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Many Cleaning Products Said to Contain Toxins

EWG Guide: Details

It took 14 months to compile the guide. EWG scientists compared the ingredients listed on the labels of cleaning products and manufacturers' web sites with information from toxicity databases from government, industry, and academic sources. They looked at medical literature on health and environmental problems linked with cleaning products.

Among the key findings, according to EWG:

  • About 53% of the products had ingredients known to harm the lungs. Examples are benzalkonium chloride, found in antibacterial cleaners, and chlorine bleach.
  • About 22% had chemicals linked with asthma in previously healthy people.
  • Some products use formaldehyde, a known human carcinogen, as a preservative, or it is released by other preservatives in the products.
  • The chemical 1,4-dioxane, suspected of being a human carcinogen, is a common contaminant of detergent chemicals.
  • Chloroform, also a suspected carcinogen, can escape in fumes released by products containing chlorine bleach.
  • Sodium borate, sometimes called borax or boric acid, is added to many products. It can be a hormone disrupter.

EWG scientists suggest entirely avoiding some products because of ingredients. These include air fresheners, antibacterial products, fabric softeners, and caustic drain cleaners and oven cleaners.

Even some ''green brands'' could do better on disclosing ingredients, the report states. Among them: Earth Friendly Products and BabyGanics.

More Industry Feedback

"We are certainly addressing the issue [of label disclosure]," says Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks, vice president of Earth Friendly Products.

"Our European labels already have the disclosures," she says. "The U.S. labels will have it by the end of the year."

Lindsay Joyce, a spokeswoman for BabyGanics, says it is unfortunate that the EWG has deemed their descriptions inadequate.

One problem, she says, is a lack of uniform industry standards. "All BabyGanics products contain ingredient statements, including our household, hand hygiene, diapering, skin care, sun care, and oral care solutions. The household product category remains the only one that still does not have a uniform set of industry standards."

In a statement, Sansoni of the American Cleaning Institute says: "It is a fact that anything can be safe or unsafe -- it all depends on the amount. Manufacturers work to ensure that they use levels of ingredients that are 'just right' -- in that they provide a benefit in the products, but at the same time are safe."

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