Coming Clean on Cleaners

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Makers of many common household cleaning agents have been reluctant to disclose the ingredients in their products. We'll be joined by Keri Powell, a lawyer for the environmental group Earthjustice, who filed a suit requiring manufacturers to come clean on what's in their products. We’ll also speak with industrial hygienist Monona Rossol from Arts Crafts and Theater Safety on why there’s been such resistance to comply – and what it means for our health.

You can hear Monona’s last appearance on the show on “dangerous household chemicals” here.


Keri Powell and Monona Rossol

Comments [58]

Erwin Schrodinger from Brooklyn, NY

Your program spent a great deal of time referring to rarely-enforced NYS law that requires manufacturers of cleaning products to file reports of their ingredients, yet you provided no reference for the law itself. Please forward a reference for the NYS or federal laws to which you referred. Thanks.

May. 26 2009 02:43 PM
michelle from manhattan

The word "MULA" is spanish for mule.
I have cannot confirm why we use the word mula for money in english, but I assumed it was because of the mules that are paid to move drugs and other items illegally.

May. 20 2009 01:57 PM
Laura from Manhattan

I highly recommend steam cleaning. It's fun to 'zap' spots on the stove and watch crud soften and melt so you can just easily wipe it away. No chemicals. No 'elbow grease' required, either......I have a hand-held steam cleaner with attachments like a little stiff brush and a flat pad (you can steam garments, too).

Also highly recommended--I just bought an IQAir air filter machine (GC MultiGas model, expensive but worth it to me) because I'm sensitive. It was worth having the nice man from Fresh Air Pro set it up and show me how to use it (included in the price).

Thank you so much for this segment and for the responses--We need to do this on a regular basis!

May. 19 2009 02:04 PM
Lisa from Rockville Centre, NY

Food is organic. Does burning food while cooking cause toxin to build up indoors?

May. 18 2009 05:45 PM
Ann LaGoy from Fishkill

To respond to Petra (from Beehive Coop?) - YES! Many of these chemicals build up in our bodies.Particularly in women.
From an article I wrote - Love the Skin You're In:
"Certain chemical families, found in both cleaning products and beauty products, are known endocrine disruptors and are linked to major health issues like breast cancer, birth defects, and reproductive problems. Phenols are found in disinfectants, phthalates (THAY-lates) or plasticizers, and various parebens (PAIR-a-bens) used as preservatives are found in cosmetics, personal care products, and perfumes. Methyl, ethyl, propyl, benzyol, and benzyl are all different types of parebens."
To see the entire article:

These chemicals are often passed on to our children.
Ann LaGoy

May. 14 2009 04:16 PM
Jane, MS Biotechnology from Englewood, NJ

What about Unilever? they use the same compounds in their products.

Labels should also warn people about the serious and irreparable hazards of using these compounds.

May. 13 2009 10:09 AM
Jane Cyphers from Brooklyn NY/Milanville Pa

Perfumes in laundry detergents and fabric softeners are vented into public places, indoors and out. They trigger headaches, dizziness and asthma, especially during allergy season. PLEASE buy products without these harmful chemicals. Spread the word. One can avoid a movie theatre, but not walking down a street.
In my home and classroom I forbid the wearing of any perfumes. My students are seldom absent and when they do detect a strong smell they object to it and complain of headaches from it. While you're at it, inform yourselves about the the threat to our water supply from hydraulic fracturing used in so called "clean" gas drilling. All the chemicals used have been exempt from the Clean Water Act! Like I said, spread the word!

May. 11 2009 08:25 PM
Patricia Hume from Charlotte, NC

Incense - Indoor Environment Notebook

The USEPA has conducted a literature review on incense as well as candle burning. Here is an excerpt from their report relative to health concerns associated with incense:

Several studies found associations between exposure to incense smoke and many illnesses, including cancer, asthma, and contact dermatitis. Incense burning was found to be a contributing factor in the occurrence of asthma for Quatar children (Dawod and Hussain, 1995), and coughing was found to be associated with incense exposure in a study of Taiwanese children (Yang et al.,1997). Burning incense produces volatile fragrances that, once airborne, can reach exposed skin, causing dermatitis (Roveri et al., 1998). An elevated risk for leukemia was found in children whose parents burned incense during pregnancy or while nursing (Lowengart et al., 1987). A study of childhood brain tumors showed elevated risk for children whose parents burned incense in the home (Preston-Martin et al., 1982). The URL for this review is

Monona Rossol responds:

Absolutely grand. It shows that even in the 1980s and 1990s this was known. I'm filing this with my other much more recent studies on incense and candles. Thanks.

