Can Household Products Harm Your Children? Cleaning Concerns

Have you ever used a drain cleaner that almost drove you out of your home? Maybe your daughter coughs a bit, and you throw open the windows while Dad cautions no one to go into the bathroom for the next 20 minutes. Have you ever thought that perhaps you may have polluted your home with dangerous toxins?

Experts are torn on this subject. Some believe that household cleaning products are harmless when used properly, while others think you put your children at risk every time you scrub your tub. Who is right, and what can you do, as a parent, to ensure the safety of your children?

Hidden Dangers in the Home?

Jennifer Reno, a registered nurse, and mother of one from Howell, Mich., is concerned about the chemicals present in household products. “I use nontoxic cleaners because my son has asthma and autism,” says Reno. “My research has shown that there is a possibility that environmental factors contributed to these disabilities, and I want to do whatever I can to keep my son healthy.”

According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, poison centers received nearly 127,000 calls in 2002 regarding children younger than 6 exposed to cleaning substances. This statistic doesn’t include the effects of low-grade exposure that may occur over a long period.

A recent study in Australia and published in the British medical journal Thorax found that domestic exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) at levels below currently accepted recommendations increases the likelihood of childhood asthma. The study shows that kids exposed to the VOCs found in everyday household cleaners are two to three times more likely to have asthma. Many VOCs produce vapors that pollute the air and can be hazardous. These chemicals include gasoline, industrial chemicals, and dry cleaning solvent. They are also found in many standard cleaning products.

Cleaning Green

Jeffery Hollender, president of Seventh Generation, a company devoted to providing nontoxic and environmentally safe household products, believes that while modern technology has given us immense benefits that enhance our well-being, it has also brought a host of dangers that threaten it that very well being. “It’s become increasingly apparent that some of these advances have come with hidden price tags, particularly where the production and use of synthetic chemicals is concerned,” says Hollender. “As our use of these compounds in our homes and workplaces has grown over the last 60 years, the incidence of diseases like cancer and asthma has grown dramatically as well, and many experts see a clear connection between the two.”

Many people would be willing to use nontoxic products if they worked as well as the conventional ones. Seventh Generation and similar companies are dedicated to finding household cleansers that won’t make our children ill while we clean our house. “We know that if natural household products don’t work, you won’t use them,” says Hollender. “That’s why we continuously research new ingredients and technologies.”

The Debate

While many experts believe that the VOCs in cleansers and other household products cause higher occurrences of cancer and an increase in asthma, others remain unconvinced. Edward P. Krenzelok, director of the Pittsburgh Poison Center at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, believes that household cleaners are safe when used as directed. “Most cleaners are quite safe,” says Krenzelok. “Oven and drain cleaner may be toxic, but if they are used properly and stored out of the reach of children, there should not be a problem.”

So with all the conflicting information, what is a parent to do? That depends on your situation and your children. If you notice that your child gets a headache or becomes dizzy after cleaning the sinks, perhaps you should look into nontoxic sink cleaners. If you don’t wish to switch to nontoxic cleaners, make sure you adhere to all the directions and use them in well-ventilated areas.

Open the window, switch on a fan. Read the warning labels on your products and the ingredients label. Education is the first step toward doing what all parents strive for – keeping children safe and healthy.

Beware of Bleach

Bleach, a typical household cleanser, is hazardous to the eyes because it is considered a “base” product, the opposite of an “acid.” Most people think that acids are more damaging to the eyes, and while they are dangerous, base products (products with high PH levels) can more seriously damage the eyes. The reason for this is that the watch is made up of numerous proteins, and base products, such as bleach, behave as though they are almost feeding on these proteins, allowing the bleach or base product to remain active longer and potentially do more significant damage to the eye.

Dr. Paul M. Karpecki, director of ophthalmic research for Moyes Eye Center in Kansas City, Mo., provides the following advice for working with bleach:

  • If bleach gets in the eye, the key is to wash the eye with tap water for at least 10 minutes and then call your eye doctor to be examined immediately.
  • If someone is working around bleach products and the eyes become irritated due to fumes or small amounts of bleach in the air, it is essential to still clean and lubricate the eyes as much as possible. The best way to do this is with the use of artificial tears such as Refresh Tears. A good recommendation would be to use these artificial tears before working around such products at least every 30 minutes. However, if bleach gets in the eye, the only solution is to wash it out with tap water for a minimum of 10 minutes and then see an eye doctor.
  • For general irritation, cool compresses might also soothe the eyes, but the most important thing is to continue to keep the eyes well lubricated via artificial tears.
  • Stay clear of the products on the market that claim to “get the red out,” which are vasoconstrictors. Vasoconstrictors constrict blood flow to the eye and cause rebound redness, furthering the problem rather than mitigating it.
  •  If someone finds they are in a situation where bleach could splash into their eyes, it are a strong recommendation.

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