Whole Living Daily

Household Cleaners Linked to Breast Cancer

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It's time to swap out the chemical cleaners for some good, old-fashioned ones.

Look, I hate alarmist stuff as much as anyone (maybe even a little more). But when I read news like this, I can't help but freak out just a little.

Foodconsumer.com reported on a new study published in the journal of Environmental Health that found that exposure to household cleaning products and air fresheners may increase risk of breast cancer. According to the study, women who often used household cleaning products were 110 percent more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than those who used them least often. Those who use air fresheners were 90 percent more likely to develop the disease.

I know. Scary stuff.

Why? Environmental Health reports that these products contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals and mammary gland carcinogens.

What the Study Said
This population-based, case-control study looked at 787 women from Cape Cod, MA, who were diagnosed with breast cancer between 1988 and 1995, and 721 women who were not (the controls). Telephone interviews were conducted to find out about participants' product use and established and suspected breast cancer risk factors. And researchers concluded that cleaning product use contributes to increased breast cancer risk.

Critics of the study say that the data is not reliable because it was self-reported (via survey). WebMD, in citing the study, also mentions that the self-report model is not "proof" of anything -- not only because most of us can't even remember what we ate for lunch yesterday, but also because the extent to which we believe certain chemicals will cause cancer might change how we report our use of it (which the study also considers).

OK, fine--but honestly, are those odds you want to fool around with? Not me.

Foodconsumer.com cites a 2004 study done by the Environmental Working Group in which cleaning supplies were found to release 32 tons of contaminants into the air each day in California alone.

They also cite some of the cancer-causing chemicals detected in cleaning products: acetaldehyde, benzene, 2-butoxyethanol, 1-chloro-2,3-epoxypropance, chloroform, dibutyl phthalate, ethylbenzene, formaldehyde, N-ethyl-N-nitro-ethanamine, quartz, styrene, and trichloroethylene.

The Great Irony of Household Cleaners

What I don't get is why we store these dangerous, toxic chemicals out of reach of children, as the bottle instructs, only to use that very same product on surfaces (counters, tables, floors, sinks) that we all, not just children, come into regular contact with? Just doesn't make sense. Why should we introduce chemicals where we don't have to?

I watched recently as my niece dragged a piece of bread along the freshly-sprayed counter, and popped it in her mouth. My sister is now using vinegar to clean and disinfect those surfaces. (For more on what vinegar can do, check out our One Whole Minute video on this very topic.)

What to Do Now

Find a way to properly dispose of that toxic stuff (check out earth911 for ways to get rid of it) and go back to basics: vinegar, baking soda, lemon, a mild eco-friendly soap, maybe some washing soda or borax for the tougher jobs, says Annie Bond, homekeeping expert, Whole Living contributor and regular guest on my Sirius XM show "Whole Living."

In fact, I think this is such an important issue that I've asked Annie to join Whole Living Daily, and she has agreed! So stay tuned for green cleaning insights, tips, and tricks from the Green Cleaning Queen herself, very soon.

So don't freak out. This one study isn't the final word on anything--but it should call into question what we buy and use...and why.

Terri Trespicio is senior features editor at Whole Living magazine and the host of "Whole Living" on Martha Stewart Living Radio, which airs every day at 10a East / 7a West on Sirius 112 / XM 157. Follow her on twitter @TerriT.

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Comments (3)

  • Absolutely vital post. Terri. This is great. I'll re-tweet to my readers!

  • Terri, thanks for this. I think there is still such a disconnect for women between (any kind of products really containing) chemicals and breast cancer. There are so many alternative products out there that get the house clean and are not hazardous to one's health. Retweeted and shared on FB.
    Anna Getty

  • Thank you for posting this! I switched to baking soda, vinegar and lemon, plus a bit of Dr. Bronners when I was trying to get pregnant and I'm so glad I did... it feels better, smells better and it cleans better too!! :)

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