May. 11 2009 03:57 PM
anonniemuss from NYC

This was a terrific segment, thanks for airing it.
For people concerned about cleaning products, Apartment Therapy recently did a post about cleaning with vinegar that you might find of interest:
I have used it to clean windows and mirrors for ages and now use it on my floor too. It works very well and isn't as harsh as the products it replaces. It's way cheaper, too. It does smell a bit but only for a few minutes; then the smell goes away, and lingering bad smells nearly always go away with it.

Monona Rossol responds:

Good advice, thanks.

May. 11 2009 12:46 PM
tlp from Brooklyn

A bit off the cleaning topic, but to back up Ms. Rossol on the efficacy of the internet in discovering the relative toxicity of everyday products:

When my cats got fleas, I freaked out and ran to the pet store and grabbed a couple of different products. It was only after I brought them home that I thought to check on their toxicity. One product was safe, but the other was not.

I posted the info as well as a number of good sources on my blog, if anyone cares to look (, but it wasn't that difficult to find the info in the first place.

One final note: There's great information on the toxicity of a variety of chemicals on various state university extension or agriculture-extension web sites. I'm not sure how good they are for household products, but they're a great general resource, especially in matters regarding pest control in home, garden, and on pets.

Monona Rossol responds:

Good advice. And while citrus oil (d-limonene) is far too toxic to use in your house for regular purposes, it is a hell of a good biodegradable EPA-registered pesticide. They will do in the fleas as well.

May. 11 2009 12:43 PM
andrea from brooklyn

can you please comment on whether soy candles are safe? and is there one source of information for safe cleaning products?

Monona Rossol responds:

Regarding soy candles: If you burn anything "organic" and you get toxic substances some of which are also carcinogens. By "organic," I mean substances based on carbon. This can include soy, paraffin, beeswax, wood, coal, oil, and so on. For example, a cigarette is not toxic because of nicotine--that's just a mild drug. It is the smoke from the burning tobacco leaf that kills. And any other leaf will do the same--if you get my drift.

May. 11 2009 12:40 PM
lisa from park slope

Citris oil is harmful always? even as "orange oil" in the non-aerosol cleaning spray from Sun & Earth products???

Monona Rossol responds:

If you'd like, you can email me directly with your postal address and ask for a copy of our data sheet on citrus oil that references all the studies to back up this position. I'll send it to you free.

May. 11 2009 12:40 PM
Stephanie from Brooklyn

I strongly recommend that people consider steam cleaners or mops - there is an up front investment, but they do not require *any* detergents at all - the device cleans and sanitizes all by itself. I love that I can wash my floors and walls without cleaners making me sick.....

Monona Rossol responds:

I've never used one of these. It sounds like it might work. I'll keep it in mind.

May. 11 2009 12:38 PM
Elaine from Baltimore MD

YIKES! HELP! I'll throw out everything! Just give me a list of safe products! Should I just learn to live with soap scum on my shower curtains & walls?

Monona Rossol responds:

We mentioned substances such as real soap (made from oil reacted with an alkali), baking soda, vinegar, borax. Keri Powell also referred people to the website of Women's Voices for the Earth. Google their home page and go to the list of formulas for safer products.

May. 11 2009 12:37 PM
yh from brooklyn

How can we get nyc government to switch their cleaners wholesale? I often get sick smelling the strong cleaners that they use in subway stations, and feel awful for the staff that is cleaning with these toxic chemicals regularly.

Monona Rossol responds:

That's really interesting. Maybe when this law gets established and the commercial cleaners are included, we might find out why those products smell like that and make the case for changing things. But getting the NYC government to do anything is tough!!!!

May. 11 2009 12:36 PM
sarah from larchmont, ny

this may be off the topic, but i'm wondering about the ingredients in body lotion and especially sunscreen now that the summer is approaching. i don't know what most of the ingredients on my products are, are they safe?


Monona Rossol responds:

another listener suggested a good source for this kind of information:

May. 11 2009 12:36 PM
florion from NY

what about sunscreen products?

Monona Rossol responds:

another listener suggested a good source for this kind of information:

May. 11 2009 12:36 PM
Carson from Toronto

This is a big concern of mine, as it affects me and millions of people daily:

Dishwasher rinse agents. Like Jet Dry. Are we poisoning ourselves through our dishes and cutlery?

Monona Rossol responds:

I don't know what agent causes the water to sheet off that way and if any residue is left on our dishes. That is an excellent study for someone to do.

May. 11 2009 12:35 PM
Bill from Dix Hills, NY

A caller cited the OSHA-20 form (MSDS) safety sheet. Anyone who has ever worked with chemicals that require a MSDS sheet knows from reading them that they are not informative as to what the product is actually made of. They cite "proprietary trade secret" for the ingredients and only detail the health effects, flammability and reactivity for the product, to the best the seller knows of their product.

Monona Rossol responds:

I wish you'd have been on the program with us!! Good answer. And since no government agency has been overseeing these for decades, they are really poor documents in many ways. Only a few companies still produce good ones.

May. 11 2009 12:35 PM
David_K from Brooklyn

Excellent segment, Mr. Lopate and producers, thank you! The many comments and questions indicate that this is a topic worthy of further exploration in the near future.

Monona Rossol responds:

Thanks for the kind words.

May. 11 2009 12:34 PM
Leonore Gordon from BROOKLYN

Last week, Peter Vallone introduced a new bill to more tightly regulate siting of cell phone antennas near schools and residential areas,due to recent data about continuous low-level EMf radiation from these antennas. He shared his outrage and desire to amend Sec 704 of the the TElecomm. Act of 1996, which prohibits legislators from referencing "health" in legislation addressing these antenna. He encouraged people to read about research on this issue, and action taken in other countries, and to sign petition on website of, a new national alliance of environmental groups and lawmakers concerned about this.Are you aware of this Telecomm. Act legislation?

Monona Rossol responds:

I was not aware of the new bill, but it is such a good idea I'll support it.

May. 11 2009 12:34 PM
carole from new rochelle

this is exactly why i only buy things that are labeled, especially now that i am a mom. i recommend all moms to brush up on safe options out there. two of my favorite sites are: and

Monona Rossol responds:

Thanks for sharing.

May. 11 2009 12:34 PM
Chris from Brooklyn

What products do you recommend? Dish soaps, paint, floor cleaners, nail polish? Is there a list of this stuff?

Monona Rossol responds:

We mentioned a few cleaning substances such as real soap (made from oil reacted with an alkali), baking soda, vinegar, borax. Keri Powell also referred people to the website of Women's Voices for the Earth. Google their home page and go to the list of formulas for safer cleaning products.

I don't know how you can make nail polish and the remover really safe.

May. 11 2009 12:34 PM
Peter from Manhattan

Okay -- so what CAN we use to clean our kitchens, bathrooms, etc. etc.? Where are the list of GOOD cleaners to use?

Monona Rossol responds:

See the next post--same question.

May. 11 2009 12:34 PM
jenny from Brooklyn

question - What about plastic and other chemicals linked to breast cancer?

Monona Rossol responds:

The plastic itself is not the problem. It is the additives such as the phthalate plasticizers or the monomers from which the plastic is made such as bisphenol A. Even the fire retardant additives in the plastic in your computer are now world wide in the bodies of almost all people on the planet.

We really need to evaluate chemicals before industry puts them in all of our products.

May. 11 2009 12:33 PM
Amy from Manhattan

I went to get my mail during your break, & there was a card promoting a pickup-&-deliver laundry service. I'm gonna call them & ask what detergents they use, as well as whether their default is to use hot water (but that's a different environmental issue).

Monona Rossol responds:

They probably use a commercial product rather than a consumer one. Get the name of it if you can and google their material safety data sheet. If you find a list of ingredients, I'll evaluate them for you.

May. 11 2009 12:33 PM
sean from bklyn

I've heard a lot about what not to use but would your guests talk about what products are safe to use?

Monona Rossol responds:

We tried to mention substances such as real soap (made from oil reacted with an alkali), baking soda, vinegar, borax. Keri Powell also referred people to the website of Women's Voices for the Earth. Google their home page and go to the list of formulas for safer products.

