Several years ago, when compact fluorescent (CFL) lightbulbs came onto the market, I was really happy. I was even happier when their prices came down and their warmth and quality improved greatly, because they really do save a lot of money, energy and natural resources.
But then I became a mom.
Fluorescent light bulbs break sometimes, and when they do, they release mercury vapor into the air, and must be carefully removed and disposed of like toxic waste. You just can’t put CFLs or other fluorescent bulbs in the trash—ever. Yikes!
It only took breaking one of them—and having to rush my child out of a room till it could be ventilated of one of the most toxic poisons known to humanity—to ban CFLs from all but the most remote areas of my house.
But even more important than the tiny amount of mercury released by one broken bulb is the huge amount of mercury used in the manufacture of all CFLs. This has far greater impact on the health of everyone, especially those who manufacture these bulbs.
There are over 85,000 chemicals in use in our soaps, shampoos, deodorants, lotions, make-up and home cleaning products. Guess how many have been tested for safety?
Chemicals Get No Safety Testing
Up until 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has mandated safety testing for only a tiny percentage of the industrial chemicals in use today. And once chemicals are in use, the burden on the EPA is so high that it has succeeded in banning or restricting only five substances: polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxin, hexavalent chromium, asbestos and chlorofluorocarbons.
Because of this, hazardous chemicals have become so ubiquitous that scientists now talk about babies being born pre-polluted, sometimes with hundreds of synthetic chemicals showing up in their blood at birth.
The increase of harmful chemicals—like the bisphenol A (BPA) in can linings, cash register receipts and hard plastics; the flame retardants in couches; the stain-resistant coatings on fabrics and the nonylphenols in detergents, shampoos and paints—have caused experts to call for changes to our laws to require better testing and set much stricter standards on what chemicals are allowed in the products we use every day.
But until we have adequate scientific evaluation of the tens of thousands of chemicals in everyday household use (which will take years), the only way to be sure your personal care and house cleaning products are safe is to either check them against the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database, or to make your own.