Sunday, December 13, 2009
How Clean is Too Clean?
As a parent, I gave up on serious cleaning a long time ago. But then I have never been blessed with a penchant for cleaning. Commercials of sparkling kitchen floors, shimmering countertops, and spotless bathrooms always fascinated and repelled me at the same time. And now, thanks to Women's Voices for the Earth (WVE), I feel better about lacking the clean gene.
WVE's new report, Disinfectant Overkill, demonstrates the dangers of overuse of antimicrobial chemicals in the home and beyond. Despite the report's contention that "old-fashioned cleaning with soap and hot water has been scientifically proven to keep most homes sanitary," many of us are on a quest for something stronger, more powerful, or more thorough to rid our homes of dirt and germs. As a result, we are welcoming products into our home that were intended for sterile hospital settings, with a great deal of risk to our own health and well-being.
More than 5,000 antimicrobial products are currently registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and many of them are classified as pesticides. However, recent efforts to "streamline" the approval process for such products may remove the more stringent warnings about these chemicals and expedite their approval for public use, allowing even greater numbers of antimicrobial products to flood the market. Of concern is that these products are not only dangerous to human health, but may be ineffective and may lead to "increasing acquired bacterial resistance" while also polluting groundwater.
A number of conditions, from asthma to skin rashes, are associated with antimicrobial chemicals. Newer studies indicate that antimicrobial agents may act as hormone and endocrine disruptors and may mimic both estrogen and testosterone in the body. These pollutants are also passed through breastmilk to babies and are stored in fat cells among women.
Of course, the cleaning industry is big business. According to WVE, "analysts project that the global disinfectant market will reach $2.5 billion by
2012." As consumers continue to demand cleaner, germ-free environments, the number of products containing antimicrobial agents will continue to grow. Estimates show that nearly 70% of all liquid soaps currently available contain antibacterial agents, despite the research indicating that they have essentially no benefit over plain, standard soaps.
Reducing our exposure to these chemicals is as simple as using or making your own natural cleaners. Simple, safe ingredients such as baking soda, castile soap, and vinegar can become your primary tools for effective home cleaning. Both HMN cookbooks, Growing Healthy Families and Many Paths, One Journey to Health include easy recipes for natural cleaners to use in your home. Gather your friends or fellow holistic parents and host a green cleaning party - it's easier and more fun than you might think!