Household chemicals

Choose natural alternatives to reduce your cancer risks and protect the environment

Many products used at home, such as soaps and detergents, are meant to be washed down the drain. But other products commonly found on kitchen shelves are toxic to people and the environment, and many are, when used improperly, are carcinogenic – meaning chemicals in them have been linked to cancer.

Oven cleaners, floor wax, furniture polish, drain cleaners and spot removers are examples.

Check the labels of products such as these for the following toxic components: lye, phenols, petroleum distillates, trichlorobenzene.

Products containing these chemicals pose a potential threat to health, if improperly used, and also present real environmental hazards when it comes to disposal.

For example, some people think the periodic use of a toxic drain cleaner will prevent clogging when simply pouring a kettle of boiling water down the drain can be just as effective.

If a drain is plugged, try using a plunger and put some muscle into it before resorting to strong chemicals.

Another remedy for a clogged drain is to pour 1/2 cup of baking soda into the drain first, then slowly pour in 1/2 cup of white vinegar; let it stand for 15 minutes, then flush it with boiling water.

It’s often possible to use an alternative, less toxic method to clean or to polish. Ovens, for example, can be cleaned by applying table salt to spills, then scrubbing with a solution of baking soda and water.

A combination of lemon oil and linseed oil makes a good furniture polish.

When you feel it’s absolutely necessary to use a product containing toxic chemicals, some cautions should be observed.

As with pesticides, read the label and use the product only as directed.

Some products become even more dangerous when mixed with others; for example, chlorine bleach mixed with ammonia can produce deadly chloraminehing and rubber gloves may be necessary; good ventilation is a must.

Some of the products found in American homes have chemical ingredients that are potentially harmful.

Look under the kitchen sink, in the bathroom and in the garage for examples. There you’ll find oven cleaners, paint remover, bug killers, solvents, drain cleaners and more. These products are potentially harmful to people and to the environment and should be used with care.

Public concern about the use and disposal of hazardous chemicals has grown dramatically in recent years.

In 1976, Congress passed the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which set up regulatory procedures governing generation, storage, transport, treatment and disposal of hazardous materials.

There is, however, no regulation of household hazardous wastes, which must be taken care of by individuals.

One of the most-used home cleaning products is detergent. Many detergent products formulated for automatic washing machines and dishwashers contain phosphorous, which causes water quality problems in lakes and rivers.

The detergent industry has responded to this problem by developing products that contain little or no phosphate.

For example, all liquid detergents are phosphorous-free, as are some powders.

Again, the label will clearly tell you the phosphorous content. The range is from about 13 percent, in some automatic dishwashing detergents, to none.

When you have a choice, buy the low phosphorous product.

Among the most toxic household products are those used for home repair and maintenance.

Paints, preservatives, strippers, brush cleaners and solvents contain a wide range of chemicals, some of which are suspected carcinogens (cancer-causing). These products should never be put into sewer or septic systems – in other words, not down the drain. To reduce these problems, buy only what you need.

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