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Household Cleaning Products May Be Harmful

Sweet-smelling Rooms Come at a Price

by Suzanne Ma, Toronto Globe and Mail
July 27, 2006

Chemicals found in some household cleaning products may be harming your lungs. New research from that a chemical compound found in many air fresheners, toilet bowl cleaners, mothballs, and other deodorizing products may reduce lung function. According to the NIEHS, "even a small reduction in lung function may indicate some harm to the lungs." It's suggested the use of such products and materials are reduced, especially around children and those who have asthma or other respiratory illnesses. 

"Consumers need to be aware of what they're introducing into their homes," said Sarah Winterton, program director for Environmental Defence, a non-profit environmental advocacy group in Canada. "You're in a more enclosed environment ... so there is a concern about having constant exposure to low levels of these chemicals from many different sources." Researchers tested a representative sample of 953 adults in the United States, paying close attention to the relationship between blood concentrations of 11 common volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and their lung function.

The compounds are found in thousands of commonly used products, including tobacco smoke, pesticides, paints, and cleansers, as well as vehicle exhaust. the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Services (NIEHS) suggests that a chemical compound found in many air fresheners, toilet bowl cleaners, mothballs, and other deodorizing products may reduce lung function. According to the NIEHS, "even a small reduction in lung function may indicate some harm to the lungs." It's suggested the use of such products and materials are reduced, especially around children and those who have asthma or other respiratory illnesses."Consumers need to be aware of what they're introducing into their homes," said Sarah Winterton, program director for Environmental Defence, a non-profit environmental advocacy group in Canada. "You're in a more enclosed environment ... so there is a concern about having constant exposure to low levels of these chemicals from many different sources." Researchers tested a representative sample of 953 adults in the United States, paying close attention to the relationship between blood concentrations of 11 common volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and their lung function.

 

The compounds are found in thousands of commonly used products, including tobacco smoke, pesticides, paints, and cleansers, as well as vehicle exhaust.One particular VOC (known as 1,4 DCB) was associated with reduced pulmonary function, even after careful adjustment for tobacco smoke. 1,4 DCB is a white solid compound with a distinctive aroma, similar to mothballs. It is typically used in products such as room deodorizers and urinal and toilet bowl blocks. 1,4 DCB blood concentration levels were detected in 96 per cent of those tested for the study.

Black Americans had the highest exposure levels and non-Hispanic whites the lowest. Even though only one VOC was found to affect our lungs, Ms. Winterton said it's the repeated exposure that makes this a cause for concern. "You've got exposure when you plug in your air freshener, and when you clean the toilet, and then [again] when you go to the closet to get some clothes that are protected in moth balls. It's never just one exposure," she said. Environmental Defence suggests that consumers look into buying alternative products found in health food stores. "I think it's important that the connection is made in people's minds that if you're using products with these chemicals in them, they're very likely going to end up in you," Ms. Winterton said.In May, Health Canada announced a national program that will track the levels of toxic substances in the bodies of Canadians. A representative sample of people will be tested on a regular basis to detect trends in the chemicals that show up in their bodies and in their health status. The study, long advocated by scientists, is set to begin in 2007. The research from the NIEHS study will be published in the August issue of Environmental Health Perspectives.

 


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The Canary Club is an educational advisory group with a team of medical advisors headed by Richard Shames, M.D.