I use the word ‘chemicals’ a lot, especially when talking about food or something that we use every day. I tell you that they’re dangerous without ever going into detail about why or how. Today I will do that. Whenever I say chemicals, I’m usually talking about something toxic, dangerous, or just not very good for us, but everything in the physical world around us is made of chemicals. The earth we walk on, the air we breathe, the food we eat, the cars we drive, and the houses we live in are all made of various chemicals. Living organisms such as plants, animals, and humans are also made of chemicals.

The problems usually come with chemicals that are man-made. Like everything else, we just can’t help, but reach into the pure cookie jar, take out something that isn’t ours and turn it into something we shouldn’t. Some of these include chemicals in drugs, cosmetics, workplace chemicals, household cleaning agents, and so on. Granted there are natural dangerous chemicals like arsenic. They are found in our food and air. There are far more natural chemicals in our environment than man-made ones, but both man-made and natural chemicals can have poisonous effects.

Amount or dose entering the body, toxicity of the chemical, removal from the body, and biological variation are all things that will influence the degree of poisoning caused by a chemical.

The first two I’ll talk about today and the second two I’ll talk about tomorrow.

The amount or dose of a chemical entering the body is probably the single most important factor which determines whether a chemical will cause poisoning. The amount of a chemical which causes poisoning depends on the chemical.

Water, for example, cools the body and quenches the thirst. Normally, water would be classified as a harmless chemical. But if, for instance, someone drank not just one glass, but many glasses that were being consumed one after the other non-stop, a point would be reached where beneficial effects would disappear and harmful effects would start to be noticed. In more severe cases, this kind of poisoning causes convulsions and seizures. There are reports of such poisoning in small children and in psychiatric patients. And yes, some people have even died. This lady and this guy are some proofs. The only difference between water being harmless or harmful, is directly related to the amount consumed. This relation is true for all chemicals regardless of whether they are natural or man-made.


Toxicity is a measure of the poisoning strength of a chemical. Chemicals that are only slightly toxic require large doses to cause poisoning and vice versa.

Toxicologists often use animal tests to determine whether small or large doses of a particular chemical cause toxicity.

There is a tendency to think of chemicals in terms of those which are poisonous or toxic and those which are harmless. These categories are used for convenience, but they imply that toxicity or its absence is an all-or-nothing property of a chemical. All chemicals can be toxic. It is the amount or dose taken into the body that determines whether or not they will cause poisonous effects. Poisoning, then, is caused not just by exposure to a particular chemical, but by exposure to too much of it.

Many chemicals which enter the body are excreted unchanged. Others are broken down. The breakdown products may be more toxic or less toxic than the original chemical which entered. Other chemicals still are stored temporarily in body organs and are removed over a short period of time. Eventually most chemicals and their breakdown products are removed as waste in the feces, urine, sweat or exhaled breath. A few chemicals such as graphite or silica dusts can be inhaled into the lungs where they lodge for many years and may never be completely removed.

As a general rule there is less risk of chemically caused disease if the body can break down the chemical into a less toxic product or rapidly remove the chemicals from the body.

Several characteristics of the exposed person or animal can influence the degree of poisoning which occurs. Age, sex, and individual susceptibility are some characteristics that can influence the degree of poisoning that occurs.

A one-time exposure to relatively large amounts of the chemical can overwhelm the body. The ill-health effects caused by one-time, sudden, high exposures are often called “acute toxicity” effects.

Inhalation of high concentrations of acid vapors might cause serious burns of the mouth and airways leading to the lungs, skin contact with substantial amounts of certain organic solvents that are absorbed through the skin may cause dizziness and nausea, or inhalation of dusts can cause irritation of the respiratory tract, dryness in the throat, and coughing are just some examples of acute toxicity.

Chronic toxicity is pretty much the opposite. It’s repeated exposure over a long period of time resulting in poisoning. It’s exposure from day after day over many years. The levels of toxicity may be too low to produce acute toxicity, but still can do damage as it builds up over the years.

