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Wash alert: Beware of toxic detergents

As it wash in the beginning, you do your laundry most probably on weekends. But before you get buried in a mountain of soiled clothes, have you ever stopped to think what’s in the laundry detergent you’re using?

Did you know that health activist Joseph Mercola found some ingredients in some popular brands of laundry detergent that have potential links to cancer?

He says, “I can tell you most laundry detergents contain a potentially toxic stew of chemicals that can leave residues behind on your clothing … and can be absorbed by your skin or released into the air you breathe.”

He lists these toxins found in typical laundry detergents:

 •Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS). Studies have linked the use of this chemical foaming agent (also known as surfactant) to a scary number of health issues —from skin irritation to organ toxicity to even cancer.

•Dioxane (1,4-dioxane). A majority of top laundry detergent brands contain this synthetic petrochemical, which is a carcinogen (toxic to the brain and nervous system). A by-product contaminant of the manufacturing process, unfortunately, it is not required to be listed on product labels.

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•Linear Alky Benzene Sulfonates (LAS). Synthetic petrochemicals biodegrade slowly, making them an environmental hazard. Benzene may cause cancer in humans and animals.

•Nonylphenol Ethoxylate (NPE). This petrochemical surfactant has been banned in European Union countries and Canada. The reason is it may cause liver and kidney damage. It’s biodegradable but biodegrades into more toxic substances.

• Petroleum distillates (aka napthas). This is derived from synthetic crude oil, and has been linked to cancer, lung and mucous membrane damage.

• Phenols. This can cause toxicity throughout the entire body.

Optical brighteners. It can be toxic to fish and cause allergic reactions in humans.

Artificial fragrances. These are linked to various  toxic effects on fish and mammals, and can cause allergies, skin and eye irritation to humans.

Phosphates. Used to prevent dirt from settling back into clothes after being washed, they can stimulate the growth of marine plants that trigger unbalanced ecosystems.

• Ethylene diamine tetraacetic acid (EDTA). This group of compounds is used as an alternative to phosphates. It’s been found to cause reproductive and developmental effects in lab animals and does not readily biodegrade.

Sodium Hypochlorite (household bleach). It’s a chemical precursor to chlorine, which is extremely toxic. Skin contact can produce caustic irritation or burns. Mixing with other cleaning products can create hazardous and sometimes carcinogenic fumes.

“These are just some of the toxic and potential cancer-causing chemicals found in typical laundry detergents that can’t only cause you harm, but raise havoc in the environment as well,” Mercola warns. “These harsh chemicals can build up in your clothes and eventually penetrate your skin.”

The sad truth is that detergent makers are not required by law to list these ingredients.

Mercola zeroes in on four of the most toxic ingredients: sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), 1,4-dioxane, nonylphenol ethoxylate (NPE), and phosphates.

SLS is also found in nearly all shampoos, scalp treatments, hair color and bleaching agents, toothpastes, body washes and cleansers, makeup foundations, liquid hand soaps. The reason is it is a very inexpensive foaming agent.

Although it comes from coconuts, SLS is by no means natural. It can hide under other names such as sodium dodecyl sulfate, sulfuric acid, monododecyl ester, and sodium salt.

The most disturbing thing about SLS is it can cause mutations and cancer. And the disturbing question is how can  you avoid it when laundry detergent manufacturers don’t have to list it on their product labels?

“When the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) starts getting concerned about a consumer product, we all need to pay attention,” notes Mercola. “And such is the case with nonylphenol ethoxylate (NPE) found in many laundry detergents. The EPA recently released an action plan to address both NPE and nonylphenol (NP), whose main use is the manufacture of NPE. The action plan was to gain support for the ongoing voluntary phase-out of NPEs in laundry detergent.”

The good news is NPE is already banned in Canada and Europe. Even Wal-Mart has listed NPE as one of the chemicals they’re asking suppliers to phase out.

Also, detergents now come with or without phosphates (they’re the main cleaning ingredient which breaks down dirt particles and removes stains by softening the water and allowing subs to form) — the more subs, the more dangerous? So, now, you have a choice..

The bottom line is you do have a choice. And finding phosphate-free laundry detergent is quite easy, Mercola assures us. Unlike other potentially dangerous toxins, most detergent manufacturers list the fact the detergent is phosphate-free right on the label.

And now, Mercola lists some of the toxic contaminants found in fabric softeners and dryer sheets: Benzyl acetatelinked to pancreatic cancer; limonene, A-Terpineol, ethyl acetate, camphor,  chloroform, and pentane.

To avoid exposure to these toxic chemicals, here are some green laundry tips from Mercola:

• Buy concentrated detergents. These types of detergents have reduced packaging and a smaller carbon footprint (requiring less space and fuel for shipping).

• Wear it more than once. Instead of washing your clothes after wearing them only once, if they’re really not dirty, washing them less often saves energy and extends the life of your clothes as well.

Wash and rinse in cold water. You’ll save a bundle on electricity by not heating water because 90 percent of the energy required for washing lies in heating up the water.

Wash only full loads of laundry. Washing small loads of laundry is very inefficient and wastes water and energy.

Hang it out to dry. Because they use so much energy, anything you can do to cut back on dryer use can make a real difference. If possible, put up a clothesline … your clothes will last longer and smell fresher as well.

Try making your own detergent. Go green and make your own laundry detergent. At least you know what ingredients you’re using.

Avoid dry cleaning. Traditional dry cleaning is not a green process by any stretch of the imagination. It is a toxic process which uses harsh, carcinogenic chemicals, such as perchloroethylene (aka perc). If you must dry clean certain clothes, look for an eco-friendly green dry cleaner in your area.

More, take the bother to check out the ingredients of the laundry detergent that you buy to see what’s in there and what shouldn’t be in there.

And this is more than just washful thinking.

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