Sunday, December 11, 2005

You be the judge... What is toxic and what's not

This was written by Bonnie Edkin an Environmental Chemist. It really puts things in perspective...

I saw the posting recently about All Purpose H being listed on the Toxic Nation web site. My apologies. I had wanted to respond earlier, but just wasn’t able to at the time. My friend Mary Moore, a distributor in Canada, helped to put a fire under my feet and get me moving with a response. GRIN.

The posting mentioned that the Toxic Nation web site
(underneath the listing for All Purpose-H) says “Note: D-limonene is a hazardous substance, although it is derived from a natural source. We do not recommend it for frequent use.” You were wondering what that meant. So, here are a few points that might be helpful.

Oh, but first . . . just a side point . . . the “Guide to Less Toxic
Products” isn’t actually part of the “Toxic Nation” web site. Rather, the
Toxic Nation site has a link on it that takes you to this guide. The guide
itself is part of the web site for the “Environmental Health Association of
Nova Scotia” at ;

But, now, back to the question.

Here are a few answers to some questions that I think will be helpful.

1.) Does the note about d-limonene refer to All Purpose H?

No, it does not. Yeah, I know, for those of you who took the time to look
at the web site, you’re probably thinking something like “but that IS what
the web site indicated!” So, why do I say that the part about d-limonene
doesn’t have anything to do with All Purpose H?

I know it may look that way when you first look at the list, but, if you
look closely at the information on the “Guide to Less Toxic Products,” you’
ll notice that information about d-limonene is really a footnote to an
earlier paragraph (the paragraph above the list of products under the
heading “All Purpose Cleaner”). That paragraph says . . .

“Cleaners may contain ammonia, a strong irritant which can also cause kidney
and liver damage, butyl cellusolve which is neurotoxic and rapidly
penetrates skin, and ortho phenylphenol which is a severe eye and skin
irritant. Many all-purpose cleaners contain DEA and TEA which can react with
nitrites (added as undisclosed preservatives or present as contaminants) to
form carcinogenic nitrosomines which readily penetrate the skin. Many
coloured products are made with carcinogenic coal tar colours. Hormone
disrupting parabens may be used as preservatives. Many cleaners also include
fragrances and detergents. Alternative brands may contain d-limonene, a
sensitizer which can also cause respiratory distress as well as liver,
kidney and nervous system damage.”

Immediately following that paragraph, it provides two lists and then the
footnote about d-limonene. The first list, which cites nine products, is
called “Less Toxic Alternatives.” This is followed by a list called
“Simply Unscented” and this is where All Purpose H appears. All Purpose H is the only
product listed in the Simply Unscented list.

Next comes the footnote about d-limonene that says ” Note: D-limonene is a
hazardous substance, although it is derived from a natural source. We do
not recommend it for frequent use.” This footnote is simply providing
information about what was stated earlier in the earlier paragraph about
d-limonene. It is not meant to be connected to All Purpose H.

How can you be sure of that?

Look carefully at the products mentioned in the “Less Toxic Alternatives”
list. Notice that when there is any caution regarding a product, that
caution appears in parentheses on the same line with that product in the
list. You can see an example of what I’m talking about if you look at the
product “20 Mule Team Borax” which appears in the “Less Toxic” list. If the
footnote about d-limonene were meant to be associated with All Purpose H, the
publishers would have placed that information in parentheses immediately
after Basic-H (by “immediately after” I mean specifically continuing on the
same line with All Purpose H, not a spaced line below it).

2.) What’s in All Purpose H? Are you sure there’s no d-limonene in it?

Thanks to Mary Moore, here’s the ingredient list for Barefoot Secret Canada All Purpose H
(I’m assuming, Carol, since you were looking at the Toxic Nation web site
that you were looking for information for products found in Canada):

H All Purpose Cleaner: Butylated Hydroxytoluene, D&C Green #5, Dowicil
75, Hydrochloric Acid (to adjust pH), Linear Alcohol Alkoxylate,
Methylparaben, Pareth 25-7, Water

Btw, Mare tells me this information is available via the Technical Handbook
as shown on the website (under the Library heading under
Technical Info and then under Technical Handbook, Part C).

