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Health Effects of Common Chemicals in the House

by Hyeong Min Kang, MBA student studying Sustainability at the University of Hawaii at Manoa

Almost all households carry hazardous and dangerous chemicals in every room. The chemicals that are usually found in cleaning products do not harm people when used as directed. If those chemicals are not used or stored in proper manner, they could threaten our family’s health and contaminants could be accumulated in your body little by little. Furthermore, there are some chemicals that could cause health problems by just using them even if people use them in proper way. However, people do not recognize how much they are paying for these health problems. A lot of chemicals emitted in your house could cause asthma. Many people use dedication for their whole life because of asthma. When we were little kids, we did not know much about asthma since it was not prevalence as it is today. However, about 235 million people worldwide have experienced this disease and caused about 250,000 deaths as of 2011, according to the World Health Organization. This paper will discuss health effects of those chemicals that are easily found in households and discuss how to use those chemicals in a way that affect your health the least.

Household cleaners

Comet Cleanser 2Comet Disinfectant Cleaner Power: I personally use this product often to scrub out stain from living room floor and tiles in restrooms in my apartment, and this works great. However, many people including myself do not consider of its health effect when they use it. I even use even more powder to make it work better. According to Environmental Working Group (pdf), this product emits 146 different chemicals such as formaldehyde, benzene, chloroform and toluene which could cause cancer, asthma and reproductive disorders.  Those chemicals mentioned above are not also listed on label so people have no idea what kinds of health impacts they are exposed to.

Simple Green Concentrated All-Purpose Cleaner: I believe most of households have at least one this type of spray cleaner. The ingredients of this product include colors, 2-butoxyethanol, tetra potassium pyrophosphate, fragrance, alcohol ethoxylates and etc. These Simple Green Cleanser 2chemicals have high concern of general systemic/organ effects, cancer, damage to DNA and skin.

How could they use the word ‘Green’ on this health hazardous product? In addition, the company does not fully disclose ingredient information and use the word ‘Green’ even though this product is not green certified. Instead, we can find words, ‘non-toxic’ and ‘biodegradable’ on its label. I believe this should be considered as green washing. More importantly, the company website instructs that users should dilute it before use the product while products manufactured in a spray bottle! Talk about purposeful ignorance of the “use” phase of a product. A cynic could very easily conclude that they’re basically just putting a warning on the label because they have to, but doing everything in their power to keep you buying more of their toxic stuff.

Volatile Organic Compound (VOC)

: VOCs are chemicals that are emitted

Volatile Organic Compounds are prevalent in the house and come from many sources.
Volatile Organic Compounds are prevalent in the house and come from many sources.

into the air from many different types of solid and liquid products that we use daily basis such as carpets, adhesives, paints, solvents, air fresheners, cosmetics, and even newspapers and cooking. These VOCs are released from the products when people use it and they are stored as well. For example, keeping leftover paint can in your garage could be releasing the VOCs all the time. One important fact to note is that people do not feel that they are being exposed to VOCs and health problems are not developed quickly.  Common short-term symptoms include eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, dizziness and worsening of asthma symptoms. Long-term effects, according to the Minnesota Department of Health, include cancer and damage to liver and kidney which can lead people death. Thus, people with asthma and elderly should avoid from being exposed to these chemicals. One way to reduce the levels of VOCs in your house is minimizing the use of VOC-contained products and looking for zero-VOC products that do the same job. When you have to use products that contain VOCs, purchase the amount that you are going to use only to minimize the amount of VOCs stored in your house.

Teflon is made from some pretty toxic stuff, and when it scratches, ends up in your food.
Teflon is made from some pretty toxic stuff, and when it scratches, ends up in your food.



: When people choose a frying pan, they take a good look if surface of the pan is coated because they do not want their food stuck on the pans. Teflon is often used for this coating process. If foods are stuck on the pans when you cook, you might think that it is about the time you need to replace the pan. However, this means there is no more Teflon on your pan because you used them all with your foods. This Teflon is toxic and can definitely cost you a lot of money and health during your life. According to a study done by American Cancer Society, Teflon is not direct cause of cancer but increases the risks of having tumors of the liver and helping cancer grow.  There is an infamous case of DuPont. DuPont had made huge money by selling frying pans that coated with Teflon for years, but ended up paying $10.25 million for fine and $6.25 million for environmental projects. Their allegations were that the company did not disclose the dangers of Teflon which they used to manufacture frying pans. One alternative of using Teflon coated frying pans could be using healthier, more eco-friendly cookware made from cast iron, ceramic, stainless steel or glass.



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