For example, repeated exposure to dusts containing quartz can cause scar tissue in the lungs. This leads to severe and permanent lung damage or scarring.

What else do we know about acute and chronic toxicity?

Like I said before, almost all chemicals can eventually harm you in some way or another, but the adverse health effects caused by the chemical in the two types of toxicity are often quite different.

Acute toxicity

For most chemicals, more is known about the effects of acute toxicity than chronic toxicity.

In most cases, much more is known about the acute toxicity of a chemical than its’ chronic toxicity. The understanding of acute toxicity usually comes from studies with animals exposed to relatively high doses of the substances. Accidental overexposure, spills and emergencies have added to our knowledge of acute toxicity in humans. The health effects may be temporary, such as skin irritation, sickness or nausea, or they may be permanent: blindness, scars from acid burns, mental impairment and so on.

Acute toxicity is often seen within minutes or hours after a sudden, high exposure to a chemical. However, there are a few instances where a one-time high-level exposure causes delayed effects.

Chronic toxicity

Unfortunately, the knowledge we have about chronic toxicity also comes from animal experiments. Scientists have also learned from studying groups of people occupationally exposed to a chemical for many years. The resulting disease occurs only because the exposure has taken place repeatedly over many years. Cancer is an example of what could happen as a result of chronic toxicity. Although there is no real proof, it is said that a one-time exposure won’t automatically cause cancer. Most of the evidence supports this conclusion.

Toxicity is a measure of the poisoning strength and is an unchanging characteristic of a chemical. Hazard is not the same. It is a variable feature of a chemical. Hazard is the likelihood that a chemical will cause poisoning, given its poisoning strength and the amounts and manner in which it is used, stored and handled. The toxicity of a chemical cannot be changed, but the hazard it presents can be controlled and minimized.

Just so you know, I’ve been having a little bit of trouble coming back from the animal cruelty topics. It’s kind of like, what now? I don’t feel like I should keep talking about them. I’ve said what I needed to say and I’ve shared just about everything I know, but then again it’s kind of like I can’t get my brain focused on anything else. It has given this overwhelmingly helpless feeling that I just can’t stand.  Every topic I have in mind is so broad that I don’t know what I want to say or how I want to say it. If you have any suggestions on what you want me to talk about or any questions that have to do with the broad range of things this blog centers or something you want to try to find the answer for then feel free to leave a comment. Thanks!

Simply Clean

How ironic is it that cleaners are often made with the dirtiest ingredients. Toxins, chemicals are making their way onto surfaces that you eat on, clean on and surfaces that in general are places that you want safe.

The cost of using commercial cleaners runs high. It has costs for the economical, environmental, and personal stand points.  The list below names all ingredients in most everyday cleaners that you should avoid at all possible. Below that list is another list of recipes that people can use to make their own cleaning solutions.

Corrosives. Avoid products labeled “Danger. Corrosive.” Corrosives include some of the most dangerous chemicals in the home, such as lye, hydrochloric acid, phosphoric acid, and sulfuric acid — the active agents in many drain cleaners, oven cleaners, and toilet cleaners. These chemicals can burn the skin, cause internal burns if ingested, and explode if used incorrectly.

