Is Your Home Safe? | Toxic Cleaners Part 1

Carcinogens and neurotoxins in our laundry detergent? And shampoo? This is the first of a two-part series on what is in the cleaners we buy and realistic steps to take to reduce exposure to ourselves and our families.

Hi! My name is Heat. One of my many identities is cancer survivor. I'm over five years out from the end of my treatment for Hodgkin's lymphoma. Technically, I am cured. Hooray! I am grateful for restored health, few side effects, and, for now, cheating death.

But I'm angry. I’m not angry that at the tender age of 31, I heard those three little words: "You have cancer." I am angry at all of the body-destroying, cancer-causing, illness-inducing, environment-trashing chemicals that we legally buy and use unknowingly (or perhaps knowing-but-not-caringly) every single day. I'm angry that the accepted answer is to treat it all with more body-destroying, cancer-causing, illness-inducing, environment-trashing chemicals.

According to my oncologist, between 2/3 and 3/4 of all cancers are lifestyle-related. That means between 2/3 and 3/4 of all cancers are preventable. I'm proud to be a survivor, but never having cancer would have been better than having it and beating it.

That's why we all have to acknowledge personal responsibility to pay attention to everything we put into our body. Everyone knows that smoking is a huge risk factor for cancer, and word's getting out that obesity is almost as big a risk factor for cancer.

That's why this article isn't about weight or cigarettes.

It's about the silent killers - chemicals.

There are loads of unsavory chemicals in what you clean your house and your body with. Both industries are almost completely unregulated. It is up to the manufacturer to disclose contents, demonstrate safety, and label warnings.

The people who are profiting are also the ones responsible for telling us about the dangers of their products (Is your blood at least simmering yet?) That's why consumers need to be educated, but companies don't make it easy.

On packaging for household cleaners, there are already skull and crossbones a-plenty, but since we don't eat it, it doesn't matter, right? Wrong. We take things into our bodies in four ways: ingest, inhale, absorb, inject.

If you can smell it, you're inhaling it.

If you can smell it while you're wearing it (laundry detergent, dryer sheets), you're inhaling and absorbing it. If it says, "Use in a well-ventilated area," you're inhaling it.

"Fragrance" is one of the world's top allergens, and the contents don't need to be disclosed - trade secrets. It's a HUGE issue in personal care products. Even "unscented" products often have fragrance in them to mask the smell of the chemicals in the product.

Here are some other chemicals to look out for:

Parabens are creeping into the public eye. They are used as a preservative, have been found in breast cancer tumors and are also hormone disruptors. Hormone disruptors don't just mess up your sex hormones - they regulate everything: hunger, satiety, alertness, growth, response to stress, and on and on.

Sulfates are known skin irritants, linked to kidney, liver, and nervous system damage, and are suspected carcinogens. They are added to products to make them foamy.

Phthalates are linked to male reproductive issues, as well as prostate and breast cancers. They are found in PVC and vinyl (both highly toxic), but in personal care products, they are used to make products stick to you better, and to make hair spray and fingernail polish more flexible.

These are in most products on the shelves today. Certainly, any one of these isn't likely to cause a major issue on its own. But put all of them together and it's very dangerous. Manufacturers argue that there isn't much, and a little exposure isn't a big deal. But they don't add all of the chemicals together, and they don't add all of the applications together.

According to the Environmental Working Group, people on average use nine products a day, containing 126 unique ingredients. A quarter of women surveyed use 15 or more products every day. That's a lot of chemical exposure - and products for babies and children have all of the same issues. It's time to start paying attention.

Realistically, what can we do about this? Check out part two of my series for the answer.