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Laundry Detergent & Toxicity: What You Need to Know

Guest Post by: Tru Earth 

We spend a lot of time washing and drying our clothes – as much as 6,000+ minutes and 406 loads per yearAnd if you’ve visited grocery store recently, you’ve probably noticed an entire aisle filled from top to bottom with laundry detergentwhich has become a staple for cleaning and freshening clothes in nearly every household (in America). But be weary of the toxicity found in many leading brands of laundry detergent. They often contain chemicals that have been linked to various health issues, ranging from skin and throat irritation to carcinogenicity, anthat can negatively impact the environment. 

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ChemicalsWhich Ones You Need to Know About

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First: fragrances. Products with added scents and fragrances give pleasure to billions of people around the world every single day – from a fresh-smelling shampoo to a scented candle and freshly-laundered sheetsThey are also great for making products seem more effective and healthier to consume. Here’s what manufacturers don’t want you to know: smelling good can come at a cost for your health. 

Key Facts: 

  1. Fragrances have been classified as allergens, hormone disruptors, and neurotoxins. They commonly contain phthalates, which are chemicals that help scents last longer but have been linked to cancerreproductive harm, and respiratory toxicity.
  2. Fragrance chemicals, like other toxic chemicals, can pass from the skin and into the bloodstream.
  3. So called “natural fragrances” can be just as toxic as synthetic fragrances.
  4. Fragrances do not make products healthier or more effective; this is a perception encouraged by companies that sell cleaning products, deodorants, shampooscandles, and/or laundry detergents.
  5. According to The Guardian, “About 4,000 chemicals are currently used to scent products, but you won’t find any of them listed on a label. Fragrance formulations are considered a ‘trade secret’ and therefore protected from disclosure – even to regulators or manufacturers. Instead, one word, fragrance, appears on ingredients lists for countless cosmetics, personal care and cleaning products. A single scent may contain anywhere from 50 to 300 distinct chemicals.” What’s more, the ingredients found in personal care and cleaning products can change as manufacturers reformulate for effectiveness or cost savings. 

The bottom line: it doesn’t matter if a bottle has “free” or “clear” written in big letters to draw you in; “free of dyes and perfumes” on the label doesn’t mean “free of carcinogens.” Consumers are often left in the dark about what’s really inside of the products they are using and putting on their skin every single day.

Though many hidden chemicals are labeled as “fragrance” or “perfume”/”parfum”, there are at least a handful of ingredients that have received public safety warnings: 

  • 1,4-dioxane is a contaminant that may be found in trace amounts of cosmetics or household cleaners. It forms as a byproduct during the manufacturing process of certain ingredients (detergents, foaming agents, emulsifiers and solvents) and has been identified as a “potential human carcinogen”. The FDA has been monitoring the includion of 1,4-dioxane in personal care and household products. The levels have notably dropped over the past several decades; still, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that, “People are exposed to [trace amounts of] 1,4-dioxane every day because of its widespread use in medicines, shampoo, cosmetics, detergents, and household items.” 
     
  • Alcohol Ethoxylate (AE) and Alcohol Ethoxy Sulfate (AES) are often used in hand dishwashing liquids, laundry detergents, shampoos and other specialty industrial applications. They essentially help mix water and grease to lift and remove stains from your clothing. However, research shows that these chemicals are toxic to aquatic organisms and rats, and may cause skin or eye irritations in humans.
     
  • Ethanol is a natural byproduct of plant fermentation often used as a preservative in personal care products or as a solvent in detergents. (But you probably know it best as the principle ingredient in alcoholic beverages like beer, wine or brandy.) While this chemical has many purposes and potential benefits, it can be hazardous if not used correctly. For example, direct contact can irritate the skin and eyes, cause headaches, nausea, or difficulty concentrating. Studies also indicate that ethanol may make your skin more absorbent. In other words, if you’re using a detergent that – no pun intended – a laundry list of hidden chemicals, including ethanol, those chemicals are more likely to enter your body through your skin.
     
