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Greenwashing is dirty. Is it threatening human health?


I don't mind cleaning, but I've never liked conventional cleaning products, with their neon hues and potent citrus fumes. So when "green" alternatives first cropped up at Whole Foods, I welcomed the classier "cucumber" and "lavender" liquids into my life and into my shower.

Maybe I shouldn't have been so eager. A recent article in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives asks whether greenwashing is harming human health. The question is an interesting one, but unfortunately the article doesn't really provide a comprehensive answer.

A 2006 UC Berkeley study, however, may shed some light on the issue: While the contents of a product are certainly important - conventional cleaners contain ethylene-based glycol ethers, terpenes, formaldehyde and fine particles that can be hazardous to human health - so is the nature of use, the study suggested:

The good news, the researchers reported, is that when people use the products under ordinary circumstances, their exposure to ethylene-based glycol ethers, formaldehyde and fine particles will normally not reach guideline values...[But] in several realistic use scenarios, the tests showed that people could be exposed to potentially dangerous levels of toxic pollutants.

The potentially hazardous scenarios included cleaning in small bathrooms, cleaning when outdoor ozone levels are high and multi-house cleaning by a professional home cleaner.

Photo by Got Sarah

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