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Laundry: A Toxic Venture

laundry productsWe like to think of ourselves as clean and fresh-smelling.  But at what price?  Although suspect for several years, the gentle aromas wafting from our laundry appliances are giving us more than we asked for—pollution.  Venting the dryer outside contributes to the air many of the same chemicals emanating from vehicle and industrial exhausts, but better-smelling.  If the dryer is vented indoors into a bucket of water for lack of a suitable alternative, the effect is concentrated to a much smaller environment.  Although dozens of potentially harmful compounds have been identified in laundry fragrances, from soap to dryer sheets, none, by law, needs to be listed on the product label.  We don’t know what we’re getting for our money, but you can bet it’s more than we bargained for.

The emissions from a dryer are not regulated or monitored.  “If they’re coming out of a smokestack or tailpipe, they’re regulated…” says the lead author of a study performed at the University of Washington.  Reporting in the 2011 online edition of Air Quality, Atmosphere and Health, Anne Steinemann, an environmental engineering professor at the university, found more than two dozen volatile organic compounds emitted through laundry vents.  Of these, seven are named as hazardous air pollutants, two of which are known carcinogens described by the EPA.  Acetaldehyde and benzene enjoy zero safe exposure level.  “These products can affect not only personal health, but also public and environmental health.  The chemicals can go into the air, down the drain and into water bodies,” Steinemann added.   To get a clearer picture of the problem, the aldehydes emitted by using a particular, though unnamed, brand of detergent represents three percent of that emitted by automobiles in the study area (King County, WA).  If combined, the top five brands of laundry products would account for six percent of vehicular aldehyde emissions.  (Steinemann. 2011)

Let’s start with the aldehydes and benzenes.  Acetaldehyde occurs naturally in coffee, breads and ripe fruits, and arises from normal plant metabolism.  It’s produced by the oxidation of alcohol, and is blamed for hangovers.  The liver converts ethanol to acetaldehyde through enzymatic activity.  Occurring also in tobacco smoke, acetaldehyde enhances the addictive effect of nicotine.  It is a probable carcinogen in humans.  (U.S. EPA. 1994)

Benzene is an important industrial solvent, once used as an additive to gasoline to increase octane ratings and to eliminate knocking, but still used to manufacture plastics and synthetic rubber, and, occasionally, some drugs.  Its carcinogenic property is well-established.  It can be formed wherever incomplete combustion of a carbon-rich substance occurs, as in forest fires and volcanoes, and in vehicle exhausts.  Its use in the United States is now limited, although it is making a minimal comeback since tetraethyl lead has been eliminated from vehicular fuel.   (Federal Register. 2006)

Although they can make your clothes soft and cuddly, fabric softeners are some of the most toxic substances around.  Because there are limited alternatives to these handy chemicals, few people are willing to give them up, and even fewer are likely to relate health problems with their use.  If you say they’re made from natural ingredients, remember that arsenic is all natural.  The chemicals in softeners in particular are designed to stay on the clothes for a while, and are absorbed through the skin as well as inhaled.  Because the dryer sheets are heated, they emit their chemicals into the vented air, either outside, inside, or both.  The chemicals that create the softening effect are strong smelling and pungent, so need to be masked with fragrances that are chemically just as bad.

What are some other noxious / toxic ingredients in laundry and other household products and their after effects?  Benzyl acetate in softeners causes pancreatic disease.  Camphor and ethanol affect the central nervous system.  Ethyl acetate affects the kidneys and skin.  Limonene is a sensitizer that is not to be inhaled, although we do anyway, but not on purpose.  The list goes on.  More than ninety-five percent are made from petrochemicals, and may present as neurological maladies, allergic reactions, birth defects, and cancer, not to mention sinusitis and asthma.

What to do?  Look for detergents that have no scent.  If they can’t be found in the supermarket, try a health food store or look online.  There are at least two multi-level marketing firms that offer them; one starts with an “S” and the other with an “A.”  To soften clothes, add a quarter cup of baking soda to the wash water.  The same amount of white vinegar can prevent static cling and still soften fabric…and won’t smell like a salad.

