Environmentally Safe Cleaning

what's endangering our earth?
On a daily basis, at home, school, or work, we are surrounded and bombarded by toxic contaminants that are a result of modern manufacturing methods. Awareness of their existence, their health risks, and their environmental impact is not only important for our benefit, but also for the sake of our family, environment, and future generations.

Some of the most dangerous contaminants known today are called Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), VOCs are emitted by a wide array of products numbering in the thousands. Examples include: paints, paint strippers, building materials, wood preservatives, cleaning supplies, degreasers, copiers, printers, correction fluids, carbonless copy paper, glue, adhesives, permanent markers, and photographic solutions.

These everyday items that are meant to facilitate our lives, in fact may be harming us more than we bargained for. Ironically, we as consumers are the reason they are produced. Organic chemicals are extremely cheap to produce and are very effective in their job functions.

Volatile Organic Compounds

VOCs are not ingredients themselves, rather, they are gases that are slowly and constantly being released from organic chemicals that are used to manufacture a product. EPA studies indicate that while people are using products containing organic chemicals, they can expose themselves and others to very high pollutant levels, and elevated concentrations can persist in the air long after the activity is completed.

Persistent Organic Pollutants

POPs on the other hand are highly stable organic compounds used as pesticides, disinfectants, and industrial chemicals. POPs are a special problem because they persist in the environment, accumulate in the fatty tissues of most living organisms, and are toxic to humans and wildlife.

Many consumer and commercial products contain POPs as their main ingredient. POPs are also found in household insecticides, degreasers, and moth repellants. POPs are so pervasive, that according to the EPA, nearly every person on earth can be shown to harbor detectable levels of dozens of POPs.

POPs and other variations such as Persistent, Bioaccumulative, and Toxic (PBT) Pollutants pose risks to human health and ecosystems thus making them highly destructive to our planet as a whole.

Disturbing Consequences

Constant exposure to VOCs can cause adverse health conditions such as cough, chest tightness, fever, chills, muscle aches, and allergies. High concentrations of VOCs and POPs have been shown to cause cancer, reproductive problems, birth defects, and even death. The use of products that emit VOCs and POPs is also at least in part responsible for many Building Related Illness (BRI) conditions such as Sick Building Syndrome (SBS), Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), and Asthma.

If in fact these products are so harmful for us, why then are they still being manufactured and sold to the public? The truth is that there are currently few regulations on the development or safety testing of these chemicals. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only tests prescription drugs and consumable products. The EPA will investigate after sufficient complaints have been reported. Basically, if a chemical warrants an investigation, there have already been many people negatively affected. Interestingly enough, the EPA has listed most VOCs and POPs as Extremely Hazardous Substance (EHS). Unfortunately, chemical production continues largely unregulated.

How to Save Our World

The best way to protect ourselves and our planet is to minimize or eliminate our exposure to these substances. Not surprisingly, some of the most toxic are found in everyday "off-the-shelf" products like all-purpose cleaners, oven cleaners, and fabric softeners.

These harmful poisons need to be replaced with non-toxic and environmentally safe counterparts right away. For daily cleaning, baking soda and vinegar are wonderful natural alternatives that do a great job keeping things clean.

If you are currently using a product that has one of the following ingredients, the best thing you can do for everyone's health is to stop using it and throw it out. Harmful VOCs and POPs include: Ammonia, Ammonium Hydroxide, Chlorine bleach, Formaldehyde, Hydrochloric acid, Hydrochloric bleach, Lye, Naphtha, Nitrobenzene, Perchlorethylene, Petroleum Distillates, Phenol, Propylene Glycol, Sodium hypochlorite, Sodium laurel sulfate, Sodium tripolyphosphate, and Trichloroethane.

And, of course, if you're throwing away bottles, before you toss them in with your trash, check to see if there's a community toxic waste program nearby where you can safely dump all your "old" cleaning supplies. The last thing you want is those chemicals seeping into our water supply.

If we all do our part by not purchasing toxic products, we can all make a difference in reducing harmful chemicals from our bodies and our environment.

Information sources for this article can be found at the following sites:

For information on VOCs visit:

For information on POPs visit:

For information on PBTs visit:

EPA's PDF List of Extremely Hazardous Substances:

For information on effects of POPs visit: