Green Living Tips: How To Spring Clean Your Indoor Air

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By Beth Greer

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Most of us think of pollution as bus or car fumes or the smokestacks from factories spewing into the air outside. But did you know that the air inside our homes can be 5 or 10 times more polluted? We unwittingly expose ourselves and our children to dangerous chemicals in our everyday products. The Consumer Product Safety Commission reported that of chemicals commonly found in homes, 150 have been linked to allergies, birth defects, cancer and psychological abnormalities. There’s no way to completely eliminate all the toxic chemicals in your home, but there are ways to manage and control how much exposure you’re getting.

This Spring, spring into action and make some simple changes to stay healthy personally, physically and environmentally! Here are 3 easy ways to clear your indoor air:

1. Avoid conventional household cleaners

Conventional household cleaners contain chemicals that can be more dangerous than the germs themselves. Every time your children roll around on the carpet or your pets lick crumbs off the floor, they are being exposed to noxious chemicals. Don’t make the assumption that if it’s on the grocery shelf it’s been tested and is safe. Most of us, unwittingly, buy products for our home with ingredients that are either poorly studied, not studied at all, or are known to pose potentially serious health risks. Of the roughly 17,000 chemicals found in common household products, only 3 in 10 have been tested for their effects on human health. Why? Because, just like with cosmetics, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission does not require manufacturers to test household cleaning products before they appear on store shelves.

And, if you’re reading labels expecting to get the whole picture, know that they provide only limited information. Labels often omit inert ingredients that can make up as much as 90 percent of a product’s volume. Now, the word “inert” doesn’t mean inactive or neutral as you might believe. The EPA categorized “inert” ingredients as causing long-term health damage and harm to the environment. These ingredients include solvents, dispersal agents, dyes and fragrances, some of which can pollute the air and water. Other ingredients that are not mentioned can be carcinogens or worsen health problems like allergies and asthma.

My tip:

Use your nose. If a product smells strong and makes your eyes water, you can bet there’s some nasty chemical stuff in the bottle. Remember, cleansers can emit fumes (even while stored) and can affect your home’s air quality.

2. Avoid artificially scented air fresheners

Artificially scented air fresheners include aerosols and plug-ins, because they are made with synthetic fragrances that contain phthalates. These are chemicals that can cause hormonal abnormalities, birth defects and reproductive problems. The NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) found that 12 out of 14 popular air freshener brands contained phthalates.

Plus, aerosol sprays contain flammable and nerve-damaging ingredients such as hexane and xylene, and produce mist particles that can contain a high proportion of organic solvents that when inhaled enter your bloodstream and have negative health effects. 

My tip:

Look for products with scents that are naturally derived or are plant-based or labeled as using essential oils. Make sure the word “fragrance” does not appear on the label.

3. Avoid synthetic fragrances in your personal care products

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), there are potentially hundreds of chemicals in a single product’s secret fragrance mixture. Fragrances can contain neurotoxins and are among the top 5 allergens in the world. A recent Mayo Clinic study placed fragrances in the 10 most common causes of allergic contact dermatitis, and the Institute of Medicine (a division of the National Academy of Sciences) placed fragrance in the same category as second hand smoke in triggering asthma in adults and school age children.

When you see the word “fragrance” in an ingredient list, you can assume it’s 100 percent synthetic—and not a blend of natural flower extracts. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) reports that “95 percent of the ingredients used to create fragrances today are synthetic compounds derived from petroleum, including benzene derivatives, aldehydes, and many other known toxins and sensitizers.” What’s more, “unscented” does not mean a product contains no fragrance. Ingredients used to mask unpleasant odors, usually chemicals, do not have to be identified on the labels.

Children are not immune. Every day they are exposed to an average of 27 personal care product ingredients that have not been found safe for kids, according to a national survey conducted by the EWG.  A whopping 77 percent of the ingredients in 1,700 children’s products reviewed have not been assessed for safety!  Cut down on your use of powders, especially baby powder on infants. The FDA warns that powders may cause lung damage if inhaled regularly. 

My tip:

Similar to air fresheners, look for products with scents that are derived naturally, are plant-based or labeled as using essential oils. Avoid all products that use the word “fragrance” on the label.

While chemicals in any one product are unlikely to cause harm, here’s the bottom line: We are repeatedly exposed to synthetic chemicals from many sources each day. So even a small change, like switching to a nontoxic deodorant or unscented shampoo, might make a big difference in your health. 

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