May. 11 2009 12:33 PM
Karen Ruelle from New York City

You mentioned citrus oil. Is that the same thing as lemon oil? (I just took a look at one of the cleaning products in my cabinet. Yikes!)
Thank you.

Monona Rossol responds:

The citrus oil I was talking about is composed primarily of d-limonene and it is from oranges primarily. Lemon oil from lemon rinds contains some d-limonene, but there are over 130 different chemicals in addition. We don't know much about the toxicity of these chemicals.

But since many of the chemicals are similar in composition to limonene and turpentine, it may have some of the same characteristics.

May. 11 2009 12:33 PM
mozo from nyc

Life. It's a killer.

Monona Rossol responds:

Yup. None of us get out of here alive. But being a savvy consumer makes it more likely you'll live longer and still have all your marbles at the end.

May. 11 2009 12:33 PM
anne from manhattan

Consumers aren't generally aware that manufacturers can use any ingredient unless it has been expressly prohibited. We're at the mercy of the manufacturers. How can consumers become more educated about the risks and the need for companies to be more responsible & disclose information to consumers? We shouldn't need to go online to find this info - it should be on the label in a way that the average consumer can understand. Maybe an iphone and blackberry application for chemicals in consumer products?

On a related topic, let's not forget that food labels (on processed, canned food, etc) don't include production date or expiry dates, and don't seem to always include the place of production. Congress had sided with food manufacturers on this for years.

(by contrast, all canned/processed food products in many other countries, including China, include this info....hmmm...)

May. 11 2009 12:32 PM
Sari from Brooklyn

I understand that all these petroleum based chemicals are harmful and I try to avoid them when I can. Companies that are interested in appealing to people who don't want to use these chemicals are offering alternatives. I want to know which of them is really safe. Green Marketing is no less insidious than the regular marketing and you can't tell one bad product from another.

Monona Rossol responds:

I hear your frustration. Unfortunately, the only way to really know is to do your research. Get on their websites and look at their ingredient lists or the material safety data sheets. Then google those chemicals and make up your own mind.

You can also send me by email the list of ingredients of one or two products from time to time and I'll evaluate the products for you--giving you information on what is known or not known about those particular ingredients.

But you are wise not to listen to the hype.

May. 11 2009 12:31 PM
nina birnbaum from new york

I manufacture and use natural body care products, most of which contain essential oils. You have mentioned the dangers of essential oils several times on the show, without elaborating (except for d-limonene). Can you talk a little about what you consider the dangers associated with essential oil use in body care and aromatherapy products? Thanks

Monona Rossol responds:

The first time I was aware of the problem was from a report in Science News, Vol. 170, July 1, 2006, p. 6. This article discussed the findings of a Denver-area pediatric endocrinologist, Clifford Block, who treated enlarged male breasts (gynecomastia) in a series of boys age 10 or younger. Most had normal ratios of sex hormones in their blood, indicating that hormone production was not the problem. Block learned that at least 5 boys had been using toiletries containing lavender oil. One of the products contained tea tree oil and a couple of patients were putting pure lavender oil on their skin. The doctor advised the boys to stop using these products. Amazingly, the gynecomastia disappeared in a few months.

Block contacted Derek Henley and Kenneth Korach of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Research Triangle Park, NC. In their lab, the two investigators exposed human-breast cells to lavender oil, and separately to tea tree oil. They found that both oils turned on estrogen-regulated genes and inhibited an androgen-regulated gene. Henley reported these findings at the Endocrine Society meeting in Boston in July.

I suspect that there are other natural products that will do this. Stop and think about all of the soy products that are being used as hormone replacement products for postmenopausal women. Plant estrogens seem to be rather common.

May. 11 2009 12:31 PM
Debby Goldberg from Forest Hills

What about the safety of incense burning? How often have I been in a place that was thick with incense!

Monona Rossol responds:

I have a study on incense in my files based on air samples taken inside a Polish Catholic church which showed toxic and cancer-causing substances in the smoke. I just found another done in a Buddhist temple that had the same findings.

Toxic substances will be generated by burning natural substances such as frankincense, sandal wood, any other wood, peat, plants of any type, crude oil which comes from prehistoric plants, coal also from plants, paraffin from petroleum or beeswax from candles, and much more. And all of these substances will release cancer-causing substances in their smoke as well.