Those aromatic thingies you plug into an outlet?  Chuck ‘em.  Got petroleum-based candles that hide the mackerel miasma?  Dump ‘em.  Find out what’s in your underarm deodorant / anti-perspirants, the furniture polish, the toilet bowl cleaner, shampoo, and even toothpaste.  What makes your trousers wrinkle-free and stain-free, or your baby’s clothes fireproof, or the new sofa stain-resistant?  Nobody would have thought that “April Fresh,” “Ocean Mist,” and “Orange Honey” could be so dangerous.  We might be able to answer a few questions if we keep track of who gets sick and the materials to which they are exposed.  Manufacturers are not required to list ingredients in fragrances, so consumers are at the mercy of the establishment.

References

Anne C. Steinemann, Lisa G. Gallagher, Amy L. Davis and Ian C. MacGregor
Chemical emissions from residential dryer vents during use of fragranced laundry products
Air Quality, Atmosphere & Health   DOI: 10.1007/s11869-011-0156-1Online First™
http://www.springerlink.com/content/a520ttu523333552/

University of Washington (2008, July 24).
Toxic Chemicals Found In Common Scented Laundry Products, Air Fresheners.
ScienceDaily.
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080723134438.htm

CHEMICAL SUMMARY FOR ACETALDEHYDE
OFFICE OF POLLUTION PREVENTION AND TOXICS
U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
August 1994
http://www.epa.gov/chemfact/s_acetal.txt

“Control of Hazardous Air Pollutants From Mobile Sources”.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2006-03-29. p. 15853. Retrieved 2008-06-27.
http://www.epa.gov/EPA-AIR/2006/March/Day-29/a2315b.htm

International Agency for Rescarch on Cancer, World Health Organization. (1988).
Alcohol drinking.
Lyon: World Health Organization, International Agency for Research on Cancer. ISBN 92-832-1244-4. p3

Aberle NS 2nd, Burd L, Zhao BH, Ren J.
Acetaldehyde-induced cardiac contractile dysfunction may be alleviated by vitamin B1 but not by vitamins B6 or B12.
Alcohol Alcohol. 2004 Sep-Oct;39(5):450-4.

Heisterberg MV, Menné T, Andersen KE, Avnstorp C, Kristensen B, Kristensen O, Kaaber K, Laurberg G, Henrik Nielsen N, Sommerlund M, Thormann J, Veien NK, Vissing S, Johansen JD.
Deodorants are the leading cause of allergic contact dermatitis to fragrance ingredients.
Contact Dermatitis. 2011 May;64(5):258-64.

Jacob SE, Castanedo-Tardan MP.
Alternatives for fragrance-allergic children.
Pediatr Ann. 2008 Feb;37(2):102-3.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.

Solvents In The Home And Workplace

kitchen-cleanersThere are too many things we take for granted.  When it comes to health, if it doesn’t hurt, we don’t pay attention to it.  This is the case with the solvents we use around the house, including the apparently harmless cleaners and the more aggressive degreasers and thinners.  The solvents used at the workplace are considerably more powerful.  In general, quite a few of the products we use at home fit the definition of toxic.

The term solvent refers to liquid (usually organic) chemicals used to dissolve solids.  Some, like turpentine and the citrus solvents, are naturally derived.  Others are made from petroleum or other synthetic sources.  None is “safe,” although there are degrees of “un-safeness.”   (CDC. 2010)  Skin contact and inhalation are both means of entry into the body, and may be categorized by duration as long or short, and by intensity as low or high.  Acute effects occur after short-term exposure; chronic effects after a longer period of time.  Health consequences may be subclinical, meaning that symptoms are not yet manifest.

