In recent years, many savvy consumers have made the switch from commercial home cleaning products (known to contain toxic and even carcinogenic chemicals) to “green” cleaning products in the belief that so-called green products (as in good for you, your pets and the environment) are a healthier, smarter choice. But researchers investigating this belief have now uncovered a disturbing reality: While the majority of commercial home cleaning products tested contain toxic chemicals, at least a quarter of the “green” products contained toxins, including carcinogenic chemicals, as well.
The study was a part of the Lifting Up Communities by Intervening with Research (LUCIR) Study”. Scientists measured air concentrations of potentially hazardous volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds (VOCs and SVOCs, respectively) released from both traditional and green cleaning products in both a home setting and a controlled laboratory setting.
The study focused on “chemicals that might increase women’s risk of breast cancer, including possible carcinogens, reproductive/developmental toxicants, or endocrine disruptors.”
Researchers found a correlation between the use of both conventional and “green” cleaning products and higher concentrations of chemical toxins emitted into the air. Seventy-five percent of the highest VOC emissions were emitted by conventional cleaning products, but researchers also identified VOC emissions of concern from green products.
The research team found that air concentrations of certain VOCs and SVOCs, like chloroform and carbon tetrachloride, were higher in the breathing zones of participants in a home setting. In the laboratory chamber, increases in VOC emissions were also present, with the majority (75%) associated with conventional products while only 25% were associated with “green” products.
Additionally, the researchers uncovered elevated levels of some chemicals, specifically fragrance chemicals (possible endocrine disruptors), associated with use of some “green” cleaning products.
There is still no official “green” standard or legal parameters for what may or may not be contained in products sold as “green”. This leaves consumers on their own to know if the products they purchase contain toxic chemicals–including chemicals known to be carcinogenic. The statistical odds for exposure to toxic chemicals are lower for green cleaners than commercial, mainstream products. However, the best solution is to make your own cleaning products. If you are unable to do that, read the ingredients labels on the green products and avoid those that list “fragrances”.
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Journal reference: Lucia Calderon, Randy Maddalena, Marion Russell, Sharon Chen, James E S Nolan, Asa Bradman & Kim G Harley, Air concentrations of volatile organic compounds associated with conventional and “green” cleaning products in real-world and laboratory settings, Indoor Air Journal. 2022 Nov; 32(11):e13162.