For a common example, the problem with tobacco is not the nicotine. That's not a carcinogen. It's just a very addictive drug. The substances in tobacco smoke that kill are emitted by the burning leaf.

May. 11 2009 12:31 PM
Anne from Manhattan

Okay, so now I want to use only natural cleaners (vinegar, baking soda, etc.)

What is the best way to dispose of bottles of toxic cleaners that are already in my house?

Monona Rossol responds:

If you give them to a household waste project, they usually will dump them because they are products that are legally used to wash and clean and go down drains. And if they do pack them up in barrels as toxic waste, they just take up land fill.

So what I'd do is give them to friends who are less enlightened than you are and who will use these kinds of products no matter how you try to talk them out of it. At least you will save them some money.

May. 11 2009 12:31 PM
Nurit Marcus from NYC


What about "Green Works Natural" by Clorox, claiming on the label that it is "made with plant-and mineral-based ingredients", and is biodegredable.


Monona Rossol responds:

If you go to their website and get the list of ingredients or the material safety data sheet, I'll evaluate the product for you. Just remember when you hear claims like this that plants can also be deadly nightshade or poison ivy and asbestos is a natural mineral. And many biodegradable products are more toxic to people than the ones they replaced. Best we look at what is actually in the product!!

May. 11 2009 12:31 PM
mike from brooklyn

i'm a printmaking student at pratt and i'm curious as to the effects that the inks, and cleaners are having on me. is there anything i should specifically be avoiding?

Monona Rossol responds:

Hmmmm. They should be telling you this. Pratt was cited big time by EPA a few years ago and as part of the settlement, they had to pay for the production of a booklet on art materials which is available on the EPA website. Go to then click on "K-12 schools" and look for a booklet entitled: Environmental Health & Safety in the Arts: A Guide for K-12 Schools, Colleges and Artisans.

There is a section on printmaking in it. I know, because I wrote a lot of it by default as part of my prepublication review.

What is disturbing to me is that the teachers are still not including ample health and safety information in their teaching. If they were, you would not be asking me.

If after reading this you still have questions, get right back to me and I'll do my best to answer.

May. 11 2009 12:29 PM
CC from NYC

Please note that breast milk does NOT increase the level of toxicity over formula feeding.

NYC pediatrician

Monona Rossol responds:

Since breast milk is usually not a consumer product, that's out of my area. If they start to bottle it for general use as a cleaning product, I assure you I'll be looking at the data!!

May. 11 2009 12:29 PM
Dan Marks from NJ - Mahwah

I am interested in learning more about Green Cleaning Products parties... Please ask your guest, Keri Powell, to explain. Thank you.

Monona Rossol responds:

Please contact her at or go to and look for the prompt on their home page to the kits. = Thanks for your interest.

May. 11 2009 12:29 PM
D Wilson from New York

Great segment; unfortunate that it's necessary.

Related to the topic, there's a super book Not Just a Pretty Face by Stacy Malkan about the atrocious ingredients in many cosmetics and other personal care products, taking to task the irresponsible cosmetics industry.

Also, Environmental Working Group has a database about cosmetics.

And there's an interesting West Coast based database that looks at ingredients and other issues associated with products, including political giving by companies, but can't recollect the name at the moment; I'll try to find it.


Monona Rossol responds:

How thoughtful. That's helpful. I know some people at the Environmental Working Group, but I didn't know about the notjustaprettyface.

Keep thinking.

May. 11 2009 12:27 PM
James from DUMBO

Oh god, here we go... everyone get ready to freak out. If all of you are so concerned the best advice I can give you is to LEAVE NEW YORK CITY! I swear this city is filled with hypochondriacs.

Monona Rossol responds:

And a few over-reactors it seems.

May. 11 2009 12:27 PM
Amy from Manhattan

If you do light candles, are tea lights any better than upright candles, or vice versa? They seem smaller, but they also seem to burn longer.

Monona Rossol responds:

The amount of toxic substances created is directly proportional to the amount of wax burned. So if you could weigh the tea light before and after use to determine the amount burned, and then the candle before and after use (not counting the stuff that drips and cools--just the stuff that actually burned) you would be able to find out which was worse.