Ammonia. As I’ve started researching eco-friendly household cleaners, I’ve noticed that ammonia is in some of the recipes. Ammonia is found in home recipes and commercial products.  It’s less dangerous in small amounts, but it is a strong eye and lung irritant and should particularly be avoided by anyone with asthma or other lung sensitivities. In large doses it can scar corneas and cause chemical burns on lungs and skin. In the environment it causes Eutrophication which generally promotes excessive plant growth and decay, favors certain weedy species over others, and is likely to cause severe reductions in water quality. In aquatic environments, enhanced growth of choking aquatic vegetation or algal blooms disrupt normal functioning of the ecosystem, causing problems such as a lack of oxygen in the water, needed for fish and other aquatic life to survive. The water then becomes cloudy, colored a shade of green, yellow, brown, or red. When ammonia reaches the soil surface, it usually reacts with water in the soil and is converted into its ionic form, ammonium and absorbs to the soil. The ammonium in the soil eventually disassociates or is nitrified into nitrite or nitrate by nitrifying bacteria, releasing H+ ions into the soil. If not taken up by biomass and converted to methane, the surplus H+ ions eventually lead to the formation of an acidic soil environment. The nitrogen left over in the soil will either be taken up by plants, stored in the soil, returned to the atmosphere, or will be removed from the soil in runoff or leaching. An ecosystem is a natural system consisting of plants, animal, and other microorganisms functioning together in a balanced relationship. Combinations of the problems mentioned above could make changes in the ecosystems. When changes in ecosystems occur, the natural balance of a system is disrupted and fragile plant and animal species can be replaced by non-native species. The disruption of an ecosystem can cause it to adapt by changing (positive or negative outcome), or a disruption may lead to the extinction of the ecosystem.

Bleach. For the reasons noted elsewhere, but primarily for its toxic fumes. Effects range from coughing and chest pain to water retention in the lungs.  Chlorine irritates the skin, the eyes, and the respiratory system. Human health effects associated with breathing or otherwise consuming small amounts of chlorine over long periods of time are not known.  They are currently under investigation.  Some studies show that workers develop adverse effects from repeat inhalation exposure to chlorine, but others do not.  Laboratory studies show that repeat exposure to chlorine in air can adversely affect the immune system, the blood, the heart, and the respiratory system of animals. Chlorine dissolves when mixed with water.  It can also escape from water and enter air under certain conditions.  Most direct releases of chlorine to the environment are to air and to surface water.  Once in air or in water, chlorine reacts with other chemicals.  It combines with inorganic material in water to form chloride salts.  It combines with organic material in water to form chlorinated organic chemicals.  Because of its reactivity chlorine is not likely to move through the ground and enter groundwater.

Phosphates. Phosphates are naturally occurring minerals used in automatic dishwashing detergents as a water softener. When released back into the environment, phosphates can cause algae blooms in lakes and ponds that kill aquatic life. Look for phosphate-free dishwashing detergents, try a homemade recipe of half borax and half washing soda (a more alkaline form of baking soda), or skip the dishwasher and use a dishpan and regular dish soap instead.

Petroleum products. Many surfactants (cleaning agents) are refined petroleum products that are linked with health problems and require environmentally harsh methods to extract and distill. A few specific ones to avoid: diethylene glycol, nonylphenol ethoxylate, and butyl cellosolve.

If you still need more proof or just want more information check the Household Products Database — part of the Specialized Information Services of the National Library of Medicine — a vast compendium of common household products that includes the potential health effects. Just go to and click on the category of the product you’re interested in.

Below, I have some solutions to daily cleaning problems. The only thing on this list that I know for sure works (because we do it at home) is using vinegar as a deodorizer. To me there is nothing worse than the smell of vinegar, but I can’t deny that it gets rid of even the worst smells, besides the smell of vinegar, but eventually goes away and until then I just avoid the area.

 All-Purpose Cleaning Spray:

For countertops, sinks, toilets, and for spot cleaning floors
Mix 1 part white vinegar and 1 part water in a spray bottle. Spray and scrub.
For really tough soap scum or mineral deposits, warm the solution first, spray, and let sit before scrubbing, or use straight vinegar (but avoid straight vinegar on tile grout – it can cause the grout to break down).

Bathtub / Sink Scrub:

In a bowl, make a paste with baking soda, a squirt of your dish soap*, and a squeeze of lemon, to the consistency of frosting. Dip cloth or sponge into paste and scrub.
For really stubborn grime, allow to sit 10-15 minutes before rinsing.

Mirror & Glass Cleaner:

2 tsp vinegar
1 quart water
Mix in a spray bottle. Spray on mirror or glass, and wipe clean with old newspaper. (The ink doesn’t smear, and it leaves no lint!)

