Pollution from toxic substances is another negative byproduct of reliance on fossil fuels. Environmental calamities from ozone damage and smog to contaminated water supplies have their roots in the burning of nonrenewables, such as petroleum and coal. And all can result in the following serious damage to the natural world:
- Smog alert: Utility plants, coal-burning facilities, and oil refineries are among the biggest generators of acid rain, ozone compromise, particle pollution, and the release of chemicals that shade our skies an ominous gray and brown. This air pollution damages trees and eats away at metal, building materials, and even ancient monuments.
- Dead in the water: Chemical runoff from factories, homes, and farms - where petroleum-based pesticides and fertilizers are used - pours into streams and waterways with disastrous consequences, destroying water life and creating algaes that upset the balance of the underwater ecosystem.
- Dangerous ground: The same processes and chemicals that cause air and water pollution contaminate soil and threaten vegetation and the creatures (including humans) that depend on them.
Outing Indoor Pollution
Once they've done their dirty work, tough-acting cleaning products contribute their share to environmental havoc when they're washed down the drain or dumped into the ground. They also do a number on indoor air quality.
In our battles against germs, we often wipe out the enemy only to discover we have a bigger threat. The conventional cleaning formulas employed in housekeeping contain chemicals that can activate or aggravate a spectrum of health problems.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), found in certain household products and prevalent in paints, varnishes, household furniture, and carpeting, escape into the air as vapor and contribute to what's been dubbed sick-building syndrome. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), VOC levels can be as much as five times higher indoors than outside. Even at lesser levels, VOCs are known to aggravate allergies and to cause asthma and respiratory illnesses, and they're linked to other health problems. Children and pets are most vulnerable to these conditions.
WARNING: Ammonia, butyl cellusolve, phthalates, perchlorethylene, benzene: An alphabet soup of ingredients in commercial cleaning formulas has been connected to cancer and other serious conditions.
Breathing Easier with Greener Cleaning
Eliminating or reducing the everyday use of toxic chemicals and keeping them out of our water systems is a step toward a healthier home and environment. Reducing the damage from common household products requires positive changes, such as the following:
- To be certain cleaning formulas don't contain chemicals that have been linked to health problems or pollution, choose products that list ingredients on the container. Because they're not legally required to do so, few manufacturers disclose their contents on the label. Search for information by chemical or product at the Household Products Database (http://hpd.nlm.nih.gov).
- Dispose of toxic solutions responsibly by taking advantage of hazardous-materials collection sites. Pouring chemicals down the drain means they end up in the water supply (we're hearing a lot these days about the high level of pharmaceuticals in our drinking water) and the soil as well.