How Environmental Exposure May Affect Your Child

Keeping Your House Clean Without Harsh Chemicals


When you have a new baby, your house might seem a lot dirtier than it did before. The first time your little one stuffs a dust bunny or a desiccated housefly in her mouth is often a low point in parenting.

Before you start scrubbing every surface in sight, consider that obsessive cleaning with caustic household cleaners has its own drawbacks. Harsh household cleaners can affect a baby’s eyes, airways, skin, and more.

“Parents need to know that there can be a trade-off between a sterilized kitchen and theirbaby’s health,” says Sonya Lunder, MPH, a senior analyst at the Environmental Working Group in Washington, D.C.

There is good news. By making simple changes and practicing child-safe cleaning, you can keep your home clean without exposing your baby to unnecessary risks. For an exhausted mom, it’s a win-win: a healthier baby without loads of extra housework.

What’s the Problem With Household Cleaners?

Household cleaners with harsh ingredients don’t only kill germs and get out tough stains. They can affect your baby’s health in a number of ways.

  • Eczema. A baby’s skin is sensitive, and studies have found that irritants and allergens in household cleaners and detergents can cause skin irritation.
  • Airway irritation. Powerful fumes from household cleaners can irritate your baby’s airways, making allergy or asthma symptoms worse. Some cleaning chemicals in schools have been linked with higher rates of asthma, says Lunder.
  • Eye irritation. Household cleaner fumes can also irritate your baby’s eyes, causing redness and watering. If splashed directly into the eyes, some cleaners can cause serious damage.
  • Allergies. Some researchers believe that having a home that’s too clean can increase the long-term risk of allergies in a child. It’s called the hygiene hypothesis. Without some exposure to germs, a child’s immune system might not develop normally. Instead, it becomes hypersensitive and begins to overreact to harmless allergens, like pollen or dander.
  • Poisoning. Every year, more than a million kids under age 5 swallow poisons like household cleaners, sometimes with devastating effects.
  • Unknown health effects. Some household cleaners have fragrances that contain chemicals like phthalates. While we don’t know what their health effects are for sure, some studies have found a possible connection between phthalates and disrupted hormone levels.

“What’s surprising to so many parents is that we don’t have good safety testing for a lot of the chemicals we use every day,” Kenneth Bock, MD, pediatric neurotoxicologist and codirector of the Rhinebeck Health Center in Rhinebeck, N.Y. “We don’t really know what they might be doing to our kids.” To be cautious, many parents try to reduce their use of household cleaners that contain harsh chemicals.

By R. Morgan Griffin

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Cleaning Tips for Allergy and Asthma Sufferers

These simple steps may reduce your risk of developing allergy and asthma symptoms when you clean:

Use an exhaust fan on a regular basis to remove cooking fumes and reduce moisture. Place garbage in a can with an insect-proof lid and empty trash daily. Store food—including pet food—in sealed containers, and discard moldy or out-of-date items.

Each week, mop the floor and wipe cabinets, backsplashes and appliances. Clean cabinets and countertops with detergent and water, and check for plumbing leaks. Wipe up moisture in the refrigerator to avoid mold growth.

Empty and clean drip pans and clean or replace moldy rubber seals around doors. Wash the dish rack, and wipe the light switch plates, phone and inside of the garbage can.

Seasonally, empty and scrub down the inside of the refrigerator and the utensil drawers. Scrub down the cupboard exteriors and clean the stove-hood filter.

Living Areas
Encase pillows, mattresses and box springs in dust-mite-proof covers. Wash sheets, pillowcases and blankets weekly in 130o F water. Remove, wash or cover comforters.

Clean carpeting weekly with a vacuum cleaner that has a small-particle or HEPA filter. Wash area rugs and floor mats, and mop hard surface flooring weekly. Use curtains made of cotton or synthetic fabric. Wash seasonally.

Keep windows closed and use air conditioning during pollen season. Clean mold and condensation from window frames and sills with a solution of chlorine bleach (3/4 cup chlorine bleach to 1 gallon of water). Always wear a protective mask when cleaning mold.

Remove anything that collects dust, such as knickknacks and books. Store toys, games and stuffed animals in plastic bins. Keep pets out of the bedroom. Bathing animals twice a month may reduce allergens.

