Saturday, July 10, 2010

Household cleaning products are turning our rivers and oceans into a soup of dangerous chemicals

On a typical cleaning day in a typical Hong Kong home, levels of chemicals in the indoor air can be many times higher than the outdoor air in the most polluted parts of the city. Many chemicals contained in household cleaning products are the same as those used in industrial settings. Many scientists are now becoming concerned that long-term low-level exposure to chemicals may be just as dangerous as short-term high-dose exposures. They also worry that we do not understand the impact of exposure to the cocktail of chemicals found in household air and dust. Testing for human health effects is normally done on single chemicals. But in the real world, we are all exposed to a variety of chemicals every single day.

I do not use them, but i have to work in an environment where they are used routinely, and walk through indoor areas where i can often smell these products. The toilets i use in public places now discharge blue waste water because cleaning products are placed in the tank or in the bowl. Our obsession with hygiene is damaging not only the environment but our health as well.

Prior to WWII most household cleaning tasks were accomplished using relatively safe ingredients commonly found in most homes. With the proliferation of petroleum-based chemicals after the war, corporations began to manufacture ready-made cleaning products. Today, most people are accustomed to buying a wide range of products custom-designed for the many surfaces, materials and rooms in their homes. The price of these products doesn't reflect the damage they cause. Yesterday i spotted a huge bottle of bleach selling for HK$8. Certainly slapping a big tax on these products would encourage people to use less harmful alternatives, which are available but sell for a higher price.

Most cleaning chores can be easily handled without these toxic products. Everyday ingredients like baking soda, vinegar, salt, lemon juice, vegetable oil, natural soap can do the job as they did in the old days.

Someone might argue that this is the price of progress. What progress? If progress means living in a toxic environment, swimming in filthy rivers and oceans, destroying species and dying of cancer, i'd rather do without it.

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