Cleaners found to emit toxic pollutants

May 26, 2006|By JULIE SEVRENS LYONS | JULIE SEVRENS LYONS,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

One manufacturer promotes its pine-scented cleaning products as providing a "Clean you can smell. A clean you can trust." But a groundbreaking new study suggests that household cleaners and air fresheners -- particularly those with pine, orange and lemon scents -- may emit harmful levels of toxic pollutants.

Exposure to some of these pollutants and their byproducts may exceed regulatory guidelines when used repeatedly or in small, poorly ventilated rooms, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory concluded after a four-year study.

Among the conclusions:

A person who cleans a shower stall for 15 minutes with a product containing glycol ethers -- known toxic air contaminants -- may be exposed to three times the recommended one-hour exposure limit.

Using air freshener in a child's room along with an air purifier that creates ozone can result in formaldehyde levels 25 percent higher than California recommends. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen.

Professional house cleaners who clean four homes a day, five days per week take in about double the recommended formaldehyde levels.

The report is the first to measure emissions from cleaning products during typical indoor use, as well as the health risks associated with inhaling them.

"My suggestion is don't stop cleaning, but clean with consciousness that cleaning products themselves contain materials that shouldn't be inhaled," said study author William Nazaroff, a professor of environmental engineering at University of California, Berkeley.

Many consumers just aren't aware, he said, that common household cleaners can be a major cause of indoor air pollution. Some contain ethylene-based glycol ethers. Also of concern are terpenes, compounds derived from plant oils that are widely used to give cleaning products and air fresheners their pleasant, fruity scent. The scientists found that terpenes mix with ozone in the air to create formaldehyde.

Brian Sansoni, a spokesman for the Soap and Detergent Association in Washington, said common sense is key to the safe handling of household cleansers. Properly ventilating a room while cleaning it and using cleaners sparingly are effective strategies for those concerned about their exposure to chemicals, he said.

"It's important to note that these products are used safely and effectively by [people] ... every single day in their homes, in their offices, in their schools and in health care settings," Sansoni said. "And what can't be lost is the fact that proper use of cleaning products and disinfectants is critical to improve public health and disease prevention."

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