95 Percent of American Mothers Believe Household Cleaning Products can be Toxic

Home may be where the heart is, but these days it's also where the toxins are. According to The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the average American home generates over 20 pounds of household hazardous waste every year. Cumulatively it's a whopping 1.6 million tons -- that's 3.2 billion pounds -- of household hazardous waste per year, of which 176,000 tons is just from cleaning products. Those familiar, everyday cleaners, including tub, tile, shower and toilet cleaner; drain and oven cleaner; wood and metal polishes, laundry bleach and many more, are designated by the EPA as household hazardous waste and improper disposal "...can pollute the environment and pose a threat to human health." (1)

But are moms -- who make most family purchases and still do most of the housecleaning -- aware of the safety concerns about common household cleaners? Do they believe that their families' health may be at risk? Shaklee Corp, the #1 natural nutrition company in the U.S. and maker of "Get Clean(R)" -- home cleaning products that offer natural, non-toxic and biodegradable cleaning choices -- enlisted Harris Interactive in January 2008 to conduct a telephone survey of 1,108 moms across the U.S. with children under the age of 18 living in their households, about home cleaners and safety. Citing poll results revealing misconceptions, contradictions and the need for more education, Shaklee urges Americans to look at what's under their own sinks. "Many people seeking cleaner, greener lifestyles consider the impact of climate change, but very few think about the chemicals we are exposing ourselves to every day in our own homes," says Roger Barnett, Shaklee Chairman and CEO.

Following are some key poll results and some expert implications:

A study in contradictions: Almost all moms -- 95% -- agreed that household cleaning products can be toxic; 88% agreed that home cleaning products can be harmful to their health and their families' health; and 61% agreed that the fumes from cleaning products bothered them. However, two-thirds of moms (70%) also agreed that home cleaning products are safe to use around their family, and only 49% agreed that their children may be exposed to household toxins. "Moms already know household cleaners can be hazardous if swallowed or spilled directly on your skin," said Jane Houlihan, VP for Research at Environmental Working Group in Washington, D.C. "But most don't make the connection that when these products are used as directed on floors, sinks and tubs, their families are exposed 24 hours a day."

Acute Asthma Awareness: 81% of the respondents agreed that household cleaning products may trigger asthma in children and adults, reflecting high awareness of the suspected link between chemicals and what many call an epidemic. "Unfortunately asthma has become a common serious disease of childhood," says John Spengler, Akira Yamaguchi Professor of Environmental Health and Human Habitation, Department of Environmental Health at Harvard University. "When reviewing the rapid increases of asthma rates in America, it is critical to recognize the link between pollution and human health, including chemical and biological pollutants in indoor environments." In 1998, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that asthma increased 75% from 1980-1994(2) and in 2007, the EPA reported that an average of one out of every 13 school-age children suffers from asthma.(3)

Murky on Indoor vs. Outdoor Air Pollution: Only a little more than one-third (38%) of respondents agreed that the air inside their homes is more toxic than the air outside their homes, despite the proven fact. A five-year study by the EPA found that the organic pollutants inside the typical American home are two-to-five times higher than the air outdoors, caused by pollutants from common household products, including cleaners such as solvents, wood preservatives, aerosol sprays, cleansers and disinfectants, air fresheners and more. According to the EPA, health effects of organic pollutants include eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, loss of coordination, nausea, liver, kidney and central nervous system damage. The fumes given off by carpet cleaners can cause cancer and liver damage.(4) Additionally, many cleaning agents yield high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including glycol ethers, which are regulated toxic air containments, and terpenes that can react with ozone to form secondary pollutants including formaldehyde and ultra-fine particles.(5)

Kidding Themselves about the Kids: Only half (49%) are concerned about their children coming in contact with the chemicals they use to clean their floors, and only about one-third (35%) believe that some rashes on their children's skin are reactions to chemicals in the products they use. Only a small fraction of the more than 80,000 registered chemicals have been tested for human health concerns.(6) "We are conducting a vast toxicologic experiment in our society, in which our children and our children's children are the experimental subjects," says Dr. Herbert L. Needleman, University of Pittsburgh pediatrician and co-author with Philip Landrigan, MD MSc, Ethel H. Wise Professor of Pediatrics -- Chair of Community and Preventative Medicine, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and Healthy Child Healthy World Board of Directors Member, of Raising Children Toxic Free: How to Keep Your Child Safe from Lead, Asbestos, Pesticides, and Other Environmental Hazards.

Seeking a Safe Clean: "94% of moms said they would stop using their favorite cleaning product if they found out it may be harmful to their families' health," notes Barnett. "To become educated, go to the National Institute of Health Household Products Database to search by chemical, find out which brands contain it, and uncover its links to health effects."


  1. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Household Hazardous Waste. Feb. 2007
  2. Centers For Disease Control. Surveillance for Asthma, United States, 1960-1995, MMWR. 1998; 47 (SS-1)
  3. Indoor Environments Division, comp. Asthma Facts. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. May 2008
  4. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Inside Story: a Guide to Indoor Air Quality. Cosponsored with the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Feb. 2007
  5. Singer, B.C., et al (2006). Cleaning products and air fresheners: emissions and resulting concentrations of glycol ethers and terpenoids. Indoor Air, 16(3), 179-191.
  6. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, New Chemicals Program; Landrigan, P.J., et al, (2006). The national children's study: a 21- year prospective study of 100,000 American children. Pediatrics, 118(5), 2173-2186.

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