AIHce: What You Don’t Know Can Kill You!

May 17, 2011
There is one poisoning every 14 seconds in the United States. The largest percentage of these poisonings are from cleaning products, says Tony Uliano, and independent EHS consultant and adjunct professor at Portland State University School of Public Health in Portland, Ore. Uliano shared a brief overview of consumer product toxicology at the American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Expo in Portland on May 16.

“We assume the materials we purchase in a store are safe and they’re not,” he adds.

According to Uliano, “Average consumers purchase hundreds of products annually and, on any given day, are unsuspectingly exposed to scores of chemicals. Exposure encompasses all routes of entry and the toxicity of these agents is poorly evaluated and not fully understood. Children are especially vulnerable.”

In reality, the hazards of the materials found in consumer products are not well known. OSHA has permissible exposure limits for chemicals in the workplace, but exposures to chemicals in household cleaners, laundry detergents and personal care products are thought to be so minute as to be inconsequential. Not so, says Uliano, who points out that while the exposures might be many times less than those found in a workplace, they are chronic in many cases, with repeated exposures occurring over many years. He particularly warns about the fragrances found in everything from personal products like perfumes and shampoos to those in laundry detergents and cleaning products.

There are 2.2 million exposures to chemicals that are reported to poison control centers every year, with 90 percent of those exposures occurring in the home. Some 920 deaths have been reported as linked to exposure to consumer products, and 475,079 people were treated at a healthcare facility for chemical exposure.

“The average consumer uses nine products in a 24-hour period that potentially exposes them to 120 to 160 different chemicals,” reveals Uliano. “A number of consumer-based agents are so persistent in our environment that they have been detected in all humans tested and in polar bears.” These chemicals include phthalates, mercury, dioxins, BPA, lead, PCBs, PBDE and others.

While it’s difficult to avoid all of the chemicals found in our daily lives, Uliano suggests being a concerned consumer and avoiding products that contain chemicals that are known to cause adverse health effects. He also suggests following use and precautionary information to the letter, especially warnings about ventilation and personal protective equipment.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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