As we consumers become more aware of pollution, waste management and toxins and purchase ‘greener and organic’ products for home, I wonder what happens when you go to the office? Maybe you are not the buyer of office supplies, but you can request non-toxic alternatives, that will enhance your work, morale and energy and overall health.
I Just Gotta Tell Ya
- Exposure to toxic products can result in health problems such as asthma, liver or kidney damage and cancer and can be the source of Sick Building Syndrome.
Greener Options for Home and Office
1.) Aerosol cans– Aerosol cans are used to dispense a variety of maintenance and pest control products, including general cleaners, insecticides, and paints. The aerosol system releases both product and propellant into the air, allowing workers to breathe the chemicals. Aerosol dispensers may waste product by propelling it into the air and onto surfaces other than those intended.
- Chemicals: Dimethyl ether, Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) (mixture of propane, isobutane and n-butane), Toluene
- Substitutes: Use liquid forms of cleaning and maintenance products to avoid release of propellants into the air. Choose pump-spray dispensers over aerosols. Or use products with soluble compressed gas (e.g., carbon dioxide) or non-soluble compressed gas (e.g., compressed air and nitrogen) propellants as alternatives to LPG.
2.) Air freshener/deodorizer– The cresols, phenol, and formaldehyde in deodorizers and air fresheners desensitize the nose. These chemicals are associated with numerous health problems.
- Chemicals: Cresols, Formaldehyde, Naphthalene, Phenol, Xylene
- Substitutes: Consider products containing limonene, a natural lemon ingredient used in many air fresheners. To absorb odors, place baking soda or white vinegar in small dishes. Sprinkle baking soda in trash cans
3.) Disinfectants- Disinfectants are designed to kill germs. To do so, they often contain toxic chemicals that can be harmful to people. Some toxic fumes can escape even through tightly closed containers.
- Chemicals: Ammonia, Chlorine, Cresols, Formaldehyde, Methylene chloride, Phenol
- Substitutes : Consider using products containing hydrogen peroxide, which is a safer sanitizing and oxidizing agent than chlorine bleach. Or add borax to boiling water to create a disinfectant. Allow mixture to cool before use.
4.) Floor cleaner/stripper– Industrial floor cleaners and strippers contain caustic chemicals.
- Chemicals: 2 -Butoxyethanol, Ethanolamine, Potassium hydroxide, Sodium hydroxide
- Substitutes: Consider enzymatic cleaners and detergents, and non-caustic strippers.
5.) Glass/window cleaner– Glass cleaners emit an ammonia mist, which the user breathes. Although ammonia is a poison, glass cleaning products do not carry a warning label.
- Chemicals: Ammonia, 2-Butoxyethanol
- Substitutes : First, use rubbing alcohol to clean the residual wax left from commercial glass cleaners. Then clean with a mixture of half white vinegar and half water. Or mix a solution of 2 tablespoons vinegar to 1 quart water; apply with a wad of newspaper. Wipe windows dry with a soft cloth.
6.) Kitchen Degreasers-– Kitchen degreasers can contain strong solvents that may be breathed or ingested in a kitchen environment. Products can linger on work surfaces and contaminate food items.
- Chemicals: Perchloroethylene, Toluene
- Substitutes: Consider using mixtures containing vinegar, baking soda, washing soda, borax, and lemon juice to cut kitchen grease.
7.) Toilet bowl/urinal cleaner– Toilet bowl and urinal cleaners often contain harsh acids that can corrode plumbing systems as well as harm workers.
- Substitutes: Consider using non-acid, non-caustic cleaners. Sprinkle baking soda around the bowl and wait a few minutes. Pour in white vinegar and scrub with a toilet brush. Vinegar is a mild acid and should remove any hard water scale.
8.) Alkaline batteries, which are standard single-use batteries, no longer contain Mercury, therefore they are not considered hazardous.
