New Report Links Disinfecting Chemicals with Chronic Disease:
Overuse of Disinfectants Could be Harmful
MISSOULA, Mont.– A new report released today links disinfectant chemicals with chronic illnesses and conditions such as asthma, hormone imbalance, and immune system problems. The report, “Disinfectant Overkill: How Too Clean May Be Hazardous to Our Health,” was released by the national environmental health group Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE), and cites more than 40 peer-reviewed reports and scientific studies that illustrate the health impacts of chemicals found in household disinfectants.
WVE assessed the potential health hazards of five classes of antimicrobial chemicals, and expressed concern about the prevalent overuse of products containing these chemicals by consumers. Chemicals reviewed in the report include chlorine bleach, ammonia, Triclosan and Triclocarban, ammonium quarternary compounds, and nano-silver.
According to the report, studies have found Triclosan and Triclocarban, chemicals commonly used in antibacterial soap, in the bodies of nearly 75 percent of people tested. Studies show the two chemicals may have hormone-disrupting effects, which means they change the activity of hormones in the body. For example, Triclocarban appears to amplify testosterone in the body, while Triclosan has been shown to interfere with communication between cells in the brain and the heart.
Antimicrobial products are effective at killing germs, but WVE is concerned by research that links the harsh chemicals in these cleaners to serious health problems. “Just as you wouldn’t use a sledgehammer to kill a fly, we’re advocating for people to use disinfecting products only when the situation calls for them,” says WVE Executive Director Erin Switalski. “Consumers need to know that the harsh chemicals found in disinfectants are simply too strong for everyday use all over the house.”
Disinfectants are a growing sector of business for cleaning product manufacturers. The industry has seen significant growth in recent years, and analysts project that the global disinfectant market will reach $2.5 billion by 2012.
“Companies are working hard to convince consumers, and especially moms, that they need to regularly disinfect every surface in their homes to protect their families from illness. But that’s simply not true and it may not be healthy,” says WVE staff scientist and report author Alexandra Scranton. “We’re not saying you should never disinfect your home, but we’re encouraging consumers to go back to basics for cleaning, with less of a focus on disinfection and more on non-toxic cleaners and a little elbow grease.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vaccination and frequent hand washing with hot water and regular soap are the best ways to prevent infection and illness.
“Antimicrobial chemicals available in the home today were initially developed for hospital and clinical settings, but for the vast majority of people, the home does not need to be as sterile as an operating room,” Says Susan Luck, RN, director of the Integrative Nursing Institute.
The overuse of antimicrobial chemicals has also been linked to the creation of drug-resistant bacteria, or “superbugs,” which are bacteria and viruses that have become resistant to the antimicrobial compounds and antibiotic drugs developed to control them.
“Even when used as directed, these chemicals inadvertently end up polluting our bodies and our environment,” says Ann Blake, PhD, University of California Berkeley Extension Instructor. The report cites a study that found that microbes in lake water adapted and became resistant to some ammonium quaternary compounds, a family of chemicals commonly found in disinfectant sprays and toilet cleaners.
The report contains information on how to reduce usage of disinfecting products as well as suggestions for non-toxic cleaning alternatives. It also provides an index of cleaning products that contain the disinfecting chemicals of concern. The report can be found atwww.womenandenvironment.org.
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Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE) is a national organization that engages women to advocate for the right to live in a healthy environment. WVE seeks to reduce and ultimately eliminate environmental pollutants that cause health problems for women, their families and communities. To this end, WVE creates opportunities for women to influence environmental decision-making. For more information, visit