The next time you reach for a cleaning spray, you may want to consider the hidden dangers lurking in that colorful bottle. While most of us believe that “green” or eco-friendly cleaning products are a safer bet for our health and the environment, a new study conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) calls for a closer look.
The study scrutinizes the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted by a range of cleaning products—both conventional and “green”—to assess their potential risks.
Volatile Organic Compounds: Not Just in Conventional Cleaning Products
The EWG study examined 28 cleaning products and 2 air fresheners, detecting a staggering 530 VOCs. While the number of VOCs and their concentrations were generally lower in “green” products, they weren’t entirely absent.
To put this in perspective, VOCs are organic chemicals that have a high vapor pressure at room temperature. They can be emitted from various sources like cleaning supplies, pesticides, and even some office equipment.
Exposure to VOCs has been linked to respiratory issues, neurotoxicity, reproductive harm, and even cancer.
Now, while it’s reassuring that “green” cleaning products were found to emit fewer VOCs compared to conventional cleaning products, it’s unsettling to know that they aren’t completely devoid of these harmful substances.
The Fragrance Factor
Another aspect of the study that merits attention is the role of fragrances. According to the EWG’s findings, fragrance-free products—whether “green” or not—showed significantly lower numbers and concentrations of VOCs.
Fragrances are complex chemical mixtures, and their composition is usually proprietary. In other words, you don’t really know what you’re getting when you opt for that “Ocean Breeze” or “Meadow Fresh” scent. So, choosing a fragrance-free cleaner might be more than just an aesthetic choice; it could also be a healthier one.
Risk Assessment With the Hazard Index
EWG employed a “hazard index” to measure the relative risk from VOC emissions. Not surprisingly, conventional cleaning products ranked highest in this index. These products had emissions of harmful chemicals like 2-butoxyethanol, isopropanol, toluene, and chloroform.
By understanding the metrics of hazard indices, consumers can make more informed decisions. Sure, the pleasant smell of a cleaning product may lure you in, but being aware of the potential risks can change your perspective.
What the study essentially highlights is that while “green” cleaning products may be a step in the right direction, we still have a long way to go.
The Bigger Picture: Regulatory Gaps and the Need for Transparency
While the EWG study provides a snapshot of the cleaning products’ emissions of VOCs, it also underscores the gaps in regulation and labeling practices. Current regulatory frameworks in the
U.S. allow for a significant amount of ambiguity when it comes to labeling a product as “green” or “eco-friendly.”
What’s more alarming is that of the 530 unique VOCs identified in the study, 193 were listed as hazardous according to California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control Candidate Chemicals List or the European Chemical Agency’s Classification and Labeling Inventory.
Given these findings, it’s clear that consumers must be vigilant and demand more transparency. Brands that genuinely care about consumer safety and environmental sustainability should be more open about their ingredients and the possible effects of their products.
Informed Choices for a Healthier Tomorrow
While “green” cleaning products are indeed a healthier alternative to conventional cleaners, they are not entirely risk-free.
However, you can make smarter choices by opting for fragrance-free products and staying informed about the ingredients in your cleaning supplies.
With this awareness, you’re not only taking steps to protect yourself and your family but also contributing to a larger conversation about responsible consumerism and the need for transparency in the marketplace.