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Many Cleaning Products Said to Contain Toxins

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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

gloved hand holding sponge

Sept. 10, 2012 -- Household cleaning products may contain toxic substances linked to health problems such as asthma, allergic reactions, and cancer, according to a new report by the Environmental Working Group.

The environmental group rated more than 2,000 household cleaners -- from laundry soaps and stain removers to bathroom cleaners and floor care products. Products are graded A to F based on the safety of the ingredients and how well the maker discloses those ingredients.

One industry trade group disputes the findings, though, saying the report doesn't make the grade.

According to the EWG report, more than half the products evaluated contain ingredients known to harm the lungs. In other cases, it was difficult to figure out what was in the product because of incomplete labeling.

"Companies are still hiding information from us, and we have a right to know what we are buying," says Rebecca Sutton, PhD, a senior scientist at EWG involved in compiling the report.

"Ninety-three percent [of the products] provided ingredient lists that were incomplete or not specific enough," she says. "We were surprised to see a few 'green' brands were still a little cagey about their ingredients.”

The 'Wild West'

Cleaning products are largely unregulated, says Sutton, calling it a ''wild West'' situation.

"It's a largely self-policing industry," she says. One exception is that the EPA requires a product that is antibacterial to disclose the name of the antibacterial used, she says.

Sutton does see improvement. While the report was in progress, she learned that some companies are reformulating their products with an eye to health.

And some cleaning products did get high marks. Among the many products that received an A rating:

  • Whole Foods Market green MISSION Organic All-Purpose Spray Cleaner & Degreaser, Lemon Zest for general cleaning
  • Arm & Hammer Baking Soda for general cleaning
  • Seventh Generation National Tub &Tile Cleaner, Emerald Cypress & Fir
  • Green Shield Organic toilet bowl cleaner
  • The Honest Co. auto dishwasher gel, free & clear

Still, a spokesman for the American Cleaning Institute, an industry group, called the guide a “disappointing scare campaign.”

"It distorts information about products," Brian Sansoni says. "It could mislead people."

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