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Smells Like Teen Asthma

“Here, use my inhaler.” We had just come out of our ballet class, and we watched as the woman who usually sits at the front desk tried to get her young teen daughter to take a puff of albuterol. The studio’s owner looked worried as she asked the woman if her daughter was sick. Did she have asthma, she asked. The woman explained that her daughter never had asthma. “But she says her chest feels tight.” Nosy person that I am, I had to say it. “Maybe it’s the fumes from the cleaning supplies.”

Our adult ballet class is the last class of the night. The woman who works the front desk cleans the studio while her daughter sits in the small, narrow lobby doing homework and eating her dinner. There had been several Halloween classes/parties on Monday, so there was lots of cleaning to be done — chocolate fingerprints, sticky doorknobs, errant cookie crumbs (some courtesy of my daughter, actually). The woman behind the desk was trying to do a good thing by cleaning so vigorously, but as research shows us, by using traditional chemicals-based cleansers she may have inadvertently made her own daughter wheeze. Heck, I was only in the lobby for a few minutes and by the time I left I was feeling lightheaded, too. (Okay, maybe my lightheadedness was also because of the spins we had done in class, but the headache was definitely about the fumes.)

A 2007 study found that even once-a-week use of spray cleaners may cause asthma in adults. “The risk of developing asthma increased with frequency of cleaning and number of different sprays used, but on average was about thirty to fifty percent higher in people regularly exposed to cleaning sprays than in others. The researchers found that cleaning sprays, especially air fresheners, furniture cleaners and glass-cleaners, had a particularly strong effect,” according to the 2007 American Thoracic Society study. Asthma is just the tip of the iceberg, though. There are so many other conditions and ailments that scientists are just starting to link to traditional household cleaners such as cancer, birth defects, and even obesity.

Earlier this fall more than 150 scientists and doctors turned out for a three-day conference sponsored by the Children’s Environmental Health Sciences Core Center, based at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. Philip J. Landrigan, M.D., the Professor of Pediatrics and Chair, Department of Preventive Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine presented an intro to children and the environment. One take-away: Chronic childhood diseases linked to toxic chemical exposure cost the U.S. more than $55 billion each year. The larger costs may still be unknown, though, since many of the chemicals in our homes have not been tested to see if they have any long-term developmental effects, said Dr. Landrigan.

That’s why I was really excited to hear about something Seventh Generation, activist Erin Brockovich, and industry group Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families is doing to help banish existing chemical legislation and bring in new tougher standards and testing. Called the “Kids Safe Chemicals Act,” it will also do one more thing: Require the companies to make the results of that stricter testing public. This means you can make a more informed decision about whether or not you want to use a specific product on the same surfaces that you cook, bathe, and sleep on. If this sounds like something you’d like to get involved in, check out the Million Baby Crawl Web site, where you can learn more about the movement and create your own virtual crawler who will descend on Washington and demand toxic chemical policy reform. You can also start reading labels; The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services maintains a database where you can browse by category, search by product name, and compare chemical contents and see the effects they might have on your home.

Have you made a switch to more environmentally- and human-friendly products? What’s your favorite? Do they clean as well as the traditional options? Would love to hear your feedback. In addition, there’s still plenty of time to enter my Seventh Generation goody basket give away.

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As a reminder, to enter, leave me a comment telling me which Seventh Generation product is your favorite.

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Comments will close at midnight, November 20. Winner will be randomly selected and notified via e-mail on November 25. Winner will have 72 hours to claim their prize. Contest open to US addresses only, please.

2 Responses to “Smells Like Teen Asthma”

  1. Shari G says:

    Thank goodness I don’t do too much cleaning! I agree that the fumes are horrible. I also don’t understand when people bring small children to the smelly nail place. I started using barkeepers friend in my sink and counter tops. Since it is a powder, the smell is minimal, although I am sure it is still bad for you.

  2. MarthaandMe says:

    I use 7th Generation bathroom and toilet cleaners. I’ve also used the Greenworks brand. I find that they clean just as well as traditional cleaners- the only problem I have is with glass cleaners. I can’t find anything that works as well as Windex. And I am still searching for an environmentally fabric softener. My store has one brand and it just makes the clothes stink! And I gave up on the environmentally friendly dishwasher soaps – I tried several brands and they left the dishes dirty, cloudy or filmy. I do have a renegade bottle of 409 in my cupboard just in case I have something that won’t come clean, but I have not used it in months.

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