Hot, humid houses are breeding grounds for dust mites and mold. Maintain temperature at 70o F and relative humidity at 30 to 50%. Clean or replace small-particle filters in central heating and cooling systems and in-room air conditioners at least once a month.

Control cockroaches and mice with traps from the hardware store, or hire a professional exterminator. To prevent re-infestation, seal cracks or other entryways.

An exhaust fan can reduce moisture while taking baths or showers. Remove carpeting if possible and use wood or linoleum flooring. Use washable rugs. Remove wallpaper and install tile, or paint walls with mold-resistant enamel paint.

Towel-dry the tub and enclosure after use. Scrub mold from tub and faucets. Clean or replace moldy shower curtains and bathmats. Quickly repair any leaks.

Basements can be a challenge. Not only can they be damp and dusty, but they can also harbor rodents or mold. Always wear gloves and a mask when cleaning a basement that has either of these problems. If vacuuming, empty the bag outside, while still wearing a mask, and place it directly into a trash bag, tie and put in the trash container immediately.

Remove moldy or water-damaged carpeting. If possible, use cement or linoleum flooring. If that isn’t an option, use low-pile instead of high-pile carpeting and use a vacuum cleaner that has a small-particle or HEPA filter weekly. Install plastic sheeting (vapor barrier) under carpeting to prevent moisture seepage.

Check for and repair any sources of leaks or water damage. A dehumidifier can reduce dampness – clean it once a week. Use an exhaust fan to vent moisture from a clothes dryer outside.

Wash concrete floors and walls with a solution of bleach and water (see above). Allow the solution to sit for five minutes, then rinse and dry. Always wear rubber gloves when working with bleach or vinegar solutions.

If you have a section of carpet with mold or mildew, clean the back of the carpet with one part hydrogen peroxide to five parts water. If possible, remove the carpet and place it outside in the sun to dry. If not, prop the section up and use a fan to dry the area.

If you have mold or mildew on basement walls, use one of the solutions listed below to clean, but you must also remove the moisture from the area. Use a dehumidifier or fans to circulate the air, and open windows if possible.

Cleaning Option 1: Straight vinegar sprayed on the walls. Don’t rinse, just air dry.

Cleaning Option 2: Mix 2 cups vinegar, 2 cups very hot water, 1/2 cup salt and 2 cups borax. Apply solution to area and allow it to sit for 30 minutes. Apply the solution again, scrubbing with a soft bristled brush and rinse well with plain water.

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Women still do most of the cleaning: is it putting their health at risk?

In February, California’s legislature began considering AB 708, a bill that would require cleaning product manufacturers to disclose all ingredients on product labels. Although the bill doesn’t directly address female exposure to chemicals, if it passes, it could have had significant and wide-ranging impacts on women – the primary users of cleaning products.

While gender roles have changed in the last few decades, a 2014 survey by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that women still perform about 55-70% of household cleaning, about 30% more of the cleaning than men. In addition to eating up time, this extra work could leave women more susceptible to any negative impacts of chemicals in cleaning products.Professionally, the gender difference in cleaning is even more stark: 89% of home and hotel cleaners – whose exposure to these chemicals is quadrupled – are women. The majority of those women are minorities, according to the most recent US Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

Demand for green cleaners

When it comes to chemical exposure, women are flying blind. Some companies voluntarily disclose the ingredients in their cleaning products, and some states are beginning to consider regulations that would require more explicit labeling. However, there are no federal laws on the books that require companies to list the ingredients in their cleaning products.

Not surprisingly, many consumers, particularly women, are increasingly buying green cleaners. Between 2007 and 2011, retail sales of green cleaners more than doubled, going from $303m annually to $640m, according to market research firm Packaged Facts. In 2013, Walmart followed the trend, launching Great Value Naturals, a new line of “all natural” cleaning products.

To capture the burgeoning natural cleaning market, more companies are producing green cleaning products and disclosing ingredients, either on labels or on their websites. Several have also launched ingredient-screening programs, showcasing lists of safe ingredients on their websites.

But green cleaners don’t always live up to the hype. In Deep Clean, a report released this week on cleaning products, nonprofit Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE) noted that many companies are not disclosing the criteria they use for evaluating the ingredients that they deem “green”. The group reported, for example, that independent lab testing has uncovered that SC Johnson’s cleaning products contain synthetic musk, a known endocrine-disrupting chemical.

