Why Common Household Cleaners are Bad for Us and the Environment
By: Van Burbach PhD, PG Environmental Consultant
Many people have the idea that since cleaning products are used to clean our homes of dirt, germs, and filth to give us a “clean” living environment, that they are safe for us and our planet; but this is not the case. Many common cleaning products you can find on your grocery store shelves, and possibly under your own kitchen sink, are extremely toxic and very harmful both to human beings and to the environment.
Links between use of common household cleaners and asthma and other respiratory illnesses have been well established. In 2018, the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine published the results of a 20-year study by scientists at the University of Bergen in Norway which found that using cleaning products can be as harmful to women’s respiratory health as smoking 20 cigarettes a day. Also, household cleaning products are responsible for nearly 10% of all toxic exposures reported to U.S. Poison Control Centers, many of which involve children.
But these cleaners are also very harmful to the environment outside of our homes. The all-purpose cleaners, hand sanitizers, laundry detergents, dishwasher detergents, and other cleaning products we use get washed down our drains and into our sewer systems. They are often treated at wastewater treatment plants: but most wastewater treatment plants are not very effective at removing the toxic chemicals from these products, so they end up released into our lakes, rivers, and drinking water supplies. A 2002 study conducted by the United States Geological Survey tested streams across the United States and found traces of detergent in 69% of the streams, and disinfectants in 66% of the streams.
Common household cleaning products often contain hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of chemicals, many of which are known to be toxic to humans as well as to fish, birds, plants, and other living organisms. Some are also known carcinogens. Many others of these chemicals have not been studied thoroughly enough to know what their possible toxicological impacts might be.
One group of chemicals of concern are phosphates, often found in laundry and dishwasher detergent. When released into a lake or stream, phosphates act as fertilizers, promoting growth of algae that decrease the water’s oxygen content, killing fish and reducing biodiversity.
Another group of chemicals of concern are alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs), which are surfactants that are added to many laundry detergents, stain removers, all-purpose cleaners, disinfectants, and degreasers. Some APEs break down into nonylphenol and octylphenol, which are more toxic and do not readily biodegrade. APEs have been shown to mimic the hormone estrogen, and their presence in water may be harming the reproduction and survival of salmon and other fish.
It is not just the chemicals in our cleaning products that are the problem. The packaging those products come in can also have a very adverse impact on our environment. The proliferation of single-use plastic containers has caused major problems for landfills and recycling programs cannot keep up. In 2015, the EPA estimated that only 9.1% of plastic waste generated in the United States was recycled, and since China stopped accepting our recyclable waste, that number is probably lower now. All the excess plastic waste has caused a global crisis as these plastics end up in our waterways and eventually in our oceans.
Shaklee has been a pioneer of non-toxic, earth-friendly cleaning products since the 1960s. Shaklee Basic H was one of the first official Earth Day products, and has been used by Jacques Cousteau, the Biosphere II project, the Whitehouse, and many environmental organizations and programs. Today, Shaklee is proud to offer a full line of household cleaning products that are free of toxic chemicals and are safe for you, your children, and the planet. And many of our cleaning products are concentrated, reducing the amount of plastic waste created. One bottle of Basic H2 can replace as many as 5000 bottles of other cleaners, keeping thousands of plastic bottles our of our waste stream. And you don’t have to sacrifice performance, as Shaklee cleaning products are amazingly effective. Check them Out.
Dr. Burbach has extensive experience in: hydrogeologic site investigation; environmental assessment of industrial sites, underground storage tank sites, and solid waste facilities; compliance monitoring; remediation of impacted soil and groundwater; and geophysical investigations. Including remediation of pesticides, metals, and hazardous waste.
Dr. Burbach has designed and implemented Corrective Action Plans involving groundwater pump and treat systems, air sparging, soil vapor recovery, soil venting, soil excavation, phytoremediation, aggressive fluid-vapor recovery, multi-phase extraction, ex-situ bioremediation, enhanced in-situ bioremediation, and monitored natural attenuation. Currently, Dr. Burbach oversees compliance monitoring of soil, groundwater, surface water, leachate, landfill gas, and treatment systems for several soil waste sites in Virginia and North Carolina.