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Reading Labels – 5 Basic Tips to a Healthier Home

February 02, 2009

A Good Resolution for 2009, Without Diets OR Exercise!

Howard Purdy introduced a very interesting topic a few days ago – reading product labels – and I would like to further that discussion.  Resolve to pay attention to product labels!

While house cleaning product labels can be nightmarish to read (is it my age or is the fine print getting finer?) here are five basic tips to help you decide whether you want a certain cleaning agent in your home:

1.  The GobbleDeeGook Factor – If you don’t recognize or can’t pronounce the product ingredients, you may want to eliminate the product from your home, or research further.  A handy on-line resource is the Household Products Database (http://householdproducts.nlm.nih.gov) where you can search by product or ingredient to learn more about its actual or potential health and environmental impacts.

2.  The Signal Word –  Each label bears a signal word (Caution, Warning, or Danger) that indicates the toxicity level for that house cleaning product.  The toxicity level is based on ingestion by a 180-pound male through swallowing, inhaling or absorbing through the skin.  For "Caution", one ounce to one pint may be harmful or fatal. For "Warning", one teaspoon to one ounce may be harmful or fatal. For "Danger", just a tast to one teaspoonful is fatal.

3.  Fragrance, the other F Word – Artificial fragrances in house cleaning products and air fresheners can cause headaches, nausea, disorientation, memory loss and other neurological issues.  Many fragrances, including natural ones, trigger asthma and allergy attacks as well.  Finally, artificial fragrances such as "orange", "citrus", "mountain fresh" and others contain phthalates to promote a lingering odor. Phthalates are widely recdognized as endocrine distruptors as well as suspected carcinogens. Without getting too scientific, endocrine disruptors mimic human hormones thereby throwing the body’s natural hormone production off kilter and causing reproductive, developmental, and growth and behavior problems.

4. Antibacterials/Germicides – Germicides, insecticides and pesticides and other words including the root "cide" are all designed to kill.  Pesticides frequently include carcinogens and endocrine disruptors.  Seek a local exterminator or DIY store which offers healthier, non-toxic alternatives for bugs.  For germs, vinegar is a powerful disinfectant and antibacterial agent.  Also, please see posting on January 29 titled "Germ Free May Not Be Green – Take Triclosan" for more information on antibacterial soaps and other house cleaning or personal care products.

5. Green Certification – There are several organizations that review and certify house cleaning products to be green.  Green Seal, EcoLogo, Design for the Environment (DfE) are just a few.  While the standards and processes vary from program to program, using products that bear one of these certifications (as evidenced by a special seal on the label) is a better bet than one that does not.

If you keep these things in mind while roaming the grocery aisles (or cleaning our your closets and cupboards) you will be doing something very healthy for you, your family and your pets in 2009.  And not a single sit-up!
 

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