  • Nonylphenol Ethoxylates (NPEs) are endocrine-disrupting chemicals that have been linked to hormonal and reproductive effects, as well as cancer. Commonly used in household products, cleansers, cosmetics, and insecticides, the abundance of these chemicals has led to a global environmental and human contamination. In fact, they have been detected in human breast milk, blood, and urine. They are also highly toxic to aquatic life and are associated with reproductive and developmental effects in rodents. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing a Significant New Use Rule, also known as a SNUR, under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) for (15) NPs/NPEs in the effort to protect human health and the environment.
     
  • Polyethylene Glycol (PEG) is a polymer that allows water to penetrate clothes more deeply and prevents dirt from re-depositing on clothes. The major concern with this solvent is that it may produce byproducts that are contaminated with ethylene oxide and/or 1,4-dioxane, which are “likely to be carcinogenic to humans” according to the EPASome studies show that PEG can also irritate the skin or have species-specific effects.
     
  • Sodium Percarbonate, also known as washing soda or soda ash, is a moderately strong oxidizer and a major component of laundry and dishwashing detergents. It’s typically used as a bleaching agent – so it gets your whites white. But what else is it doing to you? Note that sodium percarbonate is classified as a poisonous agent.  If swallowed, a person may experience symptoms including (but not limited to):  
      • Breathing problems due to throat swelling 
      • Diarrhea 
      • Drooling 
      • Eye irritation, redness, and pain 
      • Hoarseness 
      • Low blood pressure (may develop rapidly) 
      • Severe pain in the mouth, throat, chest, or abdominal area 
      • Shock 
      • Difficulty swallowing 
      • Vomiting 

           Even if it’s not ingested (Pod challenge, anyone?), skin or eye contact with sodium percarbonate can still cause: skin or eye irritation, drainage, pain, or vision loss.

Look, it’s fair to say that some chemicals truly work wonders when it comes to washing and drying clothes. But these ingredients can have serious consequences on the environment  which directly impacts the health of more than 7 billion people and over 11 million species of animals, plants, insects and bacteria: 

  • Amine Oxides are commonly used in detergents and household cleaners (with bleach)and like most cationic chemicals, they are highly aquatically toxic. There have been concerns regarding the formation of nitrosamines during the manufacture of amine oxide because nitrosamines are toxic compounds as well as potent animal and human carcinogens. The U.S. EPA has classified some of these compounds as priority pollutants in industrial wastewaters, potable waters, and hazardous wastes (Science Direct).
  • Alcohol Ethoxylates (AE) are high production volume (HPV) chemicals used widely as ‘down-the-drain’ chemicals in detergent and personal care products. Basically, when your washing machine empties into the drain system, it goes through municipal wastewater treatment plants (WWTP) and then into receiving surface waters like lakes and streamsThe good news is that 95-99% of AE is biodegraded by WWTP; the bad news is that there are still residuals that make it through the water treatment facilities and pose a level of toxicity to plants, animals and aquatic life
     
  • Ammonium Sulfate is often used in cleaning products because of its ability to disrupt hydrogen bonding in water and separate different contaminants. Note that this additive is so toxic (category 3 oral, skin, and respiratory toxin) that its manufacturers recommend not using it indoors! Additionally, the requirements for use of ammonium sulfate include never allowing the chemical or its empty containers to reach drains or waterways.
     
  • Phosphates are a little more complicated. Your body needs these essential minerals to help your kidneys, bones, and muscles function properly. But like with any essential nutrient, it’s all about balance. People have become overexposed to what’s called “synthetic phosphates”, which can easily bond with other substances such as salt, calcium, oil and vitamins. These additives are not only found in our food, they are also in these synthetic forms: 
      • Orthophosphates: detergents 
      • Pyrophosphates: water treatment, metal cleaning 
      • Tripolyphosphates: meat processing, dish detergent 
      • Polyphosphates: kaolin (a type of clay) production 

Like our bodies, the environment doesn’t respond well to an oversaturation of (synthetic and natural) phosphates. Unfortunately, many sources of phosphates, including laundry detergent, often drain into lakes and accelerate eutrophication, the process in which aquatic environments become overloaded with nutrients, leading to the development excess algae that ultimately kills wildlife and emits carbon dioxide.

