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Massage Today
January, 2010, Vol. 10, Issue 01

Go Green for a Healthy Office

By Shellie Enteen, RA, BA, LMBT

Our clients come to us to achieve a state of wellbeing, part of which includes receiving massage in a safe, healthy environment. In massage school, we were taught the importance of keeping our office, table and linens clean and sanitary.

We were introduced to the list of universal precautions and made aware of our responsibility to keep ourselves and our clients free of communicable disease. But what about the toxins that are found in commonly used commercial cleaning products? Are our best efforts to keep a clean environment also creating side effects that are a health hazard?

How Toxins Manifest

Researchers tell us that the air inside our tightly sealed home and office is often more polluted than the air outside due to trapped fumes from these products as well as from commonly used scented candles, chemical air fresheners or fragrances. What are these toxic substances and what effects do they have? In the article "Toxins in Household Cleaning Products," (http://green.wikia.com/wiki/Toxins_in_Household_Cleaning_Products) we are told that despite being highly diluted, these substances are "bioaccumulative, meaning the chemicals do not purge easily from the body and, over time, even mild exposures can add up to toxic levels." These toxins manifest in three ways:

  1. Carcinogens. Carcinogens cause cancer and/or promote growth of cancer.
  2. Endocrine disruptors. Endocrine disruptors mimic human hormones, confusing the body with false signals. Exposure can lead to numerous health concerns including reproductive, developmental, growth and behavioral problems. Endocrine disruptors have been linked to reduced fertility, premature puberty, miscarriage, menstrual problems, challenged immune systems, abnormal prostate size, ADHD, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and certain cancers.
  3. Neurotoxins. Neurotoxins alter neurons, affecting brain activity and causing a range of problems from headaches to loss of intellect.

Main Culprits

Go Green - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Common cleaners and other products found in any home or office such as deoderizers, plastic food wrap, and moisturizers can be sources of these lurking toxins. The following are considered the main culprits:

Formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is commonly known as a preservative. Many people do not know that it is also a germicide, bactericide and fungicide, among other functions. Formaldehyde is found in household cleaners and disinfectants. It is also present in nail polish and other personal care products. Formaldehyde is a carcinogen.

Organochlorines. Organochlorines (OCs) result from the combination of hydrogen and carbon. Some types are highly deadly, such as DDT. They are bioaccumulative and also highly persistent in the environment. OCs are present in pesticides, detergents, de-greasers, bleaches and drycleaning fluids. OCs are carcinogens and endocrine disruptors.

Styrene. Styrene is a naturally occurring substance derived from the styrax tree. Styrene is most commonly used in the manufacture of numerous plastics, including food wrap, insulated cups, carpet backing and PVC piping. Styrene is also found in floor waxes and polishes, and metal cleaners. Styrene is a known carcinogen and an endocrine disruptor. Exposure may affect the central nervous system, liver and reproductive system.

Phthalates. Phthalates are most commonly used in the manufacturing of plastics. Phthalates are also used as carriers for perfumes and air fresheners and as skin penetration enhancers for products such as moisturizers. These chemicals are classified as inert. As such, no product-labeling requirements exist. They are endocrine disruptors and suspected carcinogens. Phthalates are known to cause hormonal abnormalities, thyroid disorders, birth defects and reproductive problems.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These are emitted as gases. VOCs present in perfumes, air fresheners, disinfectants and deodorizers. They commonly include propane, butane, ethanol, phthalates and/or formaldehyde. These compounds pose a variety of human health hazards. Symptoms include headache, backache, stiff joints, nausea, diarrhea, asthma or allergy attacks, dizziness, memory loss, stuttering, premature puberty, low sperm count, reduced motor skills, sudden mood swings, dyslexia, ADHD, antisocial behavior/autism and birth defects, among others.

Clear the Air

So how can we maintain our responsibility to our clients of keeping a clean environment without using toxic chemicals? There are some healthy ways to clean that are simple, inexpensive and effective. Far from causing health hazards, they will boost the immune system and have a positive effect on the mind and emotions. They do require putting the product together, but the experience and effects from cleaning this way is well worth the small effort to do so. All you need is white vinegar, baking soda, water and some antiseptic, antiviral essential oils.

Cleaning spray. For countertops, surfaces, mirrors, windows, face cradle and table, use the powerhouse antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, antimicrobial essential oils of lavender (or lavindin, which is less expensive) and tea tree. Create a pleasant aroma by adding a citrus, spice, herb or tree essence. All of these essences also have antibacterial properties. You should use 10 mls (250 drops) of a blend of the chosen essences, with tea tree and lavender predominating. Put this into 2 cups of vinegar and pour into a 32-oz. spray bottle, then top with water. Shake well before using. For a scrub cleanser that will remove oil buildup, sprinkle baking soda on the area and spray with the cleaning blend, then clean with a soft scrub sponge.

Floors. Use the same blend, or create a pine or citrus-based blend. Add 15 to 20 drops to 1 cup of white vinegar and add that to water and damp mop. To freshen carpets, put 15 to 20 drops into 2 cups of baking soda, mix well and let stand for a few minutes. Sprinkle onto carpets (can be used on cloth-covered furniture, too) and allow that to stand for 10 minutes (keeping pets and children out of the room), then vacuum.

Get rid of commercial air fresheners and exchange your petroleum-based scented candles for unscented soy candles. Add an essence or blend to melting candle wax, create an air spray with essential oils and water, or use a diffuser with true essential oils. Try using different scents for different seasons.

Make a safe antibacterial soap that won't create chlorine gas when it hits water. You can also buy unscented castile soap (Dr. Bronner's is a good source) and add lavender and tea tree. Hydrogen peroxide can be used on its own to disinfect and remove stains.

Those who clean with natural products and essential oils have noticed the difference and get many positive comments. It can even be a pleasure to clean with natural ingredients.


Click here for more information about Shellie Enteen, RA, BA, LMBT.

 

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