Toxins in the Wash

March 16, 2011

It’s not only beauty products laden with chemicals that can do damage to our skin and health.

Growing up, I used to love the smell of freshly washed towels. Whenever the breeze would blow as they hung on the line to dry, I’d get a waft of fragrance that somehow made me think of all things lovely: a warm bath on a cold winter night or coming home after being away on vacation.

What I didn’t know back then is that comforting, fresh smell was actually nasty, toxic chemicals: chloroform, ethyl acetate and limonene (among many others), dressed up as flowers, luring me in, to believe that I was as close to a lavender field as I could get without actually being in one.

Besides the carcinogenics, there’s another great reason to stop using fabric softeners: animal tallow, or animal fat, if you will. Common, every day fabric softeners are a recipe made from dead animals and toxic chemicals, not a lavender field or bowl of fresh lemons in sight.

So what does this mean for the planet and our own health? These chemicals are detrimental to marine life, as they enter our waterways (whatever we put in a washing machine, toilet, dishwasher ends up in the environment). But once the towels and clothes are dry, how harmful can these chemicals be to our health? Extremely. Anything worn close to, or applied to the skin ends up in the blood stream.

Here’s an excerpt from Natural News:

Most fabric softener products dryer sheets, for example, are positioned as being at least somewhat earth friendly thanks to a claim in the ingredients list that reads biodegradable fabric softeners. Unfortunately, the second ingredient in fabric softeners is fragrance, and the fragrance chemicals are so highly toxic that they cause cancer in humans and are extremely destructive to aquatic ecosystems downstream. Merely drying your clothes with common dryer sheets, then washing them the next time you do laundry unleashes a chemical tidal wave of toxicity that is shockingly harmful to (you and) the environment.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (US), here’s a list of what you can expect to find:

ALPHA-TERPINEOL Causes CNS (central nervous system) disorders, highly irritating to mucous membranes. Aspiration into the lungs can produce pneumonitis or even fatal edema. Can also cause excitement, ataxia (loss of muscular coordination), hypothermia, CNS and respiratory depression, and headache. Prevent repeated or prolonged skin contact.

BENZYL ACETATE Carconigenic (linked to pancreatic cancer). From vapors: irritating to eyes and respiratory passages, exciting cough. In mice: hyperanemia of the lungs. Can be absorbed through the skin causing systemic effects. Do not flush to sewer.

BENZYL ALCOHOL Causes CNS disorders, irritating to the upper respiratory tract, headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drop in blood pressure, CNS depression, and death in severe cases due to respiratory failure.

CAMPHOR Causes CNS disorders. On EPA’s Hazardous Waste list. Symptoms: local irritant and CNS stimulant, readily absorbed through body tissues, irritation of eyes, nose, and throat, dizziness, confusion, nausea, twitching muscles and convulsions. Avoid inhalation of vapors.

CHLOROFORM Neurotoxic. Anesthetic. Carcinogenic. on EPA’s Hazardous Waste list. Avoid contact with eyes, skin, clothing. Do not breathe vapors. Inhalation of vapors may cause headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness, irritation of respiratory tract and loss of consciousness. Inhalation can be fatal. Chronic effects of overexposure may include kidney and/or liver damage. Medical conditions generally aggravated by exposure: kidney disorders, liver disorders, heart disorders, skin disorders. Conditions to avoid: Heat. Listed on California’s Proposition 65.

ETHYL ACETATE Narcotic. On EPA’s Hazardous Waste list. Irritating to the eyes and respiratory tract, may cause headache and narcosis (stupor), may cause anemia with leukocytosis and damage to liver and kidneys. Wash thoroughly after handling.

LIMONENE Carcinogenic. Prevent its contact with skin or eyes because it is an irritant and sensitizer. Always wash thoroughly after using this material and before eating, drinking applying cosmetics. Do not inhale limonene vapor.

LINALOOL Narcotic. Causes CNS disorders. respiratory disturbancesâ. Attracts bees. In animal tests: ataxic gait, reduced spontaneous motor activity and depression, depressed heart activity, development of respiratory disturbances leading to death.

PENTANE Danger. Harmful if inhaled. Avoid breathing vapor. Inhalation of vapors may cause headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness, irritation of respiratory tract and loss of consciousness. Repeated inhalation of vapors may cause CNS depression. Contact can cause eye irritation. Prolonged exposure may cause dermatitis (skin rash).

Relevant Facts:

  • CNS = Central Nervous System, your brain and spine.
  • CNS disorders include: Alzheimer’s Disease, Attention Deficit Disorder, Dementia, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease, Seizures, Strokes, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
  • CNS exposure symptoms include: aphasia, blurred vision, disorientation, dizziness, headaches, hunger, memory loss, numbness in face, pain in neck and spine.
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