A prescription for healthy spring cleaning
For Midwesterners, spring can almost be a religious experience. After living for months in cold and darkness, the sounds of birds, the warmer days and budding tulips can give us a new lease on life. And with the new fervor comes the desire to wipe away the grime of winter. We can’t wait to break out the cleansers and give our homes a fresh start. But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says some common household cleaning products may contain chemicals associated with eye, skin, or respiratory irritation, or other health threats. And if those products are mishandled, the risks increase.
Dr. Tony Hampton, a family physician with Advocate Medical Group in Chicago, says it’s not uncommon for people to show up in emergency rooms this time of year suffering from exposure to toxic cleaning products. “From contact with the eyes, being overcome by fumes or accidental poisoning, spring cleaning can be hazardous,” he says. Dr. Hampton says symptoms from chemical exposure may include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Skin rash or burning
- Watery eyes
“Call your physician or 911 if symptoms are severe,” he says. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it’s critical to know which cleansers are potentially toxic and the dangers of mixing certain products. For example, ammonia and bleach can create a poisonous gas. If you’re not sure which products are safe, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit public health advocacy organization in Washington, D.C., has just updated its Guide to Healthy Cleaning. It includes safety ratings on more than 2,000 cleaning products from air fresheners to furniture polish. Dr. Hampton says people need to take reasonable precautions when using potentially harmful products and look for “greener” alternatives, if possible. He offers the following tips to keep you and your family safe:
- Read product labels and carefully follow safety recommendations. These may include wearing safety glasses, gloves, protective clothing and a mask.
- Many household chemicals are corrosive, meaning they can cause burns to the skin. Many pesticides can cause nerve damage and may be absorbed through the skin or lungs.
- Do not mix products together. Their chemicals could react with dangerous results.
- Avoid storing cleaning materials filled with chemicals under your sink.
- Save the Poison Control number 800-222-1222 in case you think you or a loved one has become sick because of a toxic chemical.
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health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care sites, also including freelance or intern writers.