At a Wingspread conference in Racine in 1998, a group of scientists, philosophers, lawyers, and environmental activists established the Precautionary Principle as the right course for approaching public health and environmental concerns. The principle supports that protective measures be taken when human health is believed to be threatened, even before the threat has been proven scientifically.
Most consumers don’t stop to think before bringing toxic cleaning products into their homes. Long after the products are used, toxins linger in the home through residue and dust. Our immune systems can cope with dust from natural sources such as skin, hair, pollen, and insect particles. Of the 40 pounds of dust accumulated in the average home each year, more than 25% is from unnatural sources such as paint, synthetic chemicals, hydrocarbons, pesticides, and heavy metals. Our homes are becoming more and more polluted. Illnesses are being linked to chemicals penetrating our bodies through detergents, perfumes, pesticides, and even food. Laundry detergents and fabric softeners containing synthetic solvents embed the chemicals into our clothing and poison the human body 24 hours a day.
Companies do test chemical toxicity by exposing mice and rats to individual chemicals. These tests determine the dose needed to cause death and establish the baseline of safe levels for human exposure. Human exposure to sub-lethal doses of poison in cleaning products sounds far from harmless. Effects from repeated exposure and interaction with other chemicals are more difficult to determine. Just by mixing a toxic cleaner with seemingly innocuous hot water creates an interaction with the chlorine in the water and allows chemicals to disperse into the air through steam to be breathed in easily and quickly.
Most consumers believe that if products were unsafe, the labels would tell us so. Companies are not required to list cleaning product ingredients on labels. If a window cleaner cleans windows and smells nice, consumers will remain loyal to the product and continue to purchase it. Product labels do not inform consumers that window cleaners contain butyl cellosolve, naphtha, and glycol ethers, compounds that are easily absorbed through the skin and cause neurological, respiratory, and organ damage.
All hope is not lost. Seventh Generation has been providing all-natural cleaners, laundry detergents, and paper products for more than 20 years. The company’s inspiration comes from the Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy: “In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.” The proactive approach of Seventh Generation has a three-part focus: restore the environment, inspire conscious consumption, and create a just and equitable world. Using Seventh Generation products not only helps support these humanitarian goals; it also reduces one’s exposure to the toxins that are slowly poisoning us all.