- Chemicals: Potassium hydroxide
- Substitutes: Consider using rechargeable batteries, which last longer and are therefore more cost-effective than single-use batteries. In addition, rechargeable batteries are more easily recyclable than single-use alkaline batteries.
9.) Computers, Televisions, and Other Electronic Equipment-While safe to use, electronic products contain heavy metals and other toxics that can be dangerous both during production and disposal of these products. These items are included in circuit boards, monitors, cable and casing. Business and institutions must ensure that all electronic products are recycled properly at time of disposal.
- Chemicals: Cadmium, Chromium, Lead, Mercury
- Substitutes: Purchase computers that meet Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) standards; such devices meet various levels of environmental criteria, including the use of less toxic materials.
10.) Paint– Up to 300 toxic substances, including metals, solvents, and fungicides, have been found in commercial oil and latex paints. Potentially harmful vapors are emitted for months after paint dries.
- Chemicals: Acetone, n-Butyl alcohol, Chromium, Lead, Methyl ethyl ketone (MEK), Toluene, Xylene
- Substitutes : Use latex paints whenever possible. The volatile organic compound (VOC) content of latex paints is much lower than in solvent-based paints, reducing worker exposure. Specify low-VOC or Zero VOC paints.
11.) Pesticide- Herbicides- Fertilizer -Pesticides are poisons formulated to kill specific insects or other pests, such as rodents. Since these products are poisonous, they can cause harm to humans as well.
- Chemicals : Organophosphates, Carbamates, Chlorinated hydrocarbons (Organochlorines, including DDT), Methyl bromide (bromomethane), Pyrethrins and Pyrethroids. (These are just a few of the insecticides available for residential and commercial use.)
- Substitutes : Consider ultrasonic products that keep pests away with sound waves. Or use borates (boric acid), made from low-toxicity mineral salt with insecticidal, fungicidal, and herbicidal properties.
Toxic Everyday Chemicals You Should Avoid
Acetone- – Contact can irritate skin, Exposure can irritate eyes, nose and throat. Cause dizziness, lightheadedness-
- Chronic health effects– repeated skin exposure can cause dryness and cracking. Acetone has not been specifically evaluated, however, other solvents and petroleum-based chemicals have been shown to cause brain or nerve damage, including memory loss, personality changes, fatigue, sleep disturbances, and reduced coordination, with repeated exposure
Ammonia- Can cause headache, loss of sense of smell, nausea, and vomiting. Can irritate skin and eyes, leading to permanent damage. Can irritate nose, mouth, and throat, causing coughing and wheezing. Can irritate lungs, causing coughing and/or shortness of breath; higher exposures can cause a build-up of fluid in the lungs.
- Chronic health effects: Repeated exposure can cause chronic irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs. Repeated exposures may cause bronchitis, with cough, phlegm, and/or shortness of breath.
2 Butoxyethanol– Can irritate eyes, nose, mouth and throat.
- Chronic health effects– May damage liver and kidneys. Long term exposure may break down red blood cells, causing anemia,
Benzene– Can cause symptoms of dizziness, lightheadedness, headache, and vomiting. Can irritate nose, throat, eyes, and skin. Convulsions and coma, or sudden death from irregular heartbeat, may follow high-level exposure.
- Chronic health effects: A carcinogen shown to cause leukemia. Repeated exposure can cause aplastic anemia, which may lead to death. Exposure can cause drying and scaling of the skin.
n-Butyl Alcohol– Can irritate skin, causing a burning sensation or rash on contact. Can irritate and burn eyes, leading to tearing and damage. Inhalation can cause coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath, headache, nausea, vomiting, and dizziness; higher levels can cause unconsciousness and irregular heartbeat.
- Chronic health effects: Repeated contact may cause drying and cracking of skin. Exposure can damage liver, heart, kidneys, hearing, and sense of balance.
Cadmium- Can cause a flu-like illness with chills, headache, aching, and/or fever. Exposure at high levels may cause nausea, salivation, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhea. Inhalation can irritate lungs, causing coughing and/or shortness of breath; higher levels can cause a build-up of fluid in the lungs.