(US Distributors, please note that the US formulation for All Purpose-H is
different. The US All Puropse-H contains linear alcohol alkoxylates.)

Notice that d-limonene is not an ingredient.

3.) Good grief, what on earth is d-limonene anyway? And, what are the
concerns with this compound? Just how terrified should I be of this stuff?

Look at the word. What does it remind you of? Limes, perhaps?

Here’s what the Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia’s web site
says (that’s the web site where the Guide to Less Toxic Products is found):

“D-limonene - This chemical is produced by cold-pressing orange peels. The
extracted oil is 90% d-limonene. It is a sensitizer, a neurotoxin, a
moderate eye and skin irritant, and can trigger respiratory distress when
vapours are inhaled by some sensitive individuals. There is some evidence
of carcinogenicity. D-limonene is the active ingredient in some
insecticides. It is used as a solvent in many all-purpose cleaning products,
especially 'citrus' and 'orange' cleaners. Also listed on labels as citrus
oil and orange oil.”

So, let’s talk a little bit about that paragraph. D-limonene is a
naturally-occuring compound found in citrus fruits. It is obtained
commercially by cold-pressed from orange peels.

Ever make a lemon meringue pie and grate some lemon rind in it? Ever make
home-made lemonade (or lime-ade) by cutting up fresh lemons (or limes) and
boiling the pieces in water. Or, perhaps you’ve “freshened” the air in your
home by doing that – boiling some citrus fruit in some water on the stove.

If so, you’ve been exposed to d-limonene. No doubt you are twitching right
now from the serious neurotoxic effects of this compound – or if not yet,
you soon will be. (Okay, really, I am just joking.)

I don’t mean to minimize the potential consequences of the 90% d-limonene
oil that the “Less Toxic” list is talking about. Rather, I am trying to
illustrate how important it is to give thoughtful consideration to things
that can, IN SOME CIRCUMSTANCES, be considered hazardous.

D-limonene is considered an eye and skin irritant. Think about that for a
minute . . .

I don’t mind eating an orange, but I surely do not like it at all when some
of the juice squirts into my eye. I’m sure you’ve had that happen. You’re
peeling the orange or pulling the sections apart and some of the juice
squirts right into your eye. Ouch! Now, if you stood in your kitchen all
day long squirting orange juice into your eyes, I’m quite sure your eyes
would become irritated. Yet (assuming you’re not allergic to citrus fruit),
you’re probably not concerned about eating oranges – even though the juice
is an “eye irritant.” I have no qualms about grating a little fresh
(organically-grown) lime, lemon, or orange peel into something I’m making.
Yep. Even though I know the peel contains d-limonene. That small amount is
quite a bit different from the “90% d-limonene” oil that’s used to make some
cleaning products.

What about onions? Does chopping onions irritate your eyes? But, do you
eat onions? Probably. What if you put fresh lemon juice on your skin
several times a day? Do you think it just might irritate the skin a bit?

I’m using these examples to illustrate how something can be either “good” or
“bad” depending on how it is used. It’s our responsibility to carefully
evaluate what we read and figure out (and, yes, sometimes we need help
figuring this out) if some news article or something we’ve read on the ‘Net
or something some “expert” has said really is a cause for genuine concern –
or, was the person or organization simply trying to “sell” (or promote) a
headline or a product or an ideology.

The reason I am saying all of this about how something can be “good” or
“bad” depending on how it’s used, etc, is because people have a tendency to
look at an MSDS – material safety data sheet – for an ingredient in a
product and apply that information to the final product. MSDS are created
for the specific purpose of educating workers about the potential dangers of
repeated daily exposures to the things they work with (and to help haz-mat
teams, fire departments, etc know what to do in the event the compound is
involved in a chem spill, fire, etc). So, the scary stuff that’s written on
an MSDS for 90% d-limonene doesn’t really apply to someone who occasionally
uses a product that has some of the diluted oil in it. The difference is
sort of like eating an orange versus constantly being squirted in the eye
with citrus juice.