Still, Deep Clean give SC Johnson its highest score: it tied with Clorox for a B-, thanks to its efforts to both disclose ingredients (this year it became the first company to begin disclosing fragrance ingredients) and respond to consumer concerns. Its top competitor, Procter and Gamble, on the other hand, scored an F.

The American Cleaning Institute (ACI), a trade group representing cleaning product manufacturers, claimed that Deep Clean failed to take into account the industry’s efforts at consumer protection. “It ignores the fact that an enormous amount of resources are dedicated to assuring the safety of products, including significant investments in research, development and testing before products ever hit the shelves,” ACI said in a statement.

But while ACI called its members’ safety screening process “rigorous” and touted their efforts to “share more information than ever about ingredients”, WVE was not convinced. The group says that a rigorous screening process wouldn’t let hormone-disrupting chemicals through, and adds that companies need to be completely transparent about their products.

California cleans house

When California’s legislature announced plans to review AB 708, the cleaning product labeling bill, public health advocates were quick to offer their support. They decried the health impacts of cleaning products and touted consumers’ and workers’ right to know what’s in their products.

On the other side, ACI opposed the bill, stating that several other state and federal regulations already do or will require labeling of ingredients of concern. Moreover, ACI claimed, requiring companies to list every single ingredient – irrespective of its relevance for health – would not be of value to consumers.

“Some products may have hundreds of ingredients in tiny amounts,” the group wrote in its opposition. “The broad requirement of AB 708 to list all ingredients on the label is likely to frustrate the goal of enhancing consumer protection.”

Once again, ACI touted the chemical industry’s voluntary labeling efforts. It drew attention to the Consumer Product Ingredient Communication Initiative, an industry program that aims to communicate ingredients to consumers. Under the initiative, ACI explained, participating consumer cleaning product manufacturers list all ingredients except those that they determine “incidental”.

AB 708’s sponsors – nonprofit environmental health organizations Breast Cancer Fund and Environmental Working Group – disagree with ACI. In public comments on the bill, Nancy Buermeyer, senior policy strategist for the nonprofit Breast Cancer Fund, wrote that voluntary labeling is not sufficient to educate the “disproportionately low-wage workers, women, immigrants and people of color” who work with many “complex and often hazardous cleaning solutions”.

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Australian environment changing genetics of allergy sufferers, research suggests

The Australian environment may be causing genetic changes and making people more susceptible to allergies such as hayfever, new research has found.

In Western Australia, Curtin University’s Brad Zhang has been looking at why Australians have one of the highest rates of allergies and hayfever in the world.

New studies, presented last week at the Annual Scientific Meeting of the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand, reveal that something in the Australian environment is changing the way people’s bodies work, making them more likely to reach for the tissue box come spring.

Mr Zhang tested the incidence of hayfever in a group of newly-arrived Chinese immigrants and in a group of immigrants who had lived in Australia for more than two years.

He found changes known as “methylation” in the genetic structure of the group living in Australia long-term.

“We know in the past 50 years, the prominence of asthma allergies have gone up significantly in Western countries,” he said.

“We have done a lot of research but we still don’t know a cause why the asthma allergy is so high in developed countries.”

Part of Mr Zhang’s work is trying to work out what it is in the Western environment which is causing the increase in allergies.

He said one popular theory was that the levels of bacteria in food and water in developed countries were lower.

If people are not exposed to bacteria concentrations, it may affect their susceptibility to allergies later in life.

But he said more work needed to be done.

“Currently we don’t have … very solid evidence here,” he said.

“Which genes, which genetic marker plays the major role.

“It’s a very very tough question, because when you test the million, million markers in a very small population, we need to consider multiple comparison issues.

“Currently for us, we [have] only confirmed some global, overall trend there.”

According to the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy, almost 20 per cent of the population has an allergic disease, and the rate is increasing.

Hospital admissions for severe, life-threatening allergic reactions have increased four-fold in the past 10 years.

Epigenetic studies, or the study of external factors on gene expression, may now open the door to finding ways to treat and potentially eradicate hayfever and allergies.5027922-3x2-940x627

The research was also supported by the University of Western Australia.


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