By Melissa Breyer
More from Care2 Green Living blog
Second only to heart disease as a leading cause of death in the United States, cancer is responsible for close to 500,000 deaths per year. Many products we use in our homes contain ingredients linked to or suspected to cause cancer, not to mention other ingredients that can cause allergies, asthma, and other health problems. Poor government regulation in the face of so many chemical ingredients is to blame, but we can take charge once we know what to look for.
Luckily, it's fairly easy to replace many of these products with nontoxic options that work well and are often quite a bit cheaper. For example, you can swap out toxic cleaning products by creating a simple nontoxic cleaning kit -- most of the ingredients you probably already have on hand.
Here is a list of some of the top offenders in terms of carcinogenic risk. Of course, these products don't necessarily lead to cancer, but why take the risk when there are safer alternatives available?
1. Air fresheners:
Sweet-smelling air often comes with napthelene and formaldehyde, both known carcinogens, as well as a host of other toxic chemicals.
For a fresh scent, start by removing the odor's source rather than trying to mask it. If something still stinks, try zeolite, baking soda, or natural fragrances from essential oils. For more information, see Easy Greening: Air Fresheners.
2. Art and craft materials:
Common art supplies may contain harmful ingredients. For a full list of specific products to avoid by brand, see the items prohibited for use in California schools by the California EPA: Art Hazards List (PDF). To guard against exposure to carcinogenic and/or highly toxic ingredients:
- Watch out for lead and other heavy metals in paints, glazes, and enamels. Use vegetable-based dyes and paints instead.
- Use water-based glues, paints, and markers and avoid hazardous solvents like rubber cement, paint thinners, and solvent-based markers.
3. Automotive supplies:
Given how unhealthy auto exhaust is, it's no surprise that the fluids we feed our cars aren't very safe either. Antifreeze and brake fluids that contain ethylene glycol are highly toxic, and windshield wiper fluid is extremely poisonous. As little as 2 tablespoons can be deadly to a child.
Similarly, used motor oil presents a serious health threat through skin contact, skin absorption, inhalation, or ingestion. The health problems are cumulative, so with each exposure to used motor oil the amount of risks to the body's system increase.
If you need to use automotive supplies, keep them locked away and dispose of remnants or containers at your local hazardous waste facility.
4. Dry cleaning:
Conventional dry cleaners use tons of chemicals, such as perchloroethylene (tetrachloroethylene), naphthalene, benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene, all of which are carcinogenic. These chemical fumes can stick around on your clothes for days.
If your garments require a trip to the cleaners, ask for the wet-cleaning option at the cleaners, and seek dry cleaners that use liquid C02 or citrus juice cleaners. For more information, see Healthy and Green Dry Cleaning.
5. Flea, tick, and lice control:
Avoid lindane-based pesticides. California considers lindane to be carcinogenic. In rare cases, lindane has caused seizures and death, even among people who used lindane according to the directions.
For a list of safer alternatives, see Natural Flea and Tick Control.
6. Paints and varnishes:
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, some volatile organic compounds (VOCs) used in paints are known human carcinogens. In addition, the VOCs in paint are released into the air and may continue to off-gas at low levels for years after application.
Always choose low- or no-VOC finishes. For more information, see Is Your Paint Making You Sick?
You know how awful mothballs smell? Consider that your body's way of telling you: Bad, bad, bad! When you smell mothballs, you are essentially inhaling insecticide. Mothballs are nearly 100 percent naphthalene, a carcinogen, or paradichlorobenzene, a toxin.
Many people use cedar to combat moths, but it is not effective against adult moths.
8. Cleaning products:
Not all cleaning products contain carcinogens, but here are the worst offenders.
Mold and mildew cleaners can be a nasty bunch, often containing formaldehyde. Try a natural approach to killing mold and mildew by using vinegar and tea tree oil.
Carpet and upholstery cleaners are designed to strip stains and dirt from heavy textiles by using noxious substances. The worst of the ingredients is perchloroethylene, a central nervous system toxicant and respiratory irritant.
Instead, try using a steam cleaner with water or a natural-based cleaner. Next time you're shopping for furniture, aim for styles that use slipcovers that can be removed and washed or water-process dry-cleaned.
Furniture polishes achieve a shine with nitrobenzene, a reproductive toxin and central nervous system toxin that can be absorbed through the skin. Look for an all-natural polish, or make your own using 1/8 cup olive oil or other vegetable oil mixed with 1 tablespoon vinegar and 1 tablespoon vodka.
- Top 10 Foods That Increase Cancer Risk
- Dangers of Microwave Popcorn
- Kitchen Plastics to Avoid
- How to Make a Nontoxic Cleaning Kit