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Common Cleaning Products May Increase Your Risk of Lung Disease

Skillful advertising and colorful containers tempt consumers to purchase cleaning supplies that are filled with toxic chemicals and hazardous materials. Research from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) into more than 2,000 cleaning products1 reveals the complete lack of oversight by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) exposing you and your family to hazardous chemicals.

Manufacturers in the U.S. may use almost any ingredient they want in their products until enough consumer complaints and subsequent research links the product to dangerous health effects. Only then might the FDA add one more chemical to a short list of banned chemicals. However, manufacturers have over 100,000 chemicals from which to choose for their products. Less than 10 percent have been tested for human safety.

By comparison, the European Commission operates on a precautionary principle aimed at prevention, approving chemicals for consumer products only after they have been proven to be safe.2

Household cleaning supplies are one of several products that may increase your exposure to toxins. In the pursuit of cleanliness and sparkling chrome, you may inadvertently increase exposure to indoor air pollution, inhalation risks and contact absorption. In 2000, cleaning products were at the root of nearly 10 percent of toxic exposures reported to the U.S. American Association of Poison Control Centers.3

Cleaning products are not required to publish a list of ingredients on the bottle, even if they trigger skin rashes, asthma or are linked to cancer.4 Even on company websites, the information about a product line may be vague and incomplete. However, while many ingredients are not disclosed, it is difficult to mask the scent of chlorine bleach, now linked through scientific evidence to an increased risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).5

Chronic Lung Diseases Have a Significant Impact on Your Quality of Life

COPD is a medical term covering progressive lung conditions such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis, nonreversible asthma and some forms of bronchiectasis.6 Each of these diseases is characterized by an increasing difficulty with breathing, or "catching your breath." Breathlessness and coughing are not normal symptoms of aging, but are rather symptoms of a progressive disease that may ultimately claim your life.

Individuals who suffer from diseases that fall under the umbrella term of COPD may experience frequent wheezing, coughing, chest tightness and increasing breathlessness. Diseases that fall under the umbrella term of COPD touch the lives of nearly 30 million people in the U.S., many of whom are unaware they are affected. According to the COPD Foundation, these conditions may be triggered by smoking, secondhand smoke, fumes and chemicals.7

COPD affects nearly 1.2 million people in the U.K., 25,000 of whom die each year.8 It affects nearly 1 in 7 Australians over 40 years old and is the fifth most common cause of death in Australia.9 The two main diagnoses that fall under COPD are chronic bronchitis and emphysema. In the U.S., these account for half of the total number of people who suffer from COPD.10

Jan Karlbon from Mesa, Arizona, shared with COPD News Today how she lives each day, explaining that simple acts of getting dressed (putting on a T-shirt and jeans) in the morning may take her 30 minutes and leave her physically exhausted.11 She describes it "like somebody put duct tape over your mouth and your nose, and just cut a little hole and you're breathing through a straw."

The recent study evaluated risks associated with working with cleaning products. Although previous studies have linked exposure to these products with respiratory conditions, Orianne Dumas, Ph.D., from the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) and lead author of the new study, believes:12

"The potential adverse effects of exposure to disinfectants on COPD have received much less attention, although two recent studies in European populations showed that working as a cleaner was associated with a higher risk of COPD. To the best of our knowledge, we are the first to report a link between disinfectants and COPD among health care workers, and to investigate specific chemicals that may underlie this association."

Research Links Bleach and Quats With Lung Damage

In this study, researchers followed over 55,000 nurses who initially did not have a diagnosis of COPD, over a period of eight years.13 During that time nearly 665 nurses were subsequently diagnosed with COPD. An analysis of the participants led the researchers to conclude the nurses who used disinfectants at least once a week had a 24 to 32 percent higher risk of developing COPD than those who used disinfectants less frequently.

Even after the researchers controlled for age, weight, smoking and physical activity the link between the frequent use of cleaning products and COPD in nurses remained. Dumas commented on the necessity for further evaluation and careful consideration for the occupational hazards experienced by health care workers, saying:14

"Our findings provide further evidence of the effects of exposure to disinfectants on respiratory problems, and highlight the urgency of integrating occupational health considerations into guidelines for cleaning and disinfection in health care settings such as hospitals."

Further analysis of the particular products being used, through questionnaire and a matrix that assigned categories based on the type of task the nurse reported, found an association between specific chemicals and an increase in COPD. These chemicals were:

• Bleach

• Hydrogen peroxide

• Alcohol

• Quaternary ammonium compounds, also known as "quats" used for low-level disinfection of floors and furniture

However, while concerning for the many nurses who work in hospitals around the world, these chemicals are also frequently found in products used to clean your house. Dumas commented:15

"Some of these disinfectants, such as bleach and quats, are frequently used in ordinary households, and the potential impact of domestic use of disinfectants on COPD development is unknown. Earlier studies have found a link between asthma and exposure to cleaning products and disinfectants at home, such as bleach and sprays, so it is important to investigate this further."