Why that ‘Pine-Fresh’ Scent May be Making you Sick - and what you can do about it

Did you know that the average U.S. home has 63 different kinds of synthetic chemicals (or about 10 gallons) in their home, many of which have never been tested for human health and safety? Or that about 300 of those synthetic chemicals have been found in the umbilical cords of newborn babies? Or that A 10-country study of 3,500 individuals without asthma found that after 9 years, those who used spray cleaners at least once a week to clean their homes had a 30-50% increased risk of developing asthma?

Those are some pretty depressing statistics. (Fun Fact: mixing bleach and ammonia products produces chlorine gas, which was also used as a weapon in World War 1!) For many, it can be frightening or overwhelming to realize that many of our most popular cleaners and makeup products contain more chemicals than a science-fiction movie, but is also true that the more you know, the more you can do about it. Talking about the problems - and building some of our own solutions - was the focus of the second of four workshops hosted by the Human Impacts Institute (HII) on health, toxins, and consumer advocacy. And bonus: each participant got their very own DIY-cleaning kit!

Ogannaya Dotson-Newman, the Director of Environmental Health at WE-ACT (West Harlem Environmental Action, Inc.), was the featured guest speaker at the workshop on Saturday, February 28th.


She highlighted that our ‘environment’ is just as much our homes and workplaces as it is ‘the outside,’ and that what we use indoors can have even more of an impact on our health than outside pollution. In addition, many of these impacts are disproportional, with lower income communities and communities of color adversely affected.

So what are we to do? It can be tempting to think exposure is inevitable, and you should just go ahead and microwave your BPA-plastic bowl of hormonal chicken while spray-cleaning your vinyl shower curtains. The good news: there are lots of things we can do, even without changing the current regulatory system (although that would be nice too; see links here and here about doing that). Firstly - keep an eye out for certain no-no words on ingredient lists, like formaldehyde, phthalates, butyl cellusolve, BPA, parabens, and sulphates. Secondly - look it up! The Environmental Working Group has an amazing set of searchable databases with thousands of common household products.

Thirdly, buy safer products when possible. In their free non-toxic cleaning kits, for example, participants got the following:


Lastly, don’t be afraid of making your own cleaners: it’s not difficult, it’s much cheaper, and you don’t have to learn about complex chemical compounds. Participants also made their own all-purpose spray using the below recipe:

  • ½ cup water

  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar or white vinegar (1:1 ratio Water:Vinegar)

  • 20 drops of your favorite essential oil scent (like peppermint or lavender)


Want to learn more? We want you to, too! So come to the next workshop this Saturday (March 7) from 1.30-.3.30 at McCarren Play Center (776 Lorimer Street). Dr. Stephen Dahmer will be in the house, answering any health questions you might have - and the first 10 participants will get another free non-toxic cleaning kit!

Follow Us
Search By Tags