Monday, May 11, 2009

Ten Key ways to read labels and avoid toxic products

Want to rid all toxic chemicals out of your house? It starts by looking at yourself. You make most of the decisions in the buying of products, so you must look at yourself first.  Think to yourself these 10 questions before you buy anything.
1. If the label includes the notice: "Poison," "Warning," or Danger" stop right there and avoid it all together. Some products say "Caution"  without necessarily being toxic. Usually is a product sold in powder form and could irritate eyes. Use your own caution when buying these.

2.Are all ingredients listed clearly on the label along with a statement that notes that full ingredient disclosure has been made, or are only acutely hazardous or active ingredients listed? Look for complete listings and avoid products that offer only a partial listing. 

3. All ingredients listed by name or are they hidden under broad categories like "surfactant," "dispersal agents," "inert ingredient, " etc? Don't buy a product that lists its ingredients by category. Choose alternatives that have all their ingredients clearly listed by name.

4. Does the product label provide you with information concerning the source of each of its ingredients in order to help you assess its safely? Look for products whose labels help explain these origins and provide the most complete information. Avoid products that are content to simply offer a chemical or ingredient name with no further explanation. If a company doesn't want to tell you where an ingredient comes from, there's probably a reason why.

5. Are there any ingredients listed on the label that appear to be synthetic in nature? Its worth decoding chemical names on product labels because they can provide important hints about toxicity. While the system isn't completely fool-proof, the presence of any of the following indicate a product that likely should be avoided.
*The presence of "chlor" in any part of any chemical name indicates a chlorinated chemical.
*Any ingredient ending in "-ene" like benene, toulene, or xylene indicates the likely presence of a petroleum-based solvent. Note that sometimes these chemicals  are another identifier.
*Petroleum distillates or naphthas.
*Any ingredient with "glycol" as part of its name, indicating a petroleum-based polyol or ether.
*Any ingredient with "phenol" as part of its name, especially at the end, indicating the use of toxic coal tar derivatives.

6. If a product says that it is biodegradable, what length of time is being refered to? If it isn't "readily biodegradable" then it may take several lifetimes to break down, which effectively makes its toxicity semi-permanent.

7.  Is there information of the label that says the product is either "combustible" or  "flammable," or is there a warning statement that says the product should not be stored in temperatures above 120 degree's? Such warnings usually indicate the presence of hazardous solvents, which typically account for the vast majority of the flammability hazards represented by cleaning products. 

8.  Is there a warning statement that says the product should not be used around flame or open fires?This is another clue to the presence of hazardous solvents.

9.  Are there any precautionary statements on the level that warn of possible air quality dangers, such as a warning that the product needs to be used in a well ventilated room, that users should avoid breathing product vapors, or that the product can cause respiratory irritation and should be avoided by people with asthma, respiratory illnesses, emphysema, etc? Avoid these products that have these or other similar statements.

10. Is there a precautionary statement on this label warning that the product can cause skin irritation? Avoid any products that have such a statement. 

If you cannot find the answers to these questions on cleaning product labels, you may be able to obtain them from the manufacturers. Most companies offer a toll-free phone number consumers can use to contact them and ask such questions directly. In addiction, some manufacturers will send you a Materials Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for their product if you require one. 

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