Hazards found in household cleaners

Hazards found in household cleaners

Common products have chemicals linked to fertility disorders in lab tests, nonprofit reports.

Jane Kay / San Francisco Chronicle

SAN FRANCISCO — Dozens of common household cleaning products contain hidden toxic chemicals linked to fertility disorders in lab animals, according to data gathered by a women’s research group.

A type of glycol ether is frequently found in popular cleaning products such as Windex Aerosol, Formula 409, Lemon Fresh Pine-Sol and Simple Green All Purpose Cleaner, says the report released this week by Women’s Voices for the Earth, a Montana-based nonprofit working to eliminate or reduce toxic chemicals in the home.

The chemical, called ethylene glycol butyl ether or EGBE, is on California’s list of toxic air contaminants. Some animal studies indicate that it produces reproductive problems, such as testicular damage, reduced fertility, death of embryos and birth defects. People exposed to high levels of EGBE for several hours have reported nose and eye irritation, headaches, vomiting and a metallic taste in their mouths, studies show.

It’s difficult for consumers to know whether their favorite cleaner contains the chemical because manufacturers aren’t required to list it on the label. Neither the state nor the federal government regulates indoor air pollution, for instance how the cleaners might degrade air inside a home.

“These are products that women are using in their households on a daily basis, and they use them around their children,” said Alexandra Gorman, the group’s director of science and research and an author of the report.

The group wants to help people become aware of chemicals they might want to avoid

The women’s research group poured through federally mandated Material Safety Data Sheets pertaining to household cleaning products. The data sheets, which are prepared by the manufacturers and are widely available online, contain information on the chemicals used in products.

The group found that EGBE, also known as 2-butoxethanol. was a common ingredient. It’s colorless, biodegradable degreasing chemical with a fruity odor. The researchers found about 50 products containing varied amounts of the chemical. Some manufacturers, like Sunshine Makers, Inc., which makes the Simple Green brand, didn’t report how much of the chemical is used in its products. Sunshine Makers, based in Huntington Beach, California, advertises its Simple Green brand as nontoxic and environmentally friendly. In its response to the research group’s study, the company said it didn’t detail all the chemicals in its products to “protect its formula from piracy.”

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