Btw, the web site also mentioned that there’s “some evidence of
carcinogenicity” from d-limonene. Truth be told, researchers are also
studying the compound as a possible anti-cancer agent.

4.) Does this mean I shouldn’t be at all concerned with d-limonene?

One of the problems with d-limonene is that is it a “sensitizer.” This is a
term we goofy chemists use for compounds that, with repeated exposure, have
a tendency to make people sensitive to other things. Formaldehyde is an
example of another sensitizer. There are a number of things that do this.
Sensitizers are not necessarily similar compounds. The term just refers to
the ability of a compound to make people sensitive to other compounds. So,
with repeated exposure to d-limonene (or some other sensitizer), some people
will become extremely sensitive to paints, perfumes, etc. This is actually
the reason for one theory regarding the increase in multiple chemical
sensitivity: because so many things in our world today expose us to
formaldehyde (a sensitizer), some researchers believe this has contributed
to the development of multiple chemical sensitivity in more and more people.

That being the case, it is wise to be cautious with d-limonene – and that is
exactly what the “Less Toxic” guide said. As the web site mentioned, the
organization doesn’t recommend it for frequent use.

There are, of course, times when it may be necessary for someone to
completely avoid products with d-limonene. Someone who is already
chemically-sensitive may not want to have any exposure to these products,
for example, because they don’t need to add to a problem they already have.

5.) What about some of the other products listed in the “Guide to Less Toxic
Alternatives?” Is this a good reference guide?

First, a little family story . . . back in the 70’s, one time when my
brother came home from college break, the family conversation turned (as if
often did) toward environmental issues. My brother told us something one of
his college professors had said: “If you just strike a match you affect the
environment.” Over the years, I’ve often thought about that statement
(guess that’s kind of obvious since I’m telling this story now and this
happened around 30 years ago). While our initial reaction might be “come
on, that’s a little extreme” the professor was right. EVERYTHING we do
affects our environment.

We inhale: we use some of the life-sustaining oxygen on our planet. We
exhale: we put VOCs into our home air while also making a contribution to
the greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide) on our planet. We build a home and
drill a well and each time we draw water from that well, we lower the water
table in our area. We choose to set our homes as far back from the street
as possible on our building lots and then pave our long driveways and we
decrease the ability of the rain to replenish the local water table.

Build a wood fire (camp fire or in your fireplace or woodstove) and you’ve
added dioxins to the environment. Stand in the smoke and you might be
inhaling some dioxins.

Everything we do affects the environment in some way. It’s just that the
environment is self-sustaining – meaning that it can handle some of this
stuff to a certain extent.

It’s sort of the same thing with our bodies. We eat food and various toxic
compounds are formed from our normal metabolic process. Formaldehyde, for
example, is a by-product of some of the foods we eat. It’s just a normal
by-product of our metabolism. So, even if there were no formaldehyde in any
products in our environment, we’d still be exposed to it. But, a healthy
body takes care of those metabolic toxins. That’s are some of the functions
of the liver, kidneys, digestive tract and skin – to eliminate the “junk”
our body produces as it processes the things we eat and inhale. Here’s
another thing to think about: what we eat affects our hormones – after all,
they are chemical messengers in the body. Hormones tell your body how and
when to do the various jobs it performs – like when the kidneys should
recycle (retain) more water and when they should remove more water from the
bloodstream. So, when someone says “parabens are hormone disruptors and
this product contains parabens,” I can’t help but ask exactly WHAT paraben
the product contains and does THAT PARTICULAR PARABEN have any real health
concerns. You see, some parabens are good for you. Blueberries contain
good-for-you parabens, for example.

What I’m trying to say here is that it’s generally always a good idea to
also look at the “big picture” to see where the little pieces fit in it.
That usually gives you an idea of just how alarmed you should – or shouldn’
– be about something.