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Plastic Waste and High Carbon Footprint are Big Concerns Too

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Laundry detergent alone accounted for over $1 Billion in sales in 2018 in the U.S., but only 29.1% of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles and jars are recycled annuallyThat means a staggering number of laundry jugs are sitting in landfills, where they’ll stay forever because PET plastic bottles do not degrade. 

It’s also worth noting that non-concentrated liquid laundry detergent is 60-90% water. So, in addition to all the plastic jugs filling up landfills, a LOT of energy goes into the manufacturing, filling, transporting, storing and selling of heavy detergent bottles (that are primarily composed of water). 

Simply put: purchasing standard grocery-store laundry detergent can have many implications on human health and the environment. 

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How You Can Help

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To reduce the environmental impact of doing laundry, and proactively preserve your family’s health, follow these eco-friendly laundry tips: 

  1. Switch to natural detergents and stain removers. Natural products are typically plant-based, biodegradable surfactants that do NOT contain fragrances, dyes, optical brighteners, or chlorine bleachIt can be hard to spot the bad actors, just bdiligent about reading the fine print on packaging when shopping!
  2. Consider making your own laundry productsThe only real way to know what’s going into your laundry is to create your own formulas. The good news is that your pantry is probably stocked with a lot of ingredients that are naturally safe for the environment – such as vinegar, lemon juice, hydrogen peroxide, and baking soda. (You can also use essential oils to add that fresh scent you love!)
  3. Rethink dryer sheets and fabric softeners. For the most part, these are made with the same chemicals as popular detergents and can be harmful for both human health and the environment. Instead, opt for eco-friendly dryer sheets or dryer balls. Specifically, consider using wool dryer balls because they effectively separate clothes, allowing hot air to circulate more evenly and efficiently, which then reduces drying time by 10-25%.
  4. Keep it cool. Almost 90% of a wash machine’s energy consumption is used just to heat the water. The solution: Turn that dial to cold.
  5. Wash full loads. If you run your washing machine or dryer with only half a load of clothes or dishes, you’re not maximizing efficiency. (Same thing goes for when you clean dishes in your dishwasher!) According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a typical household can save 3,400 gallons of water a year by running full laundry loads instead of half loads. This is not only eco-friendly but will also help you save BIG on your utility bills.
  6. Use energy-efficient machines. If you’re in the market for a new washer and/or dryer, consider getting a more efficient model to help save water and energy.
  7. Hang clothes to dry. The bottom line is that keeping your clothes out of a dryer extends their life, reduces energy use, and cuts costs. Line drying – whether indoors or outdoors – is something that you can do year-round. 

No matter whether doing laundry feels like a chore, or it brings you a sense of happiness, it’s important that you understand what your body is being exposed to, and how your actions can directly impact the environment. Be sure to read the labels of everything you buy carefully and understand what the ingredients are so that you can make informed decisions for you and your family, as well as the planet. 

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Why Non-Toxic Products Are So Important For Growth and Development

Written by: Megan Whitaker, Holistic Living Consultant and Environmental Health Expert

Kids need their own space. They also need a lot of stuff. No matter how minimalistic a parent may be, their children are going to require a sizeable list of non-negotiable purchases such as car seats and crib mattresses. But all that gear could be dangerous. In fact, it could be toxic. This guide will show you how to avoid chemical-filled products for kids of all ages. And it will explain why non-toxic children’s products are so important.

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Everyday Chemicals

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Here are a few quick tips for eliminating toxins from the air in your home:

  • Look for chairs, couches and rugs that have not been treated with flame retardants. Wool is naturally flame retardant and is a 100% toxin-free, safe solution all around. 
  • Add plants such as succulents and snake plants to your living space, as these can clean many of the VOCs and toxins from the air while increasing the oxygen available.
  • If your home has older carpeting that cannot be removed, you can still seal it with non-toxic and VOC-free sealer. This helps prevent the outgassing of harmful chemicals used in carpet backing, such as as formaldehyde, toluene, benzene, xylene and styrene. This is an effective and very economical way of making existing carpet safer for kids.
  • Upgrade the air filters in your home at your air exchange and consider investing in a free-standing air filter. Your filter’s Micro-Particle Performance Rating (MPR) should be between 1,500 and 1,900. For air filtration units, look for true HEPA filters and avoid ionizing air filters that produce ozone.

