WASHINGTON — If buying “green” products hasn’t been a priority for you, some alarming new research might just do the trick. A study warns of the potential health risks of common household cleaning products that emit hundreds of dangerous chemicals into the air.
Conducted by scientists from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the study examined 30 different cleaning items including multi-purpose and glass cleaners, as well as air fresheners.
The researchers found that these everyday items release volatile organic compounds, commonly known as VOCs. These VOCs can be hazardous and potentially cause health problems like respiratory issues, increased cancer risk, and developmental and reproductive issues. The study discovered a total of 530 unique VOCs in the products tested, with 193 of them classified as “hazardous.”
“Our findings emphasize a way to reduce exposure to hazardous VOCs – by selecting products that are ‘green,’ especially those that are ‘green’ and ‘fragrance-free,” says Dr. Alexis Temkin, a senior toxicologist at EWG, in a statement.
Cleaning product chemicals linger in the air
VOCs don’t just affect outdoor air quality; they have a more significant impact indoors. According to the study, indoor air can be contaminated two to five times more than outdoor air by these products, with some estimates going as high as ten times more. What’s even more concerning is that some products can continue emitting VOCs for days, weeks, or even months.
Choosing ‘green’ cleaning products, particularly those labeled as “fragrance-free,” can substantially reduce exposure to these harmful compounds. The study found that on average, green products emitted around half the VOCs compared to conventional products. The researchers note that, on average, green cleaning products without fragrance released far fewer hazardous chemicals—just four, in fact—compared to their fragrant green counterparts, which emitted around 15 hazardous chemicals. Conventional cleaning products were found to release as many as 22 hazardous chemicals.
The study also highlights increased health risks for those working in the cleaning industry, including a 50% higher risk of developing asthma and a 43% higher risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Pregnant women and infants exposed to indoor cleaners may also face a higher risk of developing asthma and wheezing in childhood.
“Going green with your cleaning products is an easy way to reduce exposure to harmful chemicals. This may be especially important for women’s and children’s health,” suggests Samara Geller, EWG’s senior director of cleaning science.
The researchers also note that consumer products can contribute to outdoor air pollution, adding to existing environmental concerns. “This study is a wake-up call for consumers, researchers and regulators to be more aware of the potential risks associated with the numerous chemicals entering our indoor air,” adds Temkin.
The study is published in the journal Chemosphere.
South West News Service writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.