- Chronic health effects: A probable carcinogen; there is evidence for prostate and kidney cancer in humans. A probable teratogen that may also affect both male and female reproductive organs. Can irritate lungs; repeated exposure may cause bronchitis with cough, phlegm, and/or shortness of breath. Repeated low-level exposures can cause permanent kidney damage. Long-term exposure can damage the liver and cause anemia, loss of sense of smell, and fatigue.
Chlorinated Hydrocarbons (Organochlorines) -May cause headache, dizziness, weakness, shaking, nausea, excitability, disorientation, and rashes.
- Chronic health effects: May disrupt the function of the nervous system, especially the brain. May accumulate in fatty tissues. May cause nervousness, weakness, and shaking.
Chlorine- (Paper Products) Can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat, causing tearing, coughing, and bloody nose. Inhalation can irritate the lungs, causing coughing, shortness of breath, and chest pain; exposures at higher levels can cause a build-up of fluid in the lungs. Direct contact can severely irritate and burn the eyes and skin, causing permanent damage.
- Chronic health effects: Repeated exposures may cause bronchitis with cough, phlegm, and/or shortness of breath, and may permanently damage the lungs. Long-term exposure can damage the teeth and cause a skin rash.
Chromium- Inhalation can cause a flue like illness with a metallic taste in the mouth, headache, fever, chills, aches, chest tightness and cough.
- Chronic health effects– May cause skin allergy, leading to itching and skin rash with very low exposure.
Cresols- At high levels, exposure can cause collapse and death within minutes. Can irritate the nose, throat and severely burn the skins and eyes, causing permanent damage.
- Chronic health effects– Repeated exposure may damage the liver and kidneys. Long term exposure can lead to chronic poisoning, trouble swallowing, loss of appetite, vomiting ,diarrhea, headache and dizziness.
Dimethyl Ether- Inhalation of vapor can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation; high-level exposure can cause headache, dizziness, and lightheadedness. Skin contact with liquid form can cause severe frostbite.
- Chronic health effects: Have not been established.
Formaldehyde- Contact can severely irritate and burn skin and eyes, with possible eye damage. Burns may not appear until hours after contact. Can irritate the lungs, causing coughing or shortness of breath.
- Chronic health effects- probable carcinogen in humans. Eye contact can cause damage with possible loss of vision. Repeated exposure may cause bronchitis, with cough, and shortness of breath
Hydrochloric Acid- Corrosive to the eyes, skin, and mucous membranes. Short-term inhalation may cause coughing, hoarseness, inflammation and ulceration of the respiratory tract, chest pain, and pulmonary edema. Skin contact may produce severe burns, ulceration, and scarring.
- Chronic health effects: Long-term occupational exposure to hydrochloric acid has been reported to cause gastritis, chronic bronchitis, dermatitis, and photosensitization in workers. Prolonged exposure to low concentrations may also cause discoloration and erosion of the teeth.
Lead- Lead dust or fumes can irritate eyes on contact, Inhalation of lead dust can irritate nose and throat. Exposure can cause poor appetite, weight loss, upset stomach, nausea and muscle cramps.
- Chronic health effects– May cause kidney and brain damage, damage to blood cells causing anemia. May damage developing fetus. Repeated exposure causes tiredness, trouble sleeping, stomach problems, constipation, headaches, moodiness, higher levels may cause trouble concentrating, remembering names, aching, weakness. Exposure increases the risk of high blood pressure.
Liquefied Petroleum Gas (Propane, isobutan and n-butane) – Exposure to very high concentrations can cause dizziness, lightheadedness and unconsciousness. Extremely high concentrations can cause death by suffocation from lack of oxygen. Vapor can irritate and burn eyes.
- Chronic health effects– have not been tested
Mercury- Can irritate skin and eyes. Exposure to high levels of vapor can irritate lungs, causing coughing, chest pain and shortness of breath.
