One recent retrospective study by the Silent Spring Institute that surveyed 1,500 Massachusetts women, half of whom had been diagnosed with breast cancer, suggested a link between using household cleaners and cancer (Zota 2010). Women who reported the greatest use of cleaning products (top 25 percent) were twice as likely to have been diagnosed with breast cancer as those reporting the least use (bottom 25 percent).
More research is urgently needed to investigate possible links between chemicals in cleaning supplies and cancer. While it’s clear that many common cleaners contain carcinogenic ingredients or impurities, scientists do not know to what extent these exposures may contribute to cancer risk.
EWG’s survey of product ingredients disclosed by manufacturers found that many cleaners may be laced with known, probable or possible carcinogens, including:
EWG’s tests of cleaning products used in California schools detected formaldehyde in Comet, Pine-Sol, and Simple Green cleaning products. Formaldehyde vapors have been detected when citrus- and pine-based ingredients mix with ambient ozone inside homes (CARB 2008). Formaldehyde formation is worst on smoggy days, when ozone levels are high.
Classified as a probable human carcinogen by the EPA, this chemical has been detected in a number of brand-name liquid laundry detergents (Steinman 2010). This substance is an impurity unintentionally formed during industrial processes that make synthetic ingredients such as PEG and polyethylene compounds. Several animal studies have found higher rates of liver tumors in animals exposed to 1,4-dioxane. Studies of occupational exposure have been inconclusive (EPA 2010).
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