The manufacturers of the "Green" cleaning product Simple Green's claim that it is non-toxic, biodegradable, non-hazardous, non-flammable, and non-corrosive. But the Material Data Safety Sheet for Simple Green reveals that the formula contains 2-Butoxyethanol -- a petrochemical solvent.
2-Butoxyethanol is defined as "harmful" by the European Union classification system. Environment and Health Canada has recommended that it be added to the Schedule 1 toxic substances list, and the state of California lists it as a hazardous substance.
According to Green Med Info, the chemical's effects include:
"Inhalation: ... Symptoms may include sore throat, coughing, headache, nausea and shortness of breath ... Skin Contact: May cause irritation with redness and pain. May be absorbed through the skin with possible systemic effects. Eye Contact: Vapors are irritating and may produce immediate pain, redness and tearing. Splashes can cause severe pain, stinging, swelling. Chronic Exposure: ... [C]an cause damage to the liver, kidneys, lymphoid system, blood and blood-forming organs."
It is thought that 2-butoxyethanol contributed to the significantly shorter lifespan of Exxon Valdez clean-up workers, which is why Corexit 9527, which also contains the chemical was banned in the United Kingdom.
If you're aware of even some of the toxic chemicals used in most cleaning products -- endocrine-disrupting phthalates, carcinogenic benzene, and organ-damaging phenols, just to name a few -- it is very obvious why "green" cleaners have such appeal.
Many people have grown tired of putting their health, and their family's health, at risk just to clean their bathtub and kitchen counters, and the household cleaning industry has responded in full force with cleaning products that claim they contain natural or naturally derived ingredients.
However, household goods are still very much an unregulated market. And, cleaning product manufacturers -- even those that claim to be "green" -- are not required by law to disclose all ingredients on their labels. So determining what is truly a "green" product and what is not is virtually impossible just by looking at the bottle, as a lack of ingredient on a label doesn't necessarily mean it's not in the product! When it is revealed what's actually in some so-called "green" cleaners, it becomes apparent that many are actually still quite toxic.
Toxic Corexit Dispersant Chemical in Popular Green Cleaner
You may recall last year that BP attempted to "clean up" the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico with highly toxic dispersants. BP used two products from a line of dispersants manufactured by Nalco: Corexit 9500 and Corexit 9527A.
Corexit products were removed from a list of approved treatments for oil spills in the U.K. more than a decade ago after the agents were linked with human health problems including respiratory, neurologic, liver, kidney and blood disorders, and "harmful effects" on sea life. Corexit 9527, an older formula used only during the early days of the clean-up according to Nalco, has been determined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to be a 'chronic and acute health hazard.'
The 9527 product contains 2-butoxyethanol, an ingredient identified as the cause of ongoing health problems in Exxon Valdez oil spill cleanup workers.
What's my point?
According to this Material Data Safety Sheet for Simple Green, as reported by GreenMedInfo, the "green" cleaner Simple Green also contains the petrochemical solvent 2-Butoxyethanol. Simple Green claims to be non-toxic, non-hazardous, and biodegradable … yet it contains a chemical that, in animal studies, has been shown to destroy red blood cells and cause reproductive problems and minor birth defects. As for further health effects, absolutely no studies on carcinogenicity have been conducted in people or animals, so it's not known whether the chemical causes cancer.
"It was the absence of the highly toxic and controversial 2-butoxyethanol in the 9500 Corexit formula that made it a "safer" alternative. It is believed that 2-butoxyethanol contributed to the significantly shorter lifespan of Exxon Valdez clean-up workers and is why Corexit 9527 was banned in the United Kingdom."
So be aware that, unfortunately, the terms "green" and "natural" are nothing more than marketing terms; they're not absolute terms of science, and they do not automatically equal safety. Take one recent study that analyzed 25 commonly used, scented products, including cleaning products (disinfectants, all-purpose cleaners, dish detergents), half of which claimed to be green, organic, or natural.
Amazingly, the products tested emitted an average of 17 chemicals EACH, but only ONE compound was actually listed on the label.
All in all, the 25 products tested emitted a total of 133 different chemicals, about 25 percent of which are currently classified as toxic or hazardous under federal law, but only two of these 133 chemicals were disclosed on the label … And every single product emitted at least one chemical listed as toxic or hazardous!
What to Look for in a Truly Green Cleaning Product
First, even though ingredients are not always listed, check the label carefully. Some manufacturers can be so insidious that while they claim to be natural, safe, biodegradable or green, it may simply be that their original product has been repackaged in a biodegradable container. That's not entirely what you had in mind when you bought it, was it?
Others may tout the claim that they're free of CFC's. But CFC's have been banned for decades, so who cares? Some natural cleaners still contain petroleum distillates such as benzene, or 1,4 dioxane, both of which can cause cancer, not to mention the fact that they come from a non-renewable resource (oil) which is, in and of itself, far from eco-friendly. So while ingredients may not be listed on labels, if you do see any of the following, these are red flags that the product is potentially dangerous:
✓ Phosphates – cause algae proliferation in bodies of water, killing marine life
✓ Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPE's) – cause reproductive defects, liver and kidney damage
✓ Phthalates – cause sperm damage and reproductive defects in boys
✓ Volatile organic compounds (VOC's), including 1,4-dichlorobenzene – cause nose and throat irritation, dizziness, asthma
✓ Glycol ethers
You Can Make Incredibly Safe, Effective Cleaning Products at Home
The habit of using conventional cleaning products is perhaps one of the most unnecessary ways to expose yourself to toxic chemicals. Tried and true items such as vinegar, baking soda, and lemon juice can get the job done just as well -- sometimes even better -- than their toxic counterparts. Here's a simple starter list of what you need to make your own natural cleaning products:
✓ Baking soda
✓ White vinegar
✓ Lemon juice
✓ Hydrogen peroxide
✓ Liquid castile soap
✓ Organic essential oils (optional)
✓ Mixing bowls
✓ Spray bottles
✓ Microfiber cloths
For a great video on how to use these ingredients and other tips for cleaning your home without hazardous chemicals, please review the article: How to Keep Your Home Clean Naturally. For example, lemon juice is a natural whitener, vinegar and water makes an excellent window cleaner, and vinegar combined with hydrogen peroxide works exceptionally well as both a disinfectant and sanitizer.
If you decide that the above cleaners are just not appropriate for your circumstances you may want to consider a commercial green cleaner that is truly safe. My team and I realized that it is a major challenge for most to find safe commercial cleaners, given that the regulations are minimal, and many of the most popular and highly touted "green" cleaners are really not.
So we spent over three years working on the best environmentally and personally safe cleaner on the market, and I would encourage you to read more about our new Greener Cleaner, and stay tuned for our new green stain remover coming soon, if this is something you are interested in.