Hazardous Substances in the Utility Room: Household Cleaning Products

What lurks in your utility room?

| May/June 1984

Under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is required to regulate substances or products that are toxic, are flammable, are corrosive, are irritating, generate pressure, are radioactive, or cause strong reactions in people prone to allergies. It also regulates toys that present electrical, mechanical, or thermal hazards to children. The CPSC's mandate also includes the authority to require labeling on products that contain such hazardous substances or which present hazards by their design.

To date, the CPSC's main concern has been with acute toxicity or other immediate hazards, so the study of chronic hazards of vapors in the household has been largely left to the Environmental Protection Agency. In the late 70's and early 80's the EPA began to study a number of different indoor pollution problems, the most prominent of them being emissions from gas appliances and heaters, kerosene heaters, and woodburning stoves. In the last two years, however, the EPA has largely abandoned work in these areas.

To make matters worse, a bill (H.R. 2668) was introduced and passed in the House in the fall of 1983 that would strip the CPSC's ability to act. The bill proposes that no CPSC rule be enforceable until it has passed the House and Senate and has been signed by the President. The Senate's reaction to this legislation bears watching.

It's not surprising, then, that the ability of regulation to protect us from the more insidious hazards of household cleaning products is quite limited. Once we tread beyond the immediate danger posed by the following substances, we've moved onto soft ground. It's our position, once again, that in the absence of knowledge, we should exercise caution.

If you'd like more information on the safety of the cleansers, detergents, and other chemicals used to care for your home, we'd suggest that you look into The Household Pollutants Guide by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (Environmental Action Foundation) and The Product Safety Book by Stephen Brobeck and Anne C. Averyt (The Consumer Federation of America, E.P. Dutton, Inc., 1983). Also, for suggestions on how to replace commercial cleansers (among other things), see Natural Formula Book for Home and Yard edited by Dan Wallace (Rodale Press, Inc., 1982).



Hydrochloric or sulfuric acid: Used to promote chemical action on organic matter.

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