Your favourite cleaning products 'could release cancer-causing fumes' – here's what to avoid | The Sun

Your favourite cleaning products 'could release cancer-causing fumes' – here's what to avoid | The Sun

YOUR favourite household cleaning products could release hundreds of hazardous chemicals when used, a new study warns.

Disinfectants, stain removers and air fresheners were all found to produce harmful fumes called volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Breathing in these gases can cause eye, nose and throat irritation.

It can also result in respiratory problems, nausea, damage to the nervous system and other organs, and even cancer, according to the American Lung Association (ALA).

Researchers tested 30 different cleaning products, including some marketed as eco-friendly and without fragrance.

They were categorised as all-purpose, carpet, floor, glass, and wood cleaners, as well as laundry stain removers and air fresheners.


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Some were sprays and wipes, while others were foams and powders.

Most were available from national retailers in the US, such as Walmart, Home Depot and Amazon.

But many of the ingredients lists are comparable to products sold in the UK and other countries.

Scientists at the Environmental Working Group (EWG) discovered more than 530 VOCs were present across the range.

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Of these, 193 are considered potentially dangerous to human health, according to California's Department of Toxic Substances Control or the European Chemical Agency.

They could cause health problems such as respiratory damage, increased cancer risk, developmental disruption and fertility issues, experts say.

The cleaning products with the most VOCs, which were emitted frequently and at the highest concentrations, were conventional ones.

The five with the highest hazard indices contained 2-butoxyethanol, isopropanol, toluene and chloroform.

These ingredients are most commonly found in multi-purpose surface cleaners, glass cleaners, floor strippers and degreasers, and have been linked to allergic skin reactions, drowsiness, suspected genetic defects, organ damage and cancer.

Others highlighted included: ethanol, propylene glycol ether, propylene glycol, d-limonene, propylene glycol butyl ether, 2-hexoxyethanol, acetic acid, 1-butoxy, 2,2,4-trimethyl-1,3-pentanediol diisobutyrate (TXIB), acetaldehyde, nonanal, decanal, formaldehyde, and methylene chloride.

The authors said VOCs in cleaning products affect the quality of air both indoors and outdoors, but indoor contamination is two to five times higher, with some estimates putting it as high as 10 times more.

Some products emit VOCs for days, weeks or even months, they added.


Dr Alexis Temkin, a senior toxicologist at EWG, said: "This study is a wake-up call for consumers, researchers and regulators to be more aware of the potential risks associated with the numerous chemicals entering our indoor air.

"Our findings emphasise a way to reduce exposure to hazardous VOCs – by selecting products that are 'green,' especially those that are 'green' and 'fragrance free'."

The peer-reviewed study, published in the journal Chemosphere, concluded that products labelled "green" emitted around half the VOCs, on average, compared to conventional products.

The green products categorised as "fragrance free" also produced the fewest VOC emissions – nearly eight times less than conventional and four times fewer than green products that included fragrance on their label.

Dr Temkin said that pattern also held true for the number of VOCs considered hazardous in the products.

She said: "The green products emitted just four chemicals classified as hazardous, on average, compared to about 15 in green products with fragrance and 22 for conventional products.

"This suggests that choosing green, or green and fragrance free, cleaning products could be prudent for consumers concerned about indoor air quality and potential health risks."

Research shows people working in the cleaning industry have a 50 per cent higher risk of developing asthma and a 43 per cent higher risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), while women working in this field also face an increased risk of lung cancer, the authors said.

Children's health may also be at risk as some studies have found that higher use of certain indoor cleaners during pregnancy and in infancy is associated with a greater risk of asthma and wheezing in childhood.

Samara Geller, EWG's senior director of cleaning science, said: "These cleaning products may hurt our health, but they may also harm the environment.

"The study's results carry implications not only for human health but also for environmental health.

"VOCs emitted by consumer products can contribute to outdoor air pollution, adding to existing environmental concerns.

"A study from 2018 estimated that half of the VOCs responsible for air pollution stem from consumer products."

She added: "Going green with your cleaning products is an easy way to reduce exposure to harmful chemicals.


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"This may be especially important for women's and children's health."

According to the UK Air Pollution Information System (APIS), the largest emissions of individual VOCs are of butane, toluene, pentane, propane, ethanol and 'white spirit'.

How to protect yourself from VOCs

VOLATILE organic compounds (VOCs) are a group of chemicals found in many day-to-day products.

This includes paints, varnishes, carpets, upholstery, air fresheners, cleaning sprays, cosmetics, gasoline and dry cleaning.

The health risks from inhaling any of these fumes depends on the concentration, the length of time and how often it is breathed in.

Symptoms from short-term exposure include eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, nausea, vomiting and dizziness.

Long-term exposure, over several years or a lifetime, can potentially result in liver and kidney damage, central nervous system complications and cancer.

To help protect yourself from VOCs, you should:

  • Avoid or limit your use of products with high VOCs
  • Look for 'Low VOCs' on the label
  • Use a different approach where possible
  • Only buy as much as you need
  • Always follow manufacturers' directions
  • Open windows and use a fan
  • Let new carpet or building materials air outside before installing
  • Not store VOC-containing products indoors
  • Dispose of unused chemicals stored at home
  • Perform home renovations while the house is unoccupied

Source: American Lung Association and Minnesota Department of Health

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