Hazardous Household Products

Information is the key to consumer self-defense when it comes to hazardous household products, including definitions, food additives, kitchenware, household products, pesticides, cosmetics and building materials.

| July/August 1986

Reprinted from MOTHER EARTH NEWS NO.87 

Information is the key to consumer self-defense when it comes to learning about and dealing with hazardous household products. 

Without chemicals, life itself would be . . . at the least, somewhat less convenient. Each day the average American uses (directly and indirectly) hundreds of laborsaving formulations, and even the conscientious consumer is likely to be coerced into pushing the buttons on a few spray cans. In the last 50 years, chemicals (that is, those of the synthetic variety) have become an integral part of the U.S. way of life—not to mention of our economy.

It would be easy to rail against the trend of hazardous household products. After all, a hundred years ago people got along pretty well without an arsenal of aerosols. What's more, the harmful effects of chemical production and the disposal of its by-products may be the most serious environmental problems facing the country today. Indeed, there are frighteningly dangerous compounds that continue to be manufactured and used, despite widespread scientific knowledge of (and complaints about) their harmful effects. And only public outcry will bring grease to the wheels of regulation in a government bogged down in bureaucracy and badgered by commercial interests.

Nonetheless, it's consumer self-defense (not action) that's the subject of this article. As you'll learn in the following pages, federal regulation is no assurance of safety from a whole array of compounds we are exposed to in our own homes. We'll be discussing substances that are much more sinister than newsworthy contaminants such as dioxins or polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), even though they're much less dangerous on a per unit basis. Most consumers are practically unaware of them, because the compounds may go unmentioned on labels or because their names are indecipherable. Some of the chemicals are additives that are known to be hazardous. Others are dyes or flavorings that have never been adequately tested. But the most insidious aspect to the proliferation of chemicals in the household is that most of us expose ourselves to these laborsaving elixirs for hours on end in our own homes every day. In effect, we live in chemical warehouses.

Hazardous Household Products - What Is Considered Hazardous?

There are a number of different and fairly obvious ways in which chemicals can harm us, but judging the degree of risk is a very difficult matter. Toxic compounds—denoted in the following list by a skull and crossbones—cause one or more of a variety of bodily malfunctions. Perhaps they depress the central nervous system, making us drowsy or even causing death. Or maybe they attack the liver, where they accumulate when they're cleaned from our blood.

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