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Are we aware that nothing around us is't so innocent as it seems? Homes are full of chemicals. A wide range of chemical substances can be found in the garden shed, kitchen, laundry and the bathroom, which some of them are potentially dangerous. Many householders are unaware of the impacts on health and the environment from the daily exposure to these chemicals. Only by knowing more about the chemicals we use, we are able to make an informed choice between them, and recognize the ones that have the least effect on the environment and us.

Chemical products serve many purposes in our everyday life. They can help us to beautify our homes and can make tedious cleaning jobs easier. They also help control insects and assist in fixing or maintaining all manner of things around the home. When we have finished using these products many chemicals remain in our surroundings - in the air, the soil and waterways in our homes. Some accumulate in our bodies and can remain there for many years. Others break down more quickly but in the process damage living things and pollute the environment.

People can absorb poisons either through the skin, by swallowing or by breathing them in. They reach the environment through spraying, evaporation, spillage, disposal or seepage through the ground.
Different chemicals and different degrees of exposure produce different effects on the body. These range from acute poisoning through to chronic and delayed effects. Acute effects occur when people absorb, swallow, inhale a poisonous substance such as bleach, kerosene or an organophosphate pesticide. Poisoning by these chemicals is very obvious with symptoms appearing almost immediately. They can include headache, nausea, vomiting and convulsions.

Sometimes the effects of poisoning are less obvious and result in symptoms such as hives rashes, headaches and breathing difficulties. These may persist for a long time (chronic and/or cumulative effects) and may be intensified by further exposure to quite small doses of the same or other chemicals. People vary greatly in their reaction to chemicals. Some people may develop ‘hypersensitivity’ to a chemical or group of chemicals, as they may to certain drugs or foodstuffs.
Chronic effects are often quite subtle and it may be difficult to link them to a particular chemical or exposure. They may include symptoms such as migraine, depression, giddiness, nausea or high blood pressure. They may be the result of exposure to one chemical only, to a group of chemicals, to the long-term exposure to low levels of a chemical, or the sum total of chemicals in the environment. These effects are, as yet, not well understood and can go unrecognized for years. Some delayed effects may not appear until months or years after exposure.

We should all try to reduce the chemicals around our homes and make a positive step to minimizing the impacts of chemicals on our health and the environment.

The Composition of Household Cleaning Agents

Many cleaning agents are toxic to people and the environment. Minimizing their use reduces the chemical load on both you and Earth. Most of the problems could be avoided if all the warnings on labels were clearer and always read before use. It would be even better, and all these problems can be avoided if safe alternative products are used instead.

This information will assist you in discovering safe and genuinely environmentally friendly products. There need be no sacrifice in standards of cleanliness and often there is a saving of money.

Cleaning agents are amazing cocktails of chemicals. They can include:

Detergents For centuries soaps have been used to clean just about everything. It wasn’t until 1907 that the first synthetic detergents were made. Since then, the range of detergents has increased dramatically so that today we have almost as many cleaning agents as we have cleaning jobs. World production of detergents in 1984 was 17,000,000 tones.
Many detergents are not readily biodegradable and pollute water cycles long after use. However, pure soap and soap flakes are 100% biodegradable.

Surfactants (surface-active agents) is the name often given to detergents. However, they are generally only a component of detergents and are used as wetting agents to enhance the power of detergents.

Biodegradability means that the substance is capable of being decomposed by the action of bacteria and other living organisms such as fungi. Biodegradable products are less harmful than non-biodegradable ones because they do not accumulate in the environment. However, in many countries the label “biodegradable” doesn’t necessarily mean that the product is 100% biodegradable. For example, a Standard for Biodegradability of Surfactants stipulates thatfor a surfactant to be “biologically soft” must biodegrade by at least 80% before the end of the 21-day test. Products (surfactants), which are “biologically hard”, may biodegrade to only 50% but may still be called “biodegradable”.
There are surfactants developed which will biodegrade 100% within 7 days. However, consumer pressure is needed to require manufacturers to make these readily available in countries and to require manufacturers to disclose on product labels the percentage and duration of biodegradability.

