Health Risks

There are many potentially dangerous products used in the home. To list the chemicals in each of them and the health risks for each of these would produce a truly huge volume. We have chosen fabric softener as the prime illustrative example for a number of reasons.

  1. It is the most toxic product produced for daily household use. It has been found to be associated with numerous illnesses and chronic conditions.
  2. It is widely advertised, widely used.
  3. The effects of its toxicity are insidious; a user becomes “chronically maladapted” to it. The exposure is so constant that it can be difficult to connect the product with the signs of reactivity it causes. Neurostimulant/irritants and central nervous system toxins used in these products are known to produce an addictive-type response that may cause the user to experience a feeling of pleasure when the product is directly inhaled. Regular users of fabric softeners (and perfumes) also often claim they “can hardly smell it”. This too is an effect of chemical ingredients on neural receptors.
  4. The product is designed to impregnate fibres and slowly re-release for an extended period of time. That re-releasing affects the health not only of users, but those around them.

The following page contains a partial list of the chemical ingredients of fabric softeners and the potential effects of exposure to them as quoted from manufacturers’ Material Safety Data Sheets. For the purposes of this document, Central Nervous System has been abbreviated to CNS. CNS toxin exposure symptoms include: dizziness, disorientation, nausea, headaches, mood swings, numbness in face or extremities, pain in neck or spine, memory loss, aphasia (difficulty speaking), confusion, irritability. CNS disorders include: Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Dementia, Seizures, Multiple Sclerosis, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, Hyperactivity, Strokes, Attention Deficit Disorder, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

A good alternative to fabric softener or fabric softener sheets is a piece of aluminum foil.

Risks of Perfumes and Scented Products

The chemicals listed on the following page (along with Methylenechloride, Ethanol, Formaldehyde, and other petrochemicals and neurotoxins) are among the 4,000 chemical ingredients used in the manufacture of perfumes and scents. The Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) collected samples of every perfume sold in North America in 1993. Every sample contained Toluene (a proven carcinogen and neurotoxin designated as Hazardous Waste worldwide). Many also contain chemicals to mimic the pheronones (sex hormones) of insects, musk ox, apes, and pigs. (Sounds romantic, doesn’t it) The health risks of these products are so varied and extreme it almost defies comprehension.

Chemical Ingredients in Fabric Softeners/Dryer Sheets:

Alpha-Terpineol: “Causes CNS disorders. Highly irritating to mucous membranes. Aspiration into lungs can produce pneumonitis or fatal edema. Lesser exposures can cause decreased circulation, headache, depression of CNS and/or respiratory function, ataxia (loss of muscle coordination), behavioral changes. Prevent repeated or prolonged skin contact.”

Benzyl Acetate: “Carcinogenic. Vapors irritating to eyes and respiratory passages, exciting cough. In mice, pancreatic cancer, hyperanemia of the lungs. Can be absorbed through skin causing systemic effects. Do not flush to sewer system.”

Benzyl Alcohol: “Associated with CNS disorders. Irritating to upper respiratory tract. Can cause headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, sudden drop in blood pressure, CNS depression, death due to respiratory failure.”

Camphor: On E.P.A.’s Hazardous Waste list. “Avoid contact with eyes, skin, clothing. Do not breathe vapours. Inhalation can be fatal. Properties: anesthetic, neurotoxic, carcinogenic. Chronic effects of exposure may include liver and/or kidney damage. Medical conditions aggravated by exposure. Kidney disorders, liver disorders, heart disorders, skin disorders, allergic or respiratory conditions. May cause headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness, irritation of respiratory tract, loss of consciousness. Conditions to avoid: heat”.

Ethyl Acetate: On E.P.A.’s Hazardous Waste list. “Narcotic, may cause headache, narcosis, stupour. Irritating to eyes and respiratory tract. May cause anemia with leukocytosis and damage to liver and kidneys. Wash thoroughly after handling.”

Limonene: “Prevent contact with skin or eyes. Properties: irritant, sensitizer, carcinogenic. Always wash thoroughly after using, especially before eating, drinking, applying cosmetics. Do not inhale.”

Linalool: “Narcotic. Associated with CNS disorders and respiratory disturbances. Attracts bees. In animal testing: ataxic gait, reduced spontaneous motor activity and depression, depressed heart activity, development of respiratory disturbances leading to death.”

Pentane: “Danger: Harmful if inhaled. Inhalation of vapor may cause headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, irritation of respiratory tract and loss of consciousness. Contact can cause eye or skin irritation.”