It is most likely that the one the burns the longest also burns the most wax.

May. 11 2009 12:27 PM

I smell cleaning solution burning a bit after the stove is cleaned, sometimes it is so horrible I cough and can feel it in my lungs!

That said, I am growing older without troubles, and the cleaning lady has been doing this many years and she also is without breathing troubles.

Just how deadly is it to breath what seem to be deadly vaporized chemicals -- given that people don't seem to be dropping dead instantly even when you might think they would?

Monona Rossol responds:

There are two distinct types of response to burning toxic chemicals.

1. ACUTE responses which could include immediate respiratory effect such as coughing and wheezing.

2. CHRONIC responses which are completely silent, usually for years. Then they express themselves with symptoms such as asthma or cancer.

When you burn chemicals on the stove, you are likely to create some substances that can cause acute symptoms like that feeling in your lungs, and chronic symptoms that could come about years later. It's just like cigarettes. A little throat irritation during smoking, but cancer years later.

Don't do this anymore. There must be a way not to burn off the cleaning solution.

May. 11 2009 12:26 PM
Judi from Long Island

I cannot go to The Metropolitan Opera unless I take an antihistamine since so many women sprtiz themselves with perfume for the evening; I break out in red blotches and hives from the smell. Of course, this happens when I walk into certain stores, like Bed, Bath & Beyond; needless to say, I avoid such environments.

Monona Rossol responds:

That is happening to more and more people. Just remember, that many of those fragrances are natural. It really doesn't matter whether a fragrance is manufactured by God or by Goodyear. Those kinds of molecules can cause allergy in many people.

May. 11 2009 12:26 PM
lanvy from FLEETWOOD

I RECENTLY SWITCHED TO SHAKLEE which claims to be child-safe and environmentally friendly. My friends practically allow their kids to breathe in the spray under the noted assumption.

The question: is Shakelee and other environmentally safe products really safe???

Monona Rossol responds:

As I said on the program: If you get the material safety data sheet (MSDS) or list of ingredients, I'll evaluate them for you. Google my name if you forget the email address.

May. 11 2009 12:26 PM
lauren from Asbury Park

if your guest could comment : the ingredients in skincare and cosmetics are often the same ingredients also found in household cleaning products, yet are totally unregulated by the us government.

Monona Rossol responds: One of the reasons is that the two kinds of products are regulated by two different agencies.

1. FDA regulates skin care and cosmetic products. It requires certain testing and listing of the ingredients on the product labels.

2. Consumer products, on the other hand, are regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission which is a weak and underfunded organization.

Both agencies have suffered badly in the last 8 years since Bush put at their heads people to tried to destroy them from the inside. The Bush theory seems to have been that the regulations just get in the way of business making good profits. While both agencies declined, the CPSC was never very strong to begin with.

So consumer cleaning products don't have the same requirements for testing and labeling as cosmetics.

May. 11 2009 12:26 PM
Leonore Gordon from BROOKLYN

Re: poorly regulated environmental toxins: lsst Wednesday, Vallone introduced new legislation and spoke of his letter to Congress and related petition on new national environmental group's website, CLOUTNOW.ORG, all regarding the more tightly regulating siting of cell phone antennas due to low-level continuous emissions of EMF radiation from cell antenna. Vallobe's letter to Congress and petition concerns Sec 704 of the Telecomm. act, which prohibits lawmakers from referencing "health" in legislation. Vallone and others environmental activists demand amendments to this. The EU and recent Bioinitiative Report points out that the US has lowest standards on EMF emissions. Are you aware of this?

Monona Rossol responds:

Yup. Our regulations are considered a joke around the world. We have the theory that if you can't absolutely prove something is toxic, industry has the right to use it as they will. And then we require such a high level of proof that the tobacco industry and drag out the question for 40 years.

In Europe, they operate on the precautionary principle: in the absence of test data, they assume it is probably toxic. We need to wake up and do the same.

May. 11 2009 12:26 PM
Nancy from Austin, TX

Is it any better if you burn soy candles?

Monona Rossol responds:

Nope. Burn anything "organic" and you get toxic substances some of which are also carcinogens. By "organic," I mean substances based on carbon. This can include soy, paraffin, beeswax, wood, coal, oil, and so on. For example, a cigarette is not toxic because of nicotine--that's just a mild drug. It is the smoke from the burning tobacco leaf that kills. And any other leaf will do the same--if you get my drift.