Before a child is even born, they begin absorbing chemicals from the world around them. In a 2004 study, 10 random umbilical cord blood samples from American newborns were tested by the Environmental Working Group, and more than 200 man-made chemicals were found in each newborn (Scientific American).  The research from this study indicates that infants are absorbing hundreds of chemicals while they still in the womb. Unfortunately, that is not too surprising, seeing how there are currently more than 80,000 industrial chemicals registered for use today in America. More than 60,000 of those chemicals were notably never evaluated for safety because they were introduced before 1972 and were grandfathered in — that is, just assumed to be safe since they were currently in use.  Only a small percent of the remaining chemicals have been tested for human safety on anyone, let alone on growing children. The chemicals in everything from furniture, toys, cleaners, beauty products and even clothing have likely not been tested.

Currently, manufactures are required to let the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) know before they begin making and selling a new chemical. But once that happens, it is up to the EPA to move forward with any testing, which is often time consuming and expensive. That is a major problem since the EPA must move to block or review any new compound or chemicals within 90 days of notification. If they do not do so within those 3 months, the chemical will automatically be passed, and manufactures may proceed.  The manufactures themselves are not responsible for testing or providing data on the safety of their chemicals unless it the EPA believes it poses some danger after it is already in use (NY Times). 

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Kids Are at an Even Greater Risk

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During development in utero, toxins and everyday chemicals can cause a host of immediate health effects and problems. Damage to a cell or to the DNA itself (when cells are rapidly replicating and differentiating into tissue and organs) can lead to serious issues and, sometimes, miscarriage. Fully grown adult have cell division, but not growth and change like infants and children. Damage to the body in childhood can lead to lifelong alterations in DNA and epigenetic changes that cause illness later in life. Many chemicals, such as BPA, are estrogenic-mimickers; the body reacts to them as if they were the hormone estrogen. High levels of estrogen or estrogen-mimicking chemicals in childhood is linked to numerous health issues including increased rates of breast cancer, testicular cancer and prostate cancer. For many years BPA was used in many baby products, including baby bottles.

Children and infants also more susceptible to everyday environmental chemicals because of their unique anatomy. They breath faster than adults, therefore taking in more air and pollutants.  They also eat and drink more in relation to their body weight than adults. The same chemical exposure can have significantly different effects on a 200 pound man versus a 20 pound toddler. 

Children are also, simply, just closer to the ground. Carpets and other types of flooring are often major sources of chemicals and pollutants. Chemical off-gassing from carpets is often one the most significant sources of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) from carpet fiber and adhesives as well as VOCs from other areas that have fallen and settled to the floor.

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The Very First Thing That Happens After Birth is a Baby’s First Breath

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Indoor air pollution is a serious issue, but a fairly easy one to fix. The EPA conducted a study in 1985 showing indoor air quality was 2 to 5 times more polluted than outdoor air, regardless of where the homes were located. That was 30+ years ago (and the most recent one available through the EPA). As stated previously, carpets are a major source of toxic air pollution, or VOC’s. But all standard furniture, especially soft furnishing like couches, chairs and pillows, are often producers of VOCs.

At first glance, flame-retardants seem essential for new parents since they are designed to help slow or prevent the start/growth of fire. However, many studies have shown that these chemicals are actually linked to a number of health conditions, including but not limited to: cancer, reduced IQ, and hyperactivity (NRDC). California has now outlawed many of these chemicals on couches and children’s clothing due to these dangers.

