Is your Home Too Clean?
In a recent study, scientists examined the idea that too-clean environments are the cause of the recent and dramatic increase in childhood allergies and asthma.
Building on the theory that farm children have better immune systems overall, the “hygiene hypothesis” examines the role of endotoxins – the toxic substances inside bacteria – in preventing allergies.
When a bacteria is sprayed with a synthetic antibacterial or antimicrobial agent – chemicals commonly found in harsh, environmentally harmful cleaners – its cell wall dissolves. This releases substances that trigger immune responses. In some children, that response is how the immune system “teaches” itself to differentiate between friendly and not-so-friendly organisms, and to ignore the first while taking action against the second.
That said, there’s much to recommend ignoring a little of the dust and grime that accumulates in busy families. When it can no longer be ignored – as around the holidays, in the spring, or whenever the mother-in-law comes to visit – using natural, environmentally friendly cleaners and household products helps protect the “good” bacteria in the environment. Even better, try Green Home's new Probiotic Cleaners, designed specifically to restore the balance in your environment by preserving beneficial microorganisms.
There’s more to the science, of course, and it is an enzyme called A20. This enzyme lives in the birth canal and activates an immune response as the child is being born. So you might say that A20 is our birthright – except that some children seem to lack it, likely as a result of 60 years of increasingly unnatural, manmade cleaning substances in our environment.
This era, beginning in the 1950’s with the “Better Living Through Chemistry” motto, has shown in increase in the “body burden” of indoor chemicals of about 15 percent every decade since the late 1960’s. This body burden is nothing less than the sum of all the heavy metals and toxic chemicals that accumulate in our bodies over a lifetime, and the effect is not merely quantitative but cumulative. In other words, it’s not just how much, it is also how long, and the combination of the two determines how likely we are to become ill.
Included in these chemicals are glycol ethers (asthma and allergies); Triclosan (immune system deficits); perchloroethylene (neurological problems); quarternary ammonium compounds, or “quats” (asthma, allergies, contact dermatitis); butoxyethanol (narcosis, pulmonary edema, and severe liver and kidney damage); and chlorine compounds (respiratory irritants, thyroid disrupters).
The list goes on, to about 62 items, making more than half of all consumer-cleaning products a danger to human health. Not only has our body burden of these chemicals risen, but the earth’s burden has also risen. Even if we stopped using all these chemicals tomorrow, some would persist in the environment for a minimum of 15 years. That is their half-life. Whole-life calculations suggest they could last as long as 200 years.
This persistent chemical residue is also why asthma rates continue to climb, even in the face of clean air amendments, air-cleaning products, and behaviors designed to identify and remove air pollution.
Sadly, most of this pollution is inside, and no law exists to prevent homeowners from using whatever they want as long as it’s commercially available, or to limit manufacturer’s incorporating known toxic chemicals into their products – even the ones that are banned outside the United States.
In other words, it’s not like Vegas. What happens inside a house doesn’t stay inside the house. Instead, it migrates into the neighborhood, into the community, and eventually into the larger world through the air, water, and soil. Eventually, we are all burdened by others’ chemical excesses. “No man is an island,” wrote 14th century English poet John Donne, and no truer words have ever been written.
Scientists now agree we may be cleaning too much, and cleaning isn’t necessarily the solution to our health problems anyway. We would be better off taking a day off from dusting and checking out cupboards, closets and drawers and removing (and replacing) the things that are really a danger to human health.
You can do your part by switching to environmentally-safe and friendly cleaning products; recyclable, biodegradable household products that use fewer toxic chemicals in their manufacture; and organic linens and other home products that use natural resources – as well as other humans and the earth – gently.
This post was posted in Blog and Green Library, Green Cleaning and was tagged with A20, air quality, allergies, asthma, bacteria, bio-based cleaners, cleaning, endotoxins, environmental products, glycol ethers, HEALTH SENSITIVE, housecleaning, immune system, respiratory