That fresh clean smell that American's love may be boosting cases of breast cancer in the U.S.-- and possibly even causing breast cancer in young children, let alone their moms.
Doctors and environmental scientists are growing more concerned that chemicals found in many household cleaning supplies, such as floor cleaners and glass cleaners, are