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Entries in dangers (3)

11:36AM

If you can't pronounce it, should you use it?

When Shawn Ellis tests the air in parts of a house where cleaners are stored, he is measuring volatile organic compounds (VOCs). His meter won't tell you how strong or harmful the chemical particles might be. It will provide clues as to how many particles there are.

'Can always smell the cleaning products'

"You can always smell those cleaners even though they’re all tightly sealed."

Everywhere the cleaning products are kept, the readings jump. The average home normally reads about 50 parts per billion.

We asked Ellis to test three products that are often advertised on television: Pledge, Clorox Wipes and Lysol Disinfecting Spray.

Pledge registered 273 ppb. Anything over 500 could be a problem for people with sensitivities.

The Clorox Wipes came in at more than 1,000 ppb. The Lysol Disinfecting Spray was much higher — around 1,200 parts per million, or 1,000 times higher than the Clorox.

We live in an increasingly chemical society: experts don't know how dangerous these chemicals might be, but they are starting to worry. Dr. Gideon Koren is a pediatrician at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.

"How can we, as one of the most advanced countries in the world allow these to enter our household for small children, without the appropriate testing to see that it’s safe?"

Young children especially vulnerable

Koren says young children are especially vulnerable, partly because of exposure. Everything goes in their mouths and they virtually live on the floor. And young kids are more sensitive because they are still developing the basic body systems: the brain, internal organs, respiratory and immune systems are not fully developed until adolescence.

Koren and his researcher are studying the babies of women who were exposed to chemical solvents in the workplace. They're finding vision problems.

"Vision is one of the functions of the human brain, so it means that these chemicals find themselves through the mum, through the umbilical cord, into the baby, into the developing brain, and damaging functions there, and the baby is born already with a problem," Koren said.

Manufacturers are obliged to release toxicology data in the workplace. But when these same chemicals are used in the home, the exposure is lower. But no one know what affect they may have — and there's no obligation to inform us.


Dr. Virginia Salares, indoor air quality expert.

In Canada, respiratory illness is now the leading cause of admission to hospital for children. Childhood asthma has jumped by 400 per cent. After injuries, cancer is now the leading cause of death in children between the ages of five and nine.

Dr. Virginia Salares specialized in indoor air quality. We asked her what's in some of the products being marketed to young families. One product we looked at — Lysol Anti-bacterial Action Spray — lists ethanol 79 per cent. Not just any ethanol, Salares, says. It's denatured ethanol.

Salares has put together a book for us, full of data sheets which lists the hazards of specific chemicals in the workplace. Here's what she discovered about denatured ethanol:

"May cause irritation of the eyes and mucous membranes, may cause central nervous system depression if inhaled or ingested."

There's also alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride — a pesticide.

The ads suggest you can spray this every day, where kids are playing. Salares says that's something parents should think about.

"Do they want to spray the air people are breathing? Or that kids with toys or surfaces that children are touching, do they want them sprayed?"

Clorox Disinfecting Wipes lists two ingredients: dimethyl benzyl ammonia chloride .145 per cent and dimethyl ethyl benzyl ammonia chloride. Again, more pesticides.

If you can't pronounce it, should you use it?

"If you find that it has ingredients, which is a chemical you can’t even pronounce, you don’t know what it is, you don’t know how it can affect you. I think it’s about time you think, should I be using this?" Salares said.

The other product we looked at was Pledge. It doesn't list any ingredients at all. But Salares has looked into it.

"It has silicones...and it has butane gas...and propane."

And in glass cleaners?

"Some of them have what are called glycol ethers. and there’s concern over these products for workers who have been exposed occupationally. They have been seeing reproductive effects. In the semi-conductor industry they are being phased out," Salares said.

Salares says we still don't know what kind of exposure to these chemicals is harmful for children, but she notes that at some level, they can be harmful.

Larry Stoffman with the Labour Environmental Alliance Society, helps run a watchdog group that looks out for the health and safety of workers.

"There’s a labeling system in the workplace that uses symbols for both acute and chronic hazards and statements that are supposed to warn you about those hazards...Some of these same chemicals are in consumer products but there’s nothing on the label like that for a consumer product."


Household cleaners fall under the Hazardous Products Act.

Household cleaners fall under the Hazardous Products Act, which dates back to the mid-1960s. They're regulated by the Consumer Chemicals and Containers Regulations. Labels are required to provide hazard symbols like "poison" and "flammable." They also have to give information about first aid treatments for those ingredients. But there's no requirement to list other chemicals that could cause long-term health effects — and no warnings that say anything like "may cause respiratory problems."

"People assume that it’s on the shelf it’s been tested, it’s safe. And you can’t make that assumption all the time. You can’t. Not with the regulatory framework we have in place," Kathy Cooper of the Canadian Environmental Law Association, told Marketplace.

Cooper adds that Hazardous Products Act badly needs to be updated.

Health Canada told us in an e-mail that:

“the responsibility for assessing the hazards associated with a chemical product is that of the manufacturer."

We wanted to ask Health Canada about its role and some of the concerns raised in this story, but they refused repeated requests for an on-camera interview. The manufacturers of Lysol, Clorox and Pledge all said they were unavailable for an interview and so did their trade association.