Phosphates are found in detergents, laundry powders and liquids, and shampoos. Phosphates act to soften hard water, increase alkalinity and help suspend dirt in water after it is removed from the clothes, dishes or hair. If the environment is loaded up with too many phosphates, water pollution occurs. This happens when the phosphate-rich water adds extra nutrients to the environment, upsetting the balance between algae and various plant lives. The waterways then become choked with weeds as other less aggressive plant and animal life is robbed of oxygen. The end result of this process of “eutrophication” is lifeless streams and rivers.
Phosphates are unnecessary and have been banned in inland states of the USA and Switzerland. As the phosphate problem worsens in many countries, consumers need to be advised on the label if phosphate is present, so that they can make responsible choices.

Fluorescers are added to powders to produce that “whiter than white” look. They are also used in the new gleaming business shirt. Fluorescers don’t clean but optically brighten by absorbing ultra-violet light and re-emitting blue light. In other words they give the appearance of whiteness, not a guarantee of cleanliness.

Enzymes are proteins used to hasten stain removal in laundry products, fabric conditioners and most pre-wash soakers. They can cause severe allergic reactions, in some people, just like the protein of bee stings, and may also cause asthma in people who handle them a lot. They are called “biological detergents” (not to be confused with biodegradable) and the word “bio” may indicate its presence.

Dyes and Deodorizers are included in cleaners, deodorizers and toilet cleaners. They give the illusion of freshness by creating a camouflage of color and scent to mask odors and stains. Some air fresheners and many in-tank toilet cleaners contain paradichlorbenzene, an organochlorine chemical, which accumulates in the body and has been linked to liver and nerve damage.

Disinfectants kill bacteria, which can cause infection and ill health. The problem is that they also kill off the good bacteria, which are needed to decompose sewage. The use of disinfectants should be minimized.

Solvents are present in many products including dry-cleaning fluids, pre-wash treatments, spot and paint removers, nail polish, furniture polish and some leather stains. They are usually volatile and can be harmful if inhaled in large quantities. They are also harmful to aquatic life. Solvents should only be used in well-ventilated spaces but even then will contribute to air pollution generally.

Ammonia is part of many cleaning agents. People with chronic respiratory problems should not use ammonia. The vapors are highly irritating to the eyes and nose and in high concentrations attack the lung membranes.

Caustic Soda is in drain and oven cleaners. Caustic soda is an extremely dangerous eye and skin irritant. Concentrated solutions are harmful to aquatic life and in some countries, made caustic soda contains traces of mercury, which accumulates in the food chain and is toxic. Other methods of production without mercury contaminants are used overseas. The presence of heavy metals such as mercury prevents sewerage from being treated for use as fertilizer.

Bleach consists of sodium, potassium, calcium or magnesium hypochlorite. These chemical salts disinfect, bleach and deodorize, and if used in small quantities are not detrimental to the environment. If too much bleach is used, “free chlorine” can react with other (organic) matter in the sewage and form very dangerous, highly persistent chemicals called organochlorines. The manufacture of bleach can also gives rise to environmental threats. The most common manufacturing method produces the environmental pollutant mercury as a waste product.
Remember: Bleach can be dangerous if misused. It should never be mixed with ammonia as the reaction produces toxic fumes, which are readily inhaled.

Washing Soda Although it is not a danger to the environment, it is toxic if swallowed. Washing Soda must be kept out of reach of children and pets.

Eucalyptus Oil Eucalyptus vapor and extremely small doses (one or two drops) of eucalyptus oil have medicinal purposes, but doses of just 3ml (about one teaspoon) can be fatal. It should be used very sparingly since it can kill many beneficial animals, plants and microorganisms. Eucalyptus oil should be kept out of reach of children and pets.