they're getting into our bodies.
That's according to a recent report that I authored, "Dirty Secrets: What's Hiding in Your Cleaning Products," for the NGO Women's Voices for the Earth.
The findings of the report are surprising and troubling for a few reasons
One company, Sunshine Makers, makers of Simple Green, had previously pledged to remove phthalates. Turns out they have a product that still contains phthalates. One product, Tide Free & Gentle, is marketed and used by mothers of young children for sensitive skin. It contained 1,4 dioxane, which the EPA deemed a "probable human carcinogen."
What's more frustrating is that consumers have no way to find out which chemicals are contained in these cleaners due to lax labeling laws.
I'm all for a fair and open marketplace that allows these businesses to thrive. But some basic protections of public health are needed in order to restore consumer trust in this cleaning products market that is keeping too many secrets.
More and more evidence comes out every year, finding that chemicals linked with asthma, reproductive harm and breast cancer are turning up in our bodies. Even newborn babies are born with over 200 industrial chemicals in their systems. The dose of chemicals coming from a single spray may be minimal, but chemical exposures can build up over time to have cumulative, long-term health impacts, especially on women and children. The mixtures of chemicals we are exposed to also pose a concern.
Some cleaning product companies have made efforts to "green up" their practices, pledging to take out chemicals that have a particularly bad rap, notably phthalates and synthetic musks. But if tests reveal that these chemicals are still contained inside, even after statements to the contrary, consumers will start to lose faith in a company's ability to have the consumer's best interests in mind.
Cleaning companies can't afford to lose this faith. A heightened concern with safety, combined with shifting habits and cultural expectations have resulted in a drop in sales of cleaning products across the U.S., according to a 2011 Mintel report. Sales have been falling since 2006, nearly 20 percent. And, Mintel forecasts a further 10 percent decline in the market during 2010-2015, losing an estimated one half billion dollars in sales.