Floor Cleaner:

1/4 Cup dish soap*
1/2 Cup white vinegar or lemon juice
2 gallons warm water
Combine in sink or large bucket, and use with mop.
You can use this on any floor, unless the manufacturer has specified to avoid all detergents.

Some other tips:

• Don’t use vinegar on marble – it can damage the surface.
• If you’re concerned about the smell of vinegar, you can always add a few drops of essential oil to your mix, but know that the odor of vinegar disappears as it evaporates.
• Vinegar is a disinfectant, but for raw chicken juice and other clean-ups involving bacteria, you will want something more powerful, like hydrogen peroxide. Read more.
• For really dirty toilets, you can shake in some baking soda in addition to using the all-purpose cleaning spray, and add a little lemon juice, too, if you like.
• If you don’t want to cut up fresh lemons, keep a squeeze bottle of lemon juice in your fridge. You can buy this, or make it yourself by squeezing some lemons ahead of time. If you buy it, make sure it only contains 100% lemon juice, with no added oils or essences.
• Use 100% cotton microfiber cloths for your cleaning – they will not leave lint behind, and you can throw them in the wash afterward and re-use them.

*About dish soap: when you purchase dish soap at the store, look for words like biodegradable, septic-safe, and non-toxic. Don’t buy anything that contains petroleum distillates or phosphates. If you don’t want to make your own stuff or need a cleaner that’s not on the list then Seventh Generation and Earth Friendly Products are a couple of good companies that make eco-friendly products.




Poisonous Plastics

I think one of the more annoying things I’ve come to have knowledge about is the amount people who use plastic forks and spoons everyday and by every day I mean every day. On a regular basis people waste the money to buy the gas that they will then use to waste money to waste the environment instead of buying a pack of silverware ONCE and just washing them by hand or via dish washer. Plastic use is very hard to avoid, however using plastic cutlery isn’t a necessity. According to the EPA, 12 percent of the solid waste stream is plastic. Out of the 31 million tons of plastic produced last year, only 2.4 million tons were recycled. Approximately 40 billion plastic utensils are used every year in the USA alone, together with billions of Styrofoam and plastic cups, plates etc. Plastic bags could take up to one million years to decompose and a Styrofoam box could take more than one million years to decompose.

If one doesn’t care about the environment then they should give their health a thought.

Polyvinyl Chloride( #3)- This plastic is used mostly in construction and consumer goods, but the Center for Health, Environment and Justice and the Environmental Health Strategy Center have asked companies to limit their use of this plastic. It has serious side effects for its use. It’s made out of highly polluting and cancer-causing chemicals that have contaminated the areas where PVC is manufactured.  Some PVC is made out of plasticizers that will leach out of finished products and have been known to cause developmental and reproductive damage. When PVC is burned it leads to emission of dioxins that cause cancer, reproductive, developmental and immune problems. Putting these materials in landfills can cause the toxic substances to leach into ground water. PVC is difficult to recycle and contaminates other kinds of plastics when recycled with them.

Over 7 billion pounds of PVC are thrown away in the U.S. each year. Only 18 million pounds of that, about one quarter of 1 percent, is recycled.3

Polystyrene (#6)- This plastic is used to make foam food trays, egg cartons, carry-out containers, opaque plastic cutlery and other disposable food service items. The chemicals used to make this plastic can leak into food and beverages. According to the EPA, extreme levels can cause nervous systems effects such as loss of concentration, weakness, and nausea. Long term exposure can cause cancer, liver and nerve damage.

Polycarbonates and Others (#7): Number 7 plastics are the rejects from all the other categories, but they all usually include one thing and that’s polycarbonates. Polycarbonates are used in plastic baby bottles, plastic liners of metal food cans, sport water bottles and other items. Bisphenol- A (BPA) is an endocrine disrupter that used in making polycarbonates. A recent review of studies regarding BPA’s effects (Environmental Health Perspectives, August 2005) finds that more than 80 percent of published studies assessing the effects of low-dose BPA exposure on laboratory animals found significant effects, including alterations to brain chemistry and structure, behavior, the immune system, and male and female reproductive systems.

Just something to think about