The Big Picture
The ice caps are melting. Sea levels are rising. The Earth’s atmosphere is being choked with pollutants, the most deadly of which may prove to be the invisible and seemingly benign carbon dioxide gas. The resulting climate change is already causing widespread drought, famine and social disorder. So who cares if we use a little bleach to clean our shower?
Let’s start with this: according to the EPA, Americans spend an average of 90% of their time indoors, and EPA studies have found levels of pollutants in our indoor air to be 2-5 times higher than outdoor levels. As the Maine summer winds down and the weather cools, we’ll be closing our windows and doors, magnifying this problem. Children are especially susceptible to poor indoor air quality (IAQ) because they breathe in more air relative to their body weight.
So while the environmental challenges facing the world at large are daunting but often distant, the bleach in your shower is easily eliminated and about as close to home as an environmental problem can be. “But how do I get that stain out!” A valid question, and one we’ll be delving deeply into in the next article, Green Cleaning 101, but for now I’d suggest it’s important to more fully understand the chemicals you may be using and just how risky it is to bring them into your home.
This is not to say that household cleaning products have no effect on the environment outside. They do, in fact, have a significant impact on air, water and soil. According to the California Air Resources Board, for example, consumer products (this includes cleaning and personal care products) currently emit 12% of the smog-causing pollutants found in California. That’s 245 tons per day. No small problem.
The beauty of working on the quality of the air in your home is that once you arm yourself with some core concepts presented here, it’s relatively easy to take steps to remove chemicals from your life. It’s an environmental problem you can solve – today!
The Hygiene Hypothesis
“Kills 99.99% of all germs and bacteria!”
“Kills germs on contact!”
The past 10 years or so have seen an explosion in the prevalence of household anti-microbial products, previously used only in clinical and industrial settings. And certainly, in hospitals and in some household cases, keeping a relatively bacteria-free environment is a necessity. A growing chorus of researchers and medical professionals are raising concerns, however, about the personal and community health effects of the widespread use of anti-microbial agents in the home. There are three major reasons to reconsider their use:
- The Hygiene Hypothesis. Quickly gaining scientific traction, the idea is that highly disinfected household environments prevent children from developing strong immune systems early in life. In essence, without the challenge of bacteria exposure, the immune system gets lazy and underdeveloped. There is growing evidence that this phenomenon is largely responsible for the prevalence of certain auto-immune disorders only found in developed countries, such as Asthma, Colitis and allergies.
- The most common consumer anti-bacterial agent, Triclosan, along with another class of anti-microbials containing Benzalkonium chloride (aka “BZK’s”), may be leading to strains of bacteria that are resistant both to surface disinfectants and prescription antibiotics. In other words, using these products is making bacteria resistant to them, leading to the development of resistant strains sometimes referred to as “super-bugs.” This concern is especially severe because of the limited number of effective antibiotics left in modern medicine.
- Triclosan has been found to react with water, sunlight and chemicals used in waste-water treatment to form dioxins in the environment, which end up in soil, water and fish. Dioxins are among the most highly toxic chemicals known.