Green products and toxic ingredients

A report published on line this week in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives reports findings of endocrine disruptors and asthma-associated chemicals in consumer products, including some green consumer products, from US brands. The highest concentrations and numbers of ingredients of concern were in the fragranced products perfume, air fresheners, dryer sheets, and sunscreens. Some of the ingredients of concern were not reported on ingredient labels.

GallonDaily shares the authors’ view that more research on biological activity of these ingredients is needed and that more complete ingredient labelling of these products should be required by governments or demanded by consumers but we do worry about some of the extreme headlines generated by mainstream media from this EHP article. The researchers have not published their detailed findings, suggesting either that they are not confident in their research results or that they are allowing a perceived threat of litigation to cloud their scientific credibility. Not publishing product by product results means that an entire product sector is defamed when likely only a few products in that sector contain the chemicals of concern and it means that consumers have no easy ability to determine whether a product might be of concern to them. GallonDaily considers not publishing complete product by product results as pretty poor quality scientific reporting.

The authors of this paper state that “It appears that consumers can avoid some target chemicals—synthetic fragrances, BPA, and regulated active ingredients—using purchasing criteria.” That reads like the kind of advice frequently provided by governments. Here’s GallonDaily’s advice:

Consumers concerned about toxic substances in household products should consider avoiding entirely or reducing use of some of the products identified by this research.

  • Reputable green household products do not contain fragrances, a known source of certain substances having adverse health effects. Where fragrances are unavoidable, for example to mask unpleasant odours from a product ingredient, natural source fragrances are likely to pose less of a health risk than synthetic fragrances. However, all odours and fragrances are volatile organic compounds, which have an adverse impact on indoor air quality and may be contributors to respiratory problems, and are best avoided.
  • Air fresheners fall into the same category: best avoided if you are concerned about indoor air quality. Air fresheners and dryer sheets are not generally considered to be eligible for reputable green product status.
  • With the thinning of stratospheric ozone levels, caused by human activity and use of refrigerants, use of sunscreens may be unavoidable. However, screening by clothing and by shelter should be considered whenever and wherever possible, and use of sunscreen should be kept to a minimum. There are few sunscreens on the market today that would be considered green by reputable verifiers.

Selection of greener products verified by Ecologo, President’s Choice GREEN, Green Seal, or another reputable ecolabelling organization should ensure significant reduction in a household’s exposure to chemicals of concern from the product categories mentioned in this article.

The Environmental Health Perspectives article does provide detailed information on the ingredients that the authors consider to be of concern. The abstract, full report, and background data can be found at http://ehp03.niehs.nih.gov/article/fetchArticle.action?articleURI=info%3Adoi%2F10.1289%2Fehp.1104052

Disclosure: The owners of Gallondaily.com provide third-party verification services to one of the ecolabel brands mentioned in this article. All brands mentioned are trade marks of their respective owners. Trademark owners had no input into the content of this article.

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