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Easy Air Fixes

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Here’s a few things to keep in mind when it comes to keeping the air in your home fresh and clean:

  • Look for chairs, couches and rugs that have not been treated with flame retardants. Wool is naturally flame retardant and is a safe solution all around.              
  • Adding plants, such as succulents and snake plants, can clean many of the VOCs and toxins from your air while increasing the oxygen.
  • Old carpeting that cannot be removed can be sealed. It is an effective and very economical way of making existing carpet safer for kids.
  • Upgrade your air filters at your air exchange and consider a free-standing air filter. Your whole house air filter should have MPRs (Micro-Particle Performance Ratings) of 1500-1900. For air filtration units, look for true HEPA filters and avoid ionizing air filters that can produce ozone.
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Getting Safe and Healthy Sleep

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VOCs, chemicals and toxins do not take a break just because you’re in bed. In fact, mattresses are often made from petrochemicals and emit VOCs and chemicals vapor. They are also often treated with flame retardants. Infants sleep up to 18 hours a day with their noses just an inch from these mattresses. While preschoolers and young children spend half of their day in bed.   Several companies make organic and non-toxic mattresses for cribs, tots and adults alike. Look for organic wool or organic cotton mattresses with the following certifications:  

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Avoiding Plastic

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Plastic is everywhere. It’s cheap and easy and seems to be in every baby and kid product. Plastic is a petrochemical that is mixed with a variety of other chemicals to soften, strengthen, color and even scent the finish product. Multiple hormone disruptors, like BPA, are widely used to make plastic more pliable. PVC is another extremely common chemical in plastic products. PVC can release dioxins and highly-toxic phthalates into the air and has been linked to numerous health issues including birth defect, early onset puberty and liver cancer.  Plastic bottles, cups, utensils, toys and furniture dominate the market, but there are non-plastic options for everything from bottles and pacifiers to blocks and dolls.

Feeding Without Plastic
Pure silicone bowls and plates are a great option for little ones. Older kids might can take lunch to school with stainless steel bento boxes or tempered glass containers. Several companies make glass baby bottles. For nursing moms, you can avoid plastic with silicon hand pumps and glass storage jars. You can find non-toxic breastfeeding gear at Going Crunchy Not Crazy.

Playing Without Plastic
Remember that everything a kid needs that is made with plastic was once made with something else. Toy blocks, trucks, stackers, play kitchens, and even ride on cars are all available in wood. Many brands such as Manhattan Toy Company and Melisa and Doug offer a huge range of wooden toys, game and puzzles for all ages.

Infants
Pacifiers and teething toys are permeant fixers in the mouths of most babies. But there are plastic-free options here too. True rubber pacifiers like EcoPacifer and silicon pacifiers are great options. Wood teethers are fantastic because they are naturally slightly antibacterial. Raw wood is difficult for bacteria to continue to live on because wood pulls in moisture.

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Watch Your Tech

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Baby monitors have come a long way in the last few decades. What once was a one-way walkie-talkie is now a digital, wireless security system with built-in temperature gauge and the ability to pan across the room. But many of these monitors register quite high in electro-magnetic radiation and many use WIFI signals. There is not a lot of research on the effects of EMFs and WIFI on infants, and because wireless internet is only a few decades old there are no long-term studies. There are multiple studies that do show a direct effect, however, including one linking WIFI exposure of just one hour with reduced sperm motility. 

For parents and caregivers who care concerned or wish to be cautious, there are just a handful of options. The Gentle Nursery has a guide to low-EMF monitors

Screens and handheld devices have the same concerns. They are relatively new in the world and long-term effects are somewhat unknown, especially when they have been used since childhood. There have been some studies that show an increase in brain tumors linked to cell phone exposure, which is especially concerning with children because their skull is significantly thinner than an adult. Even for an adult, the recommendation is that a smart phone should not be pressed against the body. The instructions for an Apple iPhone state that the phone should always be kept about half an inch away from the body.

There are several companies that make shields for smart phones and hand-held devices such as Defender Shield

Children’s bodies are rapidly growing and changing. Surrounding them with the safest products and the cleanest environment possible is so important. Keeping a body health is much easier that healing a sick one. If you want help to find products, want recommendations, or need assistance cleaning up your home and environment, you can get more information on www.goingcrunchynotcrazy.com.