Thursday, August 7, 2008

When The Going Gets Green

Everyone is riding the bandwagon of “going green,” which means “staying healthy and protecting the environment at the same time.” Even cleaning products are getting into it: from the green kitchen sprays and bathroom scrubs to emerald dishwashing detergents and liquid soaps.

However, these products cost more. And in addition to its trendy graphics and emerald labels, a host of multi-syllable, unpronounceable chemicals tend to lurk inside many of these earth-friendly-looking bottles, if they are listed at all, since federal law doesn’t require manufacturers to do so on cleaning products. And on the rare occasion that they do, it’s hard for most people to know what these names mean, much less whether they’re safe.

According to Jeff Bishop, technical advisor to the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC), the nonprofit organization that regulates industry standards and certifies cleaning, inspection and restoration companies, cleaning things to a sanitary state creates a more habitable environment.

Allen Rathey, president of the Healthy House Institute, a consumer resource dedicated to providing information about healthier homes, and founder of the, said that much of the cleaning we do isn’t cleaning, but polluting, which is the whole reason the green movement began.

Green cleaning is a combination of products, equipment, and procedures. It means that in addition to using products that are safe and environmentally friendly, we must also use non-polluting equipment and procedures. The following tips will help keep dust, soil, and contaminants to a minimum and decrease the need for cleaning products:

· Use entry mats outside your home and always wipe shoes before entering. This will remove 83% of the abrasive soil that is tracked inside.
· Remove your shoes at the front door.
· Vacuum at least twice a week.
· Use a high-quality HVAC filter (not fiberglass) and change every month.
· Have your carpets professionally cleaned at least once a year by a qualified specialist.
· Get water leaks fixed immediately, to avoid mold.
There is no quick-and-easy formula for evaluating how green, or safe, the products are. It always involves a risk: to ourselves and the environment.
Consumers normally look for the Green Seal when searching for green products. Arthur B. Weissman, PhD, is president and CEO of Green Seal Inc., a nonprofit organization considered to be the gold standard for “green certification,” said that they award their seal of approval to manufacturers who adhere to specific health and environmental standards.
Aside from the Green Seal, it is also recommended that consumers pay special attention to “signal words” on labels such as
· Poison/Danger – which means the product is extremely toxic; a few drops can kill you.
· Warning – means the product is moderately toxic; as little as a teaspoonful can kill.
· Caution -- refers to a less-toxic product; 2 tablespoons to a cup can kill you.

These “signal words” are regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and must be placed on hazardous products.
Other words that often signal danger are:
· Strong Sensitizer
· Toxic
· Carcinogen
· Flammable
· Corrosive

Annie B. Bond, author of Clean & Green and Home Enlightenment: Practical, Earth-Friendly Advice for Creating a Nurturing, Healthy and Toxin-Free Home and Lifestyle, recommends that we avoid all products containing these warning labels.
Weissman also instructs consumers to avoid those with any significant amount of phosphates (more than 0.5%); high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which contribute to outdoor pollution and may also have negative effects on health; and those containing ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid, or “EDTA,” which is not biodegradable.

Other potentially harmful yet commonly used ingredients (often in all-purpose cleaners) include:

· Alkylphenolethoxylates (APEs): found in surfactants; tend to break down into endocrine disruptors which adversely affect the human endocrine system.
· Certain glycol ethers, like 2-Butoxyethanol (or "Butyl"): typically found in household cleaners and “degreasers” which are a lung irritant.
· Heavy metals (chromium, selenium, lead, mercury): used to add color to cleaning products.
· Ammonia: a respiratory irritant found in many cleaning products
· Ethanolamines: a respiratory irritant common to all-purpose cleaners
· Chlorine: mostly found in bleach, can be irritating to the lungs and eyes.
· Anything with a strong fragrance, which contains potentially hazardous petrochemical ingredients.

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