- Chronic health effects– May cause kidney damage, increase in spontaneous abortions, poisonings, tremors, gum problems, increased salivation, loss of appetite and weight, mood changes and personality, hallucinations, and psychosis. Repeated exposure may cause clouding of the eyes and a gray skin color.
Methylene Chloride (a.k.a. dichloromethane)– Liquid or vapor can irritate and burn the eyes, skin, nose, and throat. Inhalation can irritate the lungs, causing coughing and/or shortness of breath; higher exposures can cause a build-up of fluid in the lungs. High-level exposure can cause headache, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, drowsiness, and unconsciousness.
- Chronic health effects: May be a carcinogen in humans. May cause liver damage. Repeated exposures may cause bronchitis, with cough, phlegm, and/or shortness of breath. Long-term exposure may damage the brain, causing memory loss, poor coordination, and reduced thinking ability.
Naphthalene– Exposure can irritate skin, eyes, nose, and throat. Very high levels can cause headache, fatigue, confusion, nausea, and vomiting.
- Chronic health effects: May damage the kidneys and liver. May damage the red blood cells, causing anemia. Repeated exposure can cause clouding of the eye lens (cataracts), damaging vision. May cause a skin allergy, with itching and rash at very low subsequent exposures
Phenol – Inhalation can irritate the mouth, nose, throat, and lungs, causing coughing and/or shortness of breath. Contact can cause severe irritation and burns, with possible permanent damage to eyes and skin. High-level exposure can cause headache, dizziness, fatigue, fainting, weakness, nausea, vomiting, and lack of appetite; may cause collapse and death.
- Chronic health effects: May be a carcinogen and mutagen. High-level or repeated exposure may damage liver, kidneys, and heart. Effects may include reduced memory or concentration
Phosphoric Acid – Contact can severely irritate and burn the skin and eyes, leading to permanent damage. Inhalation can irritate nose, throat, and lungs, causing coughing and sneezing.
- Chronic health effects: Repeated exposure can cause bronchitis, with cough, phlegm, and/or shortness of breath. Long-term exposure can cause drying and cracking of the skin.
Sodium Hydroxide -Can cause severe irritation and burns of the eyes, with possible permanent damage. Contact can cause severe skin irritation and burns. Inhalation can irritate the mouth, nose, throat, and lungs, causing coughing and/or shortness of breath; higher-level exposures can cause a build-up of fluid in the lungs.
- Chronic health effects: Have not been tested.
Sulfuric Acid -Extremely corrosive; can severely irritate and burn skin and eyes. Inhalation can irritate lungs, causing coughing and/or shortness of breath; higher-level exposures can cause a build-up of fluid in the lungs.
- Chronic health effects: Limited evidence that sulfuric acid causes lung cancer in refinery workers. Repeated exposure can cause bronchitis, with cough, phlegm, and shortness of breath; may cause emphysema; can cause chronic runny nose, tearing of the eyes, nosebleeds, and stomach upset.
Toluene– Contact can irritate skin and eyes. Inhalation can irritate nose and throat, causing coughing and wheezing. Exposure can affect the nervous system, causing trouble concentrating, headaches, slowed reflexes, loss of appetite, and nausea. Higher levels can cause dizziness and lightheadedness, which can lead to unconsciousness or death.
- Chronic health effects: May damage a developing fetus. Prolonged contact can cause drying and cracking of skin, as well as itching and a skin rash. Repeated exposure may cause liver, kidney, and brain damage.
Xylene -Can irritate skin and eyes. Inhalation can irritate nose and throat, causing coughing and difficulty breathing. Can cause headache, nausea, vomiting, tiredness, and stomach upset; high levels can cause dizziness, lightheadedness, fatigue, confusion, unconsciousness, and death.
- Chronic health effects: Can cause damage to the surface of the eye. Can damage the liver and kidneys. May damage a developing fetus. Repeated exposure can cause poor memory, difficulty in concentration, and other brain effects.