Volume 13, Issue 13 ~ March 31 - April 6, 2005
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From the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Household Chemicals Are Something to Sneeze At
Which types of household products are most likely to cause chemical sensitivities?

Household products trigger chemical sensitivities in hundreds of thousands of Americans every year, yet few people make the connection between their skin rash or sneezing and the bottles and cans stored under their kitchen sink or in the broom closet.

Common reactions to everyday household cleansers and other substances include migraine headaches, asthma and sinusitis, but more serious cardiovascular, neurological and autoimmune diseases may also result from prolonged use or lack of adequate ventilation in areas where these chemicals are being applied. “Early warning signs are burning and irritation of the sinuses, nose or throat — usually not with a fever — and itching or sneezing,” says Dr. Grace Ziem, a public health physician specializing in chemical injuries.

Prevention is the key. And removing toxic compounds from your home is the strategy. You can begin under the kitchen sink by replacing traditional choices with “products your grandmother bought,” says Suzanne Olson of the Environmental Health Network. “Borax, vinegar and baking soda will clean most items around the house.” Olson uses vegetable oil to polish furniture and shuns any items with a fragrance.

“If any ingredients end in ‘ethylene’ or ‘ethane,’ it’s not a healthy product,” says Cynthia Wilson of the Chemical Injury Information Network. She recommends using scent-free and dye-free laundry products, and oxygen-based whitening additives in place of toxic bleach. Two companies that supply non-toxic laundry products as well as other green-friendly household cleaners include Seventh Generation and Earth Friendly Products. You can shop both online or in natural foods markets and some supermarkets.

Synthetic home furnishings can also trigger sensitivities. Foam, particleboard and veneers can all aggravate a variety of symptoms. And sweet dreams may elude you if you have chemical sensitivities to items in your bedroom. Most mattresses are made from artificial materials, and some beds have chemical mold inhibitors while almost all have fire retardant. To eliminate chemical sensitivities from ruining your sleep, choose a mattress manufactured from organically grown cotton. Two good sources include Lifekind Products and Heart of Vermont; both offer secure on-line ordering.

If you think some household chemicals might be bothering you, Dr. Ziem suggests keeping a log to help pinpoint the offenders. The best way to find out whether any chronic ailments you may have are caused or aggravated by household products is to take a simple inventory of the home and its contents, and replace synthetic products with natural ones wherever possible. By ridding the home of some of these culprits, you and your family are bound to breathe easier.

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