May. 11 2009 12:25 PM

My daughter has been diagnosed with Central Precocious Puberty at age 5. There has been research that phalates may cause this and CPP is on the increase. Is there any research or support on this? Are they being banned? How can I find out more? thanks

Monona Rossol responds:

Great question. First realize that phthalates are a class of chemicals with many members. Some have been banned in Europe for some time. Seven phthalates were banned by California a few years ago. And now, the Congress forced the Consumer Product Safety Commission to restrict six phthalates in children's products to 0.1% or less. That's a start.

The problem is, industry just modifies the phthalate molecule a bit to make a new phthalate which is unregulated. The new one is untested and into our products it goes. It probably will even be labeled non-toxic since no one can prove it is toxic!

In Europe, they don't operate this way. Instead of assuming untested chemicals are safe, they assume they are toxic until industry tests and proves otherwise. We need to take a lesson from them.

Art and craft products are not covered by this new law. Most notably are the polymer clays like Sculpey and Fimo--products that are commonly used in homes by crafters. They usually contain from 3% to 15% phthalates.

But there are other endocrine disrupters besides the phthalates. And some of these are natural substances. Lavender oil and tea tree oil were associated with breast development in young boys! Tung oil has been known to do similar things for years. And look at all the soy products that are used in hormone replacement therapy for postmenopausal women who don't want to take synthetic hormones. Well----if it acts like a hormone, it IS a hormone.

So look though all of the materials and foods used in your home--not just for the synthetic chemicals such as phthalates.

May. 11 2009 12:25 PM
JT from Long Island

Is it true that an ingredient listed simply as "fragrance" can be almost anything, even dangerous chemicals?

Monona Rossol responds:

Yup, true. The only good thing is that fragrances have to be in a very small percentage of the total weight of the product. So even some of the very toxic ones are limited in their toxicity because they are in trace amounts. However, if they can also cause allergies, this doesn't help much. People can become highly sensitive to even traces of certain chemicals.

May. 11 2009 12:25 PM
Annette St. John from Rahway, NJ

I stopped using chemical and petroleum based cleaning products more than 10 years ago. I use either cleaning products made of vegetable oils, or those I have made myself of vinegar, baking soda, etc. (formulas that I picked up from books and articles on the topic). My house and clothes are clean, and my husband and I have not even had a cold in years! In short, natural works just fine for cleaning and antiseptic purposes.

Monona Rossol responds:

Oh, that's so nice to hear. You made my day.

May. 11 2009 12:25 PM
anne from long island

I am in support of laws that protect consumers; this goes without saying. But I wonder about the efficacy of such laws. I've noticed that the price comparison labels on grocery store shelves - the result of litigation, I am sure - have become nearly useless for comparison. One product is listed by the pound; a similar product is priced by the quart or the gallon. After all of the money spent on litigation (not to mention the cost and labor spent on labelling the shelves), this is what we're left with: an unusable set of comparisons originally meant to help the consumer and ultimately just a waste of time.

Monona Rossol responds:

In a way, I agree with you. I worked with other activists to get a law passed to provide better labeling for toxic art materials. It did provide some help, but on the whole, I think it has made some things worse. Now people trust the labeling while manufacturers have found ways to make it meaningless.

I like the comparison pricing probably because I minored in math and can figure it out pretty easily.

But all in all, it is just one long battle. If we do nothing, they will be completely unchecked, so I guess I'll keep whacking away at them.

May. 11 2009 12:24 PM
Gina Nicholl from Michigan

How toxic is "Scrubbing Bubbles". I don't see a warning on the label, but it smells so strong. What household cleaners are known to hurt reproductive health or are known to be dangerous for pregnant women?

Monona Rossol responds:

There is no relationship between odor and toxicity. Some things that have no odor or that we like the odor can be bad for us. And some things that smell really bad are not very toxic. I don't know exactly what is in "Scrubbing Bubbles" but it is likely to be quite corrosive since it is designed to clean and disinfect bathroom fixtures. If you want to find out, get on their website and download the MSDS. You can attach it to an email and I'll evaluate it for you.

