4.

the health impact of household cleaning products on children and babies

Despite your best intentions to provide a clean living environment for your family, certain cleaning agents have been linked with causing chronic illnesses and adverse side effects in children and babies. From minor headaches and skin irritation, to long term respiratory ailments, allergies, liver damage, kidney ailments and impaired brain function, the toxic chemicals and noxious fumes created by the regular use of chemical cleaning agents can have dire health ramifications on young children and new-born babies.

For example, studies have shown that the occupational and home use of conventional cleaning products is associated with an increased risk of asthma; the most common chronic disease among school-aged children. Fortunately, certified green cleaning products are prohibited from containing asthmagens (the toxic chemicals which cause asthma) and are also subject to strict regulations regarding the various chemicals, which have been shown to exacerbate existing respiratory conditions.

In addition to containing asthmagens, chemical cleaning agents also release volatile organic compounds (VOCs); the primary component of smog that can trigger asthma attacks. In fact, according to a US study which surveyed 9-10 years old for six months across twelve different Southern Californian communities, respiratory-related school absences increased by 83% in areas where daytime ozone levels increased by 20 parts per billion. Given that chemical cleaning products have been shown to release 32 tons of ozone-forming VOCs into the air in Southern California each day, the researchers behind this US study concluded that the use of chemical cleaning agents resulted in permanently scarred lungs and long term diminished lung capacity among school-aged children.

In recent years, a series of independent studies have also highlighted the dangers of anti-bacterial cleaning agents on the immune systems of children and babies. This 'hygiene hypothesis' theorises that the use of anti-bacterial agents on a regular basis limits children's exposure to germs; causing their immune systems to fail to generate sufficient antibodies against harmful bacteria and germs. Consequently, growing up in an environment abound with anti-bacterial cleaning agents can cause your children's immune systems to become hypersensitive and overreact to otherwise harmless allergens such as pollen, dust mites and animal dander; thereby instigating lifelong allergies and immune system disorders.

However, what is potentially even more threatening are the unknown health disorders that these chemical cleaning agents could be having upon our children's long term health. As Kenneth Bock, MD, paediatric neuro-toxicologist and co-director of the Rhinebeck Health Centre in Rhinebeck, N.Y. warns:

"What's surprising to so many parents is that we don't have good safety testing for a lot of the chemicals we use every day...We don't really know what they might be doing to our kids...To be cautious, many parents try to reduce their use of household cleaners that contain harsh chemicals.”

Combine these studies with figures from NI Direct who warn that "every week around 500 children under five are taken to hospital due to suspected poisoning" and it is paramount that you implement green cleaning practices to protect your children.

Simple changes, such as swapping your existing anti-bacterial soap and cleaning agents for gentler plant-based soap varieties, natural remedies and water-based solutions, can have far-reaching health benefits. Diluting any existing chemical cleaning agents with water will reduce the potency of their noxious fumes. In this same manner, always sufficiently ventilating your home before, during and after cleaning and carrying out your cleaning tasks when your children are not in the room, will safeguard them against prolonged exposure to harmful toxins.

Before purchasing a cleaning product, you should check that it is free from the following chemicals that are highly dangerous for children and babies:
  • Lead, chromium, selenium and other heavy metals which have been linked with neurodevelopment damage and cancer in children.
  • Butoxyethanol, which is a widely-used chemical cleaning agent that can cause anaemia, damage to the reproductive system and has carcinogenic properties.
  • Phthalates that are regularly incorporated within household cleaning products due to their fragrant properties. Dibutyl phthalate is a common chemical component of window cleaners and floor polishes. Not only can these phthalates increase infant asthma and allergy susceptibility, but they have also been linked with hormone disruption and reproductive system abnormalities in adults.
  • Triclosan, which is an antibacterial agent found in liquid hand soap that can disrupt thyroid function and the
  • hormone production.
  • Preservatives such as methylisothiazolinone, which are used in household cleaning products as well as cosmetic brands such as baby wipes and makeup. These preservatives have been shown to cause painful skin allergies such as eczema and acute contact dermatitis.

Thankfully, green cleaning supplies are free from all of these harmful chemical agents due to the fact that they must meet strict criteria relating to their inhalation toxicity, absorption through the skin, combustibility and corrosiveness to skin or eyes in order to be classed as 'green'.

As such, you can dramatically improve your children's long term health by switching to these green cleaning practices. When purchasing child-friendly cleaning supplies, make sure that they have been classed as 'non-toxic', 'petroleum-free', 'phosphate-free', 'VOC-free' and 'solvent-free'. You can verify the eco-friendly and health benefits of various green cleaning supplies by checking their manufacturer's credentials via third party websites such as Approved Food and Green Seal. By adopting these practices, you can achieve peace of mind that your household cleaning products will not adversely impact your children's physical and mental development.

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