So if there are all these toxins in household products, how exactly are we being exposed?
One of the main ways is by inhalation. We breathe them in. Here’s a thought. Some of these clever little toxins come in the form of VOC’s. VOC stands for Volatile Organic Compound. By the way, the word organic in the world of chemistry does not mean tasty and pesticide free, like in the food industry. It means something made with carbon. VOCs are extremely hazardous and comprise a large group of chemicals found in many household products. They can be released into the air as we use the products, even though we may not be able to smell them. On a large scale, these compounds can collect and interfere with proper functioning of the earth’s atmosphere.
The earth’s atmosphere! If something we use in our home is powerful enough (on a large scale) to disrupt a naturally created protective layer millions of years old, floating above the surface of the earth, that is designed to keep the toxic rays of the sun from burning up our little floating ball of creation…what do you think it could do to us, our tender lungs, our children and all the creatures large and small in our close vicinity? And what happens when the discarded containers go to the landfill and the residual contents leach into the soil?
According to the EPA, “VOC’s cause eye, nose and throat irritation, frequent headaches, nausea, and can also damage the liver, kidney and central nervous system.” I know I personally have noticed a headache and sore throat after using some spray products. I believe that’s my body complaining.
I know that this is not new information to many people, but linking the information to daily actions and promoting the possibility that simple, easy alternatives are within reach, with a hopeful net benefit for individuals and the planet, is the point of this publication.
So, back to inhalation.
Fragrances, so nice and enticing to inhale, can also be big culprits in toxicity. I know that when I think of natural fragrances I think of the sweet smell of flowers and good smells of food…both naturally occurring. Fragrances in products, however, are chemically engineered from thousands of different possible ingredients! Some are harmless. Some can cause respiratory infection, headache, sneezing and watery eyes. Some are reported to be “hormone disrupters” and “neurotoxins.” Those are big claims. By some reports, up to 1/3 of the substances used in fragrances are toxic! Due to various regulatory rules, though, companies are not required to list the individual ingredients used and are allowed to simply say…”fragrance.”
When we breathe in these engineered fragrances, we are breathing in very tiny particles that go straight into our lungs. The lungs don’t have any protective barrier, or ability to screen out these tiny toxins, so they can go right into the heart and blood stream, due to the close relationship between the heart and lungs. The upper airways of the nose also provide easy access to the brain, where the presence of chemicals creates effects like alteration of blood pressure, pulse and mood.
What can you do?
Whenever possible, choose fragrance-free, or more natural products. Consider replacing aerosol or plug in air fresheners with an aroma diffuser, open windows, or plants, which clean the air naturally. You can buy an air purifier, which removes airborne germs and allergens. Many people like the air purifying Himalayan rock salt lamps.
For an idea of how a product line can share their information more openly, check out the Ecover website. Ecover is an increasingly well-known ecologically sensitive product line.
And for a little hard science, here are some excerpts from a “Guide to Less Toxic Products” produced by the Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia. I pulled out some passages specifically related to fragrances and possible toxicity from inhalation:
Aerosol products– Aerosol propellants may contain propane, formaldehyde, a carcinogen, neurotoxin and central nervous system depressant, methylene chloride, a carcinogen, neurotoxin and reproductive toxin, and nitrous oxide . Products applied with aeresol sprays are broken into minute particles, which can be more deeply inhaled than larger particles, which may increase their toxic effect.
Fragrance – Fragrance on a label can indicate the presence of up to 4,000 separate ingredients, most of which are synthetic. Many compounds in fragrance are human toxins and suspected or proven carcinogens. In 1989, the US National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health evaluated 2,983 fragrance chemicals for health effects. They identified 884 of them as toxic substances. Synthetic fragrances are known to trigger asthma attacks. The US Environmental Protection Agency found that 100% of perfumes contain toluene, which can cause liver, kidney and brain damage as well as damage to a developing fetus. Symptoms reported to the FDA from fragrance exposure have included headaches, dizziness, rashes, skin discoloration, violent coughing and vomiting, and allergic skin irritation. Clinical observations by medical doctors have shown that exposure to fragrances can affect the central nervous system, causing depression, hyperactivity, irritability, inability to cope, and other behavioral changes. Fragrance is a common skin irritant.
Another ingredient in almost all fragrance-containing products is phthalates used to disperse the scent. Phthalates are hormone-disrupting chemicals which are suspected of causing damage to the kidneys, liver, lungs and reproductive organs. One type of phthalate (DEP) commonly found in fragrances can lead to infertility and may also be linked to miscarriages and birth defects. Recent product tests found the chemical in every fragrance tested in the US. Manufacturers are not required to list phthalates on product labels so they are difficult to avoid.