So, now, back to that list of “Less Toxic” products.

Please realize that the list is geared toward reducing chemical use IN THE
HOME, and this is not the same thing as being good for our environment.
What do I mean by that? Baking soda is “less toxic” to YOU than the
scouring powders you could buy at the grocery store, but that doesn’t mean
that the commercial production of baking soda is GOOD for our environment.
So, something we all need to do – whatever product we use – is to use it
responsibly. If ‘a little dab will do ya,’ then we shouldn’t use a big dab.
After all, if we all used two times more than we needed to, that would mean
the manufacturer have to produce twice as much of the product. That might
be good for his/her pocketbook, but it’s not good for our planet. It uses
valuable resources – raw materials, energy, etc – and the empty containers
contribute to the ever-increasing waste stream.

Frequently, the “Less Toxic Guide” suggests using borax (or some product
that contains borax) as a less toxic alternative. If you’re talking about
pesticides, borax is a less toxic alternative. For that occasional use, it’
s probably fine. However, many people are sensitive to borax, so I take
issue with the suggestion to use it for so many cleaning purposes. It can
be a skin irritant (but, remember, so can lemon juice, and, on the other
hand, a mild solution of boric acid makes a good eye wash.) But, back to my
main concern about the web site’s suggestion to use borax for so many
different cleaning chores . . .

Here are some tidbits on boron (from whence comes borax) from “Standard
Methods for the Examination of Water and Wastewater” (this is an
authoritative reference book for environmental analyses). Boron is an
essential element for plant growth. However, plants can be affected
adversely when irrigated with water containing a concentration of 1 to 2
mg/L Boron. Boron may occur naturally in some waters or it may find its way
into a watercourse through CLEANING COMPOUNDS and industrial wastes.
Seawater naturally contains boron, so boron is therefore found in salt water
estuaries. The ingestion of large amounts of boron can affect the central
nervous system.

So, a product with borax isn’t exactly a great choice for our planet. If we
all started washing our clothes with borax and using borax for all of our
cleaning chores, borates would likely become as serious of an environmental
concern as phosphates became back in the 70s when almost all cleaning
products had a fairly large amount of phosphorus in them.

Perhaps you noticed on the “Guide to Less Toxic Products” web site that
ammonia is listed as a “bad” ingredient in one section, but then is listed
as a “less toxic” alternative in another section? Yep, that’s right. Did
you notice that?

Why am I saying all of this? I don’t mean to imply that the info on their
web site is bad or all wrong. My point is that, no matter what we use,
someone is going to be able to point out a problem with it – because
EVERYTHING we do affects the environment or, in some situation could be
“bad” for someone. As an environmental chemist, I may not like some of the
things they suggest to use. Someone else will have their reasons as to why
they think that what I prefer isn’t as “good” as what they like. We,
therefore, cannot just “run scared” each time we hear or read something.
Someone is always going to have a new concept they want everyone to accept –
and they may do a pretty good job of making their idea sound reasonable. We
all need to use our brains so as to decide if what they say truly is
reasonable. ;-)

How do we do that? Sometimes it’s as simple as just looking into the
Barefoot Secret corporate information for answers. The US Barefoot Secret Member Center has
so much info available to us. From the “library” section of the US Member
Center, members can download an Ingredient Glossary for the supplements.
This wonderful file contains info on all the ingredients used in the dietary
supplements. Similar documents are also available on the Member Center for
the personal care products. The Barefoot Secret Canada web site has similar info
available for the Canadian products (thank-you Mare Moore for this info).

In this particular case, for example, a simple check of the ingredient
information from Barefoot Secret Manufacturer would have quickly revealed that All Purpose-H doesn’t
contain d-limonene . . . which would have saved everyone from this long
boring email. GRIN.

Editors Note: To meet with Barefoot Secret Manufacturers Guidelines the trademarked names and secret manufacturer name has not been revealed. To find out the "secret" just click link to find out.

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