The household products that we are most concerned about for pregnant women are those that contain solvents: alcohol, petroleum distillates, toluene, glycol ethers, and similar solvents. These are all associated with neurological damage in adults and we assume it can do the same to the fetus. On the program I summarized two studies that support this association.

Just as alcohol is known to cause fetal alcohol syndrome, we now know that glue sniffing can do the same thing. While these are dramatic over exposures, the studies I cited showed that much lower doses appear to cause milder brain damage in the baby leading to impulsivity, learning difficulties, and the like.

May. 11 2009 12:24 PM
Petra from tarrytown, ny

I'd really love to know about exposure levels to these toxins. For example, if I polish my coffee table once a week with Pledge how dangerous is that? Do these chemicals build up in our bodies?


Petra in Tarrytown

Monona Rossol responds:

Thankfully, citrus oil, d-limonene and most of the natural and petroleum solvents do not accumulate in the body. They are sort of like alcohol. They go in and out of the body rather rapidly--but they leave their damage behind which accumulates.

For example, every time you drink heavily, you kill some brain cells and stress your liver and kidneys. Years of drinking, and you will see permanent damage to these organs. It is the same with inhaling the solvents, except it takes vastly less of these chemicals to cause problems because they are far too toxic to drink.

The citrus solvents are also capable of causing allergic reactions. The more often you are exposed to them, the more likely you are to develop the reaction. Allergies can be thought of as permanent damage to your immune system.

So the chemicals that do not accumulate are not necessarily safer--just different in the way they attack the body.

May. 11 2009 12:23 PM
Serena from NYC

About a month ago I used Ajax powder and the skin on my eyelids to my eyebrow have been irritated since. When someone finally pointed out it was an allergic reaction and I pinpointed the Ajax as the culprit because that's when the symptoms developed I applied a paste of benedryl to the area. Unfortunately its still irritated.

Monona Rossol responds:

I suggest you get on the Ajax website and download the material safety data sheet (MSDS). Hopefully, this will help you determine just which of the ingredients is causing your reaction. You need to know to avoid this ingredient in the future in other products. If you'd like, you can email me a list of the ingredients and I'll try to help you figure it out. To find my email, google my name.

May. 11 2009 12:22 PM

what about fabric sofener -- it makes my skin crawl.

Monona Rossol responds:

I'm not surprised by your reaction. The antistatic compounds are often quaternary amine compounds, and many amines are known to cause allergies.

If that weren't enough, the fabric softeners fluff up and coat fibers making fabrics more flammable. Many of the softener labels carry a warning not to use them on fire-retarded fabrics. There are even deaths attributed to people wearing terri cloth that had been fabric softened and getting to near a flame or cigarette.

May. 11 2009 12:21 PM
thatgirlinnewyork from manhattan

please ask your guests why they cannot compel the NYSDEC to enforce this law, thus keeping our drinking water safe from the irreversable threat of hydraulic gas drilling. New Yorkers--your drinking water is under threat!

more info:


Monona Rossol responds:

Industry rules and big industry rules absolutely. It is not going to be easy to get this to work. I support Earth Justice in this effort.

May. 11 2009 12:21 PM
Stephanie Longo from Colorado

In social work school we had a saying that laws that are not funded are just political look-good covers for politicians, not real laws.

Monona Rossol responds:

Except when a good lawyer like Earth Justice's Keri Powell gets a hold of one. It just might be she and her colleagues can make the state enforce this one since it should cost almost nothing.

May. 11 2009 12:20 PM
m from NYC (Chinatown)

Hopefully not too far off-topic, I'm (more than a little) curious about what we're breathing when candles are lit in restaurants, bars, yoga studios (!)... 'Wonder why their use isn't more discouraged. I react very badly -- as if drugged -- when in such spaces for even short amounts of time. Thanks (even if you can't get to this question, 'big huge appreciation for your and guests attention to these issues).

Monona Rossol responds:

I answered this on the air, but I'll do it again here. If you burn anything "organic" and you get toxic substances some of which are also carcinogens. By "organic," I mean substances based on carbon. This can include soy, paraffin, beeswax, wood, coal, oil, and so on. For example, a cigarette is not toxic because of nicotine--that's just a mild drug. It is the smoke from the burning tobacco leaf that kills. And any other leaf will do the same--if you get my drift.

May. 11 2009 01:17 AM

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