Living in a less toxic home

Opinion: Columns

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Peggy McGrath

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One of a series of environmental essays honoring the 50th anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carson's landmark book, Silent Spring.

In the book, Naturally Clean, the authors state that one of the best things we can do for the health of our family is eliminate synthetic chemical cleaners in our homes.


Hundreds of these chemical cleaning products are toxic. They are derived from crude oil/petroleum and are made from bonded carbon and hydrogen atoms. These chains can easily be broken apart, reconfigured, or added to other compounds. With a slight change of design, these hydrocarbon compounds become toxic. Yet we use hundreds of these toxic compounds in our homes without even being aware of the danger.

With the addition of chlorine, these compounds are so durable they do not biodegrade, lasting forever in the environment. Yes, forever!

Concern about the safety of these compounds in scientific circles was/is so great, that in 1990 Chlorinated Hydrocarbons were given their own category, which was then adopted by the United Nations. This category is called Persistent Organic Pollutants or POPs. The characteristics that make them so dangerous are:

1) They persist in the environment and are not "readily" biodegradable

2) They build up in body fat, increasing in toxicity as they move up the food chain

3) They travel efficiently in the atmosphere and global waters

4) They are linked to serious hormonal, developmental, reproductive, neurological and immune disorders as well as cancer.

Who is watching out for our safety?

The Environmental Protection Agency was implemented to do just that, following heightened awareness after the publication of Rachel Carson's book, Silent Spring. However, it is underfunded and politically over-attacked. Over 160 laws have been introduced in Congress in recent years alone to reduce the EPA's effectiveness. At the same time, there is a continual flood of new compounds coming to market without sufficient safety studies for adults, much less children, our most vulnerable citizens.

Currently, product labels do not have to list all ingredients due to the proprietary rules protecting an industry's secret formulas. Yet the development and use of untested chemicals continues to skyrocket.

What can we do?

  • Contact your representatives, asking for the strengthening of the Toxic Substance Control Act.
  • Use your power as a consumer. We can choose healthy products.
  • Healthy alternatives are easily available on store shelves. But be aware that 95 percent of "green" products are not "green," according to Newsweek.
  • Natural, inexpensive solutions are also easily made. The trick is breaking the habit of buying prepared products.

If you wish to contact me at, I will gladly send you more information.

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