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A clean house, or a clean bill of health?

Helen Palmer Jul 24, 2007
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A clean house, or a clean bill of health?

Helen Palmer Jul 24, 2007
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TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: It’s always nice to come home to a clean house, no matter where you’ve been. But a report out today suggests clean might actually be hazardous to your health. Only, there’s no way to find out for sure. From the Marketplace Health Desk at WGBH, Helen Palmer explains.


Helen Palmer: You probably haven’t heard of most of these chemicals, and they’re certainly hard to pronounce!

Alexandra Gorman: Monoethanolamine, this is a chemical known to be an inducer of occupational asthma. It’s found in lots of common laundry detergents. You also find solvents like 2-butoxythanol.

Alexandra Gorman says you find that in general surface cleaners. Gorman wrote this report — “Household Hazards”— for the environmental group “Women’s Voices for the Earth.” She says over 75 different studies link chemicals ubiquitous in cleaning products to health problems. So she asked 23 major manufacturers to list the ingredients, but got no response from most of them. Those that did reply said their formulas were trade secrets.

Procter and Gamble’s Ross Holthouse says there are several reasons they don’t list ingredients. For a start, the law doesn’t require it.

Ross Holthouse: These chemical names are fairly lengthy, and for the consumer a common chemical name can be somewhat frightening.

And there could be two or three hundred different components in any product. There’d be no space. But Holthouse says consumer safety’s their highest priority. If they hear enough public complaints, they could change their policy. Meanwhile, some say the lack of regulation here is a public danger. Richard Wiles of the Environmental Working Group:

Richard Wiles: You don’t get to know what’s in the product and there’s no government assessment of the safety of the product.

Wiles says legislation due this fall could demand that chemicals are shown to be safe before they’re put on the market.

In Boston, I’m Helen Palmer for Marketplace.

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