Some solvents—this includes pesticides—are fat-soluble and allow metabolites access to the central and peripheral nervous systems (CNS and PNS).  While narcosis (stupor) may be reversible, demyelination and cell death often are not.  Researchers in France looked at the relation between Parkinson’s disease and exposure to pesticides in a population whose exposure to these chemicals is prevalent (exterminators), and found that relation to be positive, especially for organochlorine insecticides.  (Elbaz. 2009)  Prior studies on the epidemiology of Parkinson’s by the same team came to a similar conclusion.  (Elbaz. 2008)

All solvents can dissolve the skin’s protective barrier of oils, causing the skin to dry and chap and leading to some form of dermatitis.  Some of the natural ones, like turpentine, may cause allergic reactions.  Some cause no overt damage but penetrate the skin, enter the bloodstream, and damage other organs, particularly the liver.  (Nachman. 2002)  Most of us connect toxicity to physical contact, never thinking that the vapors alone can cause damage, but scientists in Messina, Italy found depletion of reduced glutathione, decreased antioxidant activity, and oxidative damage in subjects exposed to the vapors of organic solvents.  (Costa. 2006)  All studies agree that early detection of toxicity is important to resolution.

The effects of solvent exposure upon the eyes and respiratory tract are realized quickly if concentrations are high enough, but workers are commonly unaware of a solvent’s effects at low concentrations.  Often the only indication of exposure is an increased frequency of colds and respiratory infections.  Over time, chronic bronchitis may develop.   However, the instigating factor(s) may be out of mind and the relationship is never made.  The ubiquity of certain solvents, especially formaldehyde, takes a toll on unsuspecting consumers.  (Schenker. 1996)   Wall finishes, carpeting, cabinetry, plywood, insulation, timber paneling, and even some shampoos, lotions, baby wipes, and body washes may contain formaldehyde.  Some manufacturers will use unfamiliar synonyms to mask the presence of this proven carcinogen.  Formalin, methanol, urea, methylaldehyde, and formic aldehyde are but a few.  Tightness in the chest, breathing difficulty, unexplained rash, and swelling of the mouth and tongue are the more-common signs of exposure to formaldehyde.  Changes in heart rate are not uncommon with over-exposure to any organic solvent, with “over-exposure” being the key modifier, however subjective that may be.  (Morrowa.  1995)

An area lacking in study is reproductive health, but the little research already done points to solvents’ culpability.   Small studies indicate that subjection to solvents that are particular to specific industries may induce decline in sperm motility.  The painting and sheet metal trades and others that use naphtha, methyl ethyl ketone, xylene, toluene and the like are most likely to experience detrimental reproductive consequences.  (Lemasters.  1999)   Although tests in females are not nearly so definitive, infertility, spontaneous abortion, and reproductive cancers have been reported in some studies after chemical exposures.  The ambiguity of testing in females may be due to multiple confounders that include poor methodology and small sample size.  (Sharara. 1998)

Alternatives to harmful solvents are available, but, because they might demand more physical labor, are not the most popular items on the shelf.  Baking soda can kill foul odors.  Vinegar in water or cream of tartar in water can clean aluminum.  Borax cleans the bathroom, and bleach + water will remove mildew from grout.  TSP and water can clean almost anything.  Dismissing solvents is not only a matter of “going green,” but also a matter of personal and family health.  Thinking that your hobby is great fun, you might be surprised to hear that exposure to the solvents used in building models and in artwork during the year preceding childbirth has been associated with elevated risk of childhood leukemia.  (Freedman.  2001)

References

CDC, 2010
Workplace Safety & Health Topics
ORGANIC SOLVENTS
Page last updated:July 20,2010
http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/organsolv/

Elbaz A, Clavel J, Rathouz PJ, Moisan F, Galanaud JP, Delemotte B, Alpérovitch A, Tzourio C.
Professional exposure to pesticides and Parkinson disease.
Ann Neurol. 2009 Oct;66(4):494-504.

Elbaz A, Moisan F.
Update in the epidemiology of Parkinson’s disease.
Curr Opin Neurol. 2008 Aug;21(4):454-60.

Nachman Brautbar, John Williams II
Industrial solvents and liver toxicity: Risk assessment, risk factors and mechanisms
International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health. Vol 205, Iss 6, 2002, Pp 479-491

Chiara Costa, Rita De Pasquale, Virginia Silvari, Mario Barbaro, Stefania Catania
In vitro evaluation of oxidative damage from organic solvent vapours on human skin
Toxicology in Vitro  Volume 20, Issue 3, April 2006, Pages 324-331

M.B. Schenker , J.A. Jacobs
Respiratory effects of organic solvent exposure
Tubercle and Lung Disease. Volume 77, Issue 1, February 1996, Pages 4-18

Lisa A. Morrowa, , Stuart R. Steinhauerb
Alterations in heart rate and pupillary response in persons with organic solvent exposure
Biological Psychiatry.  Volume 37, Issue 10, 15 May 1995, Pages 721-730

Grace Kawas Lemasters, Donna M Olsen, James H Yiin, James E Lockey, Rakesh Shukla, et al
Male reproductive effects of solvent and fuel exposure during aircraft maintenance
Reproductive Toxicology.  Volume 13, Issue 3, May-June 1999, Pages 155-166

Fady I Sharara M.D., David B Seifer M.D., Jodi A Flaws Ph.D.
Environmental toxicants and female reproduction
Fertility and Sterility.  Volume 70, Issue 4, October 1998, Pages 613-622

D M Freedman, P Stewart, R A Kleinerman, S Wacholder, E E Hatch, R E Tarone, L L Robison, and M S Linet
Household solvent exposures and childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia
Am J Public Health. 2001 April; 91(4): 564–567.

Seaton A, Jellinek EH, Kennedy P.
Major neurological disease and occupational exposure to organic solvents.
Q J Med. 1992 Sep;84(305):707-12.

Ng TP, Lim LC, Win KK.
An investigation of solvent-induced neuro-psychiatric disorders in spray painters.
Ann Acad Med Singapore. 1992 Nov;21(6):797-803.

Y. Lolin
Chronic Neurological Toxicity Associated with Exposure to Volatile Substances
Hum Exp Toxicol July 1989 vol. 8 no. 4 293-300

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.

Exposure To Motor Lubricants & Solvents

car-engineMuscle car plus motor head does not equal muscle head, although it could. The first pair evokes positive images for those who remember Holley carburetors, dual exhausts, Hurst shifters and four on the floor (gears, that is). The muscle cars of the 60’s were exciting to drive and fun to work on. That was an era when there was enough room in the engine compartment to swing a socket wrench. Of course, without air conditioning there was plenty of space to climb inside and yank a Champion or two. Considering that engine oil is to a car what blood is to the human body, you can bet that oil changes were dutifully timed events. Unlike blood, oil has changed over the years. Modern engine oils have viscosity-index improvers, antioxidants, dispersants, corrosion and foam inhibitors, and anti-wear agents that were absent half a century ago. Also some oil formulations vary from state to state. In the past, wearing oil and grease on hands and clothes was a badge of honor, an announcement that proclaimed mastery over a demanding technology. Today, protective gloves need to be the order of the day.

Mechanics and other auto workers who are exposed to used crankcase oil have experienced skin rashes, blood effects similar to anemia, headaches and tremors. Along with used oil, they are exposed to other chemicals/toxins common to the auto industry, including fluids, metal particles and fumes. Used oil may contain chemical constituents that result from the internal combustion process, such as the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) associated with benzene and related suspect carcinogenic compounds. Systemic effects of exposure to used oils and automotive fluids may include elevated blood pressure, aberrant red blood cell values (caused by lead exposure), stress to the liver (as indicated by irregularities in enzyme markers), and skin rashes (Clausen and Rastogi, 1977). In mechanics who work with new cars, interior cabin materials present no less a threat to health. Exposures to high concentrations of the aliphatic hydrocarbons that render the appealing “new car smell” are found to accumulate in the body (Yoshida, Jan 2010 and Aug 2010).

What’s the big deal?

There is more than one route to internal toxicity. You can swallow almost anything, inhale too many other things, and absorb more than a handful of the remaining damaging substances available to the environment. Compounds that contain only hydrogen and carbon are called hydrocarbons. The number of atoms of either element can change to make a different substance, one of the simplest being CH4, known as methane. During the refining of petroleum, one kind of hydrocarbon can be converted to another, giving us gasoline, naphtha, kerosene, lubricating oils and more. Adding chlorine to the C-H backbone reduces flammability and increases stability, resulting in chlorinated hydrocarbon solvents that can be used to clean, degrease and thin almost anything. At high temperatures that vary according to the compound, they give off seriously toxic gases and can enter the body through the skin.

Most foreign substances are unable to penetrate skin, the outer layer of which is an effective barrier to most inorganic particles. But damage to the stratum corneum, whether by abrasion, exposure to U-V light, or by chemical insult, can allow penetration. Lubricating oils, some waxes, and greases can induce primary irritations and photosensitivity to skin. The severity depends on the nature of the oil, the integrity of the skin, the frequency and length of contact, and individual susceptibility. Certain size molecules of chlorinated and simpler hydrocarbons, and of those with a greater number of carbon atoms than hydrogens, are more apt to enter skin than others (Riihimaki and Pfaffli, 1978) (Babu et al, 2004).

Among the riskier materials are automotive and industrial solvents made with trichloroethylene or tetrachloroethylene, known to penetrate the skin and suspected of being carcinogenic. Up to the 1970’s, trichloroethylene was used directly on humans as a general anesthetic and as a wound disinfectant. Believe it or not, it was also used as a flavoring agent for coffee. This nonsense was halted in 1977. Today it’s being used as a degreaser, as a cleaner for textiles, as an additive to inks and paints, and as an ingredient in PVC (the polyvinyl chloride in plastic plumbing). At least it won’t catch fire. Strangely, the metabolites of trichloroethylene are identical to those that follow the chlorination of municipal water supplies, namely chloral, chloral hydrate, monochloroacetic acid, and di- and trichloroacetic acids (Simon, 2005).

Tetrachloroethylene is also known as perchloroethylene, most commonly used in dry cleaning.  Exposure, either respiratory or dermal, may cause depression of the CNS, liver and kidney damage, impaired memory and headaches (DHHS, 1991). Like trichloroethylene, it is non-flammable and stable. Earlier in its history it was used in commercial refrigerants and auto air conditioners. But it’s an excellent solvent for organic materials such as the greases and lubricants used in the automotive industry…and it dissolves fats from skin, resulting in skin irritation.

Does It Hurt?

Once in the body, either through the skin or the nose, these hydrocarbons attack the cell membrane and the proteins that prevent entry of toxic compounds. A bodyguard enzyme called ATP-ase directs cell traffic by letting food and energy in, and by escorting wastes and toxins to the door. Another of its jobs is to control the balance of sodium and potassium. Sodium tells a cell to contract so you can pick up a tool, and potassium tells it to relax so you can put it down again. Chlorinated solvents, though, attack the fats from which the membrane is made and cause it to lose its shape and to resemble a half deflated basketball. Now, it can’t do its job and you get tired quickly and your thinking becomes foggy. Once ATP-ase gets dissolved by chlorinated hydrocarbons, any work that requires muscle power becomes more and more difficult. There are no alternatives to crankcase oil, but there are optional solvents and degreasers. Read the labels, wear gloves, and protect your eyes. No matter how thick-skinned we think we are, we really aren’t.

References

Armstrong SR, Green LC.
Chlorinated hydrocarbon solvents.
Clin Occup Environ Med. 2004 Aug;4(3):481-96


Babu RJ, Chatterjee A, Ahaghotu E, Singh M.
Percutaneous absorption and skin irritation upon low-level prolonged dermal exposure to nonane, dodecane and tetradecane in hairless rats.
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Clausen J, Rastogi S.
Heavy metal pollution among autoworkers:I Lead.
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Mutagenic activity and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon levels in urine of humans exposed to therapeutic coal tar. Carcinogenesis. 1986; 7:819-823.


DHHS 1991.  (NIOSH) Publication Number 97-155
Control of Exposure to Perchloroethylene in Commercial Dry Cleaning
http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/hazardcontrol/hc17.html


Duprat P, Gradiski D.
Percutaneous toxicity of hexachlorobutadiene.
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Edelfors S, Ravn-Jonsen A.
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Francis J. Koschier
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Monteiro-Riviere NA, Inman AO, Riviere JE.
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Naskali L, Oksanen H, Tähti H.
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Riihimäki V, Pfäffli P.
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Skou JC, Esmann M.
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Suzanne E. Simon
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Vaalavirta L, Tähti H.
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Yoshida T.
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Yoshida T.
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*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.