Meanwhile, back at the Sauls' home, Shawn Ellis advises Amanda to cut back on some of her cleaning products.

"I think I’m going to go through all of them and try to find one or two that might work but also another way I might do it too is to see what natural products are out there," Amanda Saul said.

She'll have to figure out what to cut out on her own. For the time being, the government and the manufacturers of household cleaning products are under no obligation to help her.

 

 

7:48AM

The Toxic Danger of Fabric Softener and Dryer Sheets  

Many people will remember a famous TV ad where a woman races to her washing machine, fabric softener in hand, only to arrive just as the wash ends. This woman who "forgot to ad the fabric softener" was actually doing herself and her family a favor.

Although they may make your clothes feel soft and smell fresh, fabric softener and dryer sheets are some of the most toxic products around. And chances are that the staggering 99.8 percent of Americans who use common commercial detergents, fabric softeners, bleaches, and stain removers would think twice if they knew they contained chemicals that could cause cancer and brain damage.

Laundry

Here is a list of just some of the chemicals found in fabric softeners and dryer sheets:

* Benzyl acetate: Linked to pancreatic cancer

* Benzyl Alcohol: Upper respiratory tract irritant

* Ethanol: On the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Hazardous Waste list and can cause central nervous system disorders

* Limonene: Known carcinogen

* A-Terpineol: Can cause respiratory problems, including fatal edema, and central nervous system damage

* Ethyl Acetate: A narcotic on the EPA's Hazardous Waste list

* Camphor: Causes central nervous system disorders

* Chloroform: Neurotoxic, anesthetic and carcinogenic

* Linalool: A narcotic that causes central nervous system disorders

* Pentane: A chemical known to be harmful if inhaled

So how could products with pretty names like Soft Ocean Mist, Summer Orchard and April Fresh be so dangerous?

The chemicals in fabric softeners are pungent and strong smelling -- so strong that they require the use of these heavy fragrances (think 50 times as much fragrance) just to cover up the smells. Furthermore, synthetic fabrics, which are the reason fabric softeners were created in the first place, do not smell good either when heated in a dryer or heated by our bodies ... hence the need for even more hefty fragrances.

In other words, remove all the added fragrance that endears people to fabric softeners and -- like the cliché wolf in sheep's clothing -- the real smells of the chemical-laced fabric softener and the synthetic fabrics they were designed around may prompt people to shoot their laundry machines and be done with it.

Are "Soft" Clothes Worth It?

Fabric softeners are made to stay in your clothing for long periods of time. As such, chemicals are slowly released either into the air for you to inhale or onto your skin for you to absorb. Dryer sheets are particularly noxious because they are heated in the dryer and the chemicals are released through dryer vents and out into the environment. Health effects from being exposed to the chemicals in fabric softeners include:

* Central nervous system disorders

* Headaches

* Nausea

* Vomiting

* Dizziness

* Blood pressure reduction

* Irritation to skin, mucus membranes and respiratory tract

* Pancreatic cancer

Baby Fabric

Soften Your Clothes Safely With These Tips

Even if you don't feel the effects of these chemicals today, they can affect you gradually over time, and children, whose systems are still developing, are particularly at risk. There's really no reason to expose yourself to these risky chemicals when natural alternatives exist. Not only are they safer for you, your family and the environment, but they're much more economical too:

Check out your local health food store for a natural fabric softener that uses a natural base like soy instead of chemicals

It's likely that fabric softeners and dryer sheets aren't the only toxic products in your home. Many household products that consumers regard as safe are also full of toxic chemicals.

 

4:55PM

Be plastic aware - dangers

Plastic is all around us. It forms much of the packaging for our food and drink. For many of us, it is throughout our home, our workplace, our car and the bus we take to and from work. It can be in our clothing, eyeglasses, teeth, computers, phones, dishes, utensils, toys.

Health Risks

In terms of health risks, the evidence is growing that chemicals leached from plastics used in cooking and food/drink storage are harmful to human health. The most disturbing of these are hormone (endocrine) disrupters, such as Bisphenol A (BPA), which can stimulate the growth of cancer cells. Exposure to BPA at a young age can cause genetic damage, and BPA has been linked to recurrent miscarriage in women. The health risks of plastic are significantly amplified in children, whose immune and organ systems are developing and are more vulnerable. The manufacture of plastic, as well as its destruction by incineration, pollutes air, land and water and exposes workers to toxic chemicals, including carcinogens. The evidence of health risks from certain plastics is increasingly appearing in established, peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Plastic Types, Characteristics... Dangers

Fortunately, consumers have a way to identify the type of plastic in many products, especially food storage containers and packaging. Many, but not all, such plastic products have a number – the resin identification code – molded, formed or imprinted in or on the container, often on the bottom. This system of coding was developed in 1988 by the U.S.-based Society of the Plastics Industry to facilitate the recycling of post-consumer plastics. It is voluntary for plastic manufacturers, but has become relatively standard on certain plastic products sold globally. Knowing the code for a particular product, consumers can then inform themselves of the characteristics of the plastic and the risks of using that product.

The seven plastic resin codes are each briefly described below to provide a quick snapshot detailing the name of the resin (i.e., the base material of the plastic), typical products it is found in, dangerous chemicals it leaches, and why they are dangerous.

Polyethylene terephalate (PET or PETE) – Used in soft drink, juice, water, beer, mouthwash, peanut butter, salad dressing, detergent and cleaner containers. Leaches Antimony trioxide: workers exposed to antimony trioxide for long periods of time have exhibited respiratory and skin irritation; among female workers, increased incidence of menstrual problems and miscarriage; their children exhibited slower development in the first twelve months of life. The longer a liquid is left in such a container the greater the concentration of antimony released into the liquid.

 

High density polyethylene (HDPE) – Used in opaque milk, water, and juice containers, bleach, detergent and shampoo bottles, garbage bags, yogurt and margarine tubs, cereal box liners. Research on risks associated with this type of plastic is ongoing.

 

 

 Polyvinyl chloride (V or Vinyl or PVC) – Used in toys, clear food and non-food packaging (e.g., cling wrap), some squeeze bottles, shampoo bottles, cooking oil and peanut butter jars, detergent and window cleaner bottles, shower curtains, medical tubing, and numerous construction products (e.g., pipes, siding). PVC has been described as one of the most hazardous consumer products ever created. Leaches di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) or butyl benzyl phthalate (BBzP), depending on which is used as the plasticizer or softener (usually DEHP). DEHP and BBzP are endocrine disruptors mimicking the female hormone estrogen; have been strongly linked to asthma and allergic symptoms in children; may cause certain types of cancer; linked to negative effects on the liver, kidney, spleen, bone formation and body weight. In Europe, DEHP and BBzP and other dangerous pthalates have been banned from use in plastic toys for children under three since 1999. Not so elsewhere, including Canada. There is currently a similar NDP Private Members Bill (C-307) before the House of Commons, but the chances of it passing appear slim.

 

Low density polyethylene (LDPE) – Used in grocery store, dry cleaning, bread and frozen food bags, most plastic wraps, squeezable bottles (honey, mustard). Research on risks associated with this type of plastic is ongoing.

 

 

 

Polypropylene (PP) – Used in ketchup bottles, yogurt and margarine tubs, medecine and syrup bottles, straws, Rubbermaid and other opaque plastic containers, including baby bottles. Research on risks associated with this type of plastic is ongoing.

 

 

 

Polystyrene (PS) – Used in Styrofoam containers, egg cartons, disposable cups and bowls, take-out food containers, plastic cutlery, compact disc cases. Leaches styrene, which is an endocrine disruptor mimicking the female hormone estrogen, and thus has the potential to cause reproductive and developmental problems; long-term exposure by workers has shown brain and nervous system effects; adverse effects on red blood cells, liver, kidneys and stomach in animal studies. Also present in secondhand cigarette smoke, off-gassing of building materials, car exhaust and possibly drinking water. Styrene migrates significantly from polystyrene containers into the container's contents when oily foods are heated in such containers.

 

Other – This is a catch-all category that includes anything that does not come within the other six categories. As such, one must be careful in interpreting this category because it includes polycarbonate - a dangerous plastic - but it also includes the new, safer, biodegradable bio-based plastics made from renewable resources such as corn and potato starch, and sugar cane. Polycarbonate is used in most plastic baby bottles (!), clear plastic “sippy” cups, Nalgene brand and other “sports” water bottles, three and five gallon large water storage containers, metal food can liners, some juice and ketchup containers, compact discs, cell phones, computers. Polycarbonate leaches Bisphenol A (some effects described above), and numerous studies have indicated a wide array of possible adverse effects from low-level exposure to Bisphenol A: chromosome damage in female ovaries, decreased sperm production in males, early onset of puberty, various behavioural changes, altered immune function, and sex reversal in frogs.

Important Note: Two other types of plastic that fall under code 7 are acrylonitrile styrene (AS) or styrene acrylonitrile (SAN), and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). Both AS/SAN and ABS are higher quality plastics with increased strength, rigidity, toughness and temperature and chemical resistance. AS/SAN is used in mixing bowls, thermos casing, dishes, cutlery, coffee filters, toothbrushes, outer covers (printers, calculators, lamps), battery housing. The incorporation of butadiene during the manufacture of AS/SAN, produces ABS, which is an even tougher plastic. ABS is used in LEGO toys, pipes, golf club heads, automotive parts, protective head gear. Research on risks associated with AS/SAN and ABS is ongoing.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOUR EVERYDAY PLASTIC USE

You may wish to seriously consider your – and especially your children's – use of plastics numbered 1, 3, 6 and 7 (polycarbonate), all of which have been shown to leach dangerous chemicals. This does not necessarily mean the others are completely safe, just that they have been studied less to date.

So if you have to use plastic, it is safest to stick to numbers 2, 4, 5 and 7 (other than polycarbonate) whenever possible.

If an item does not have a plastic code on it, or if the type of plastic is unclear from the code (e.g., with #7, it likely will not say it is polycarbonate), your best bet is to contact the manufacturer and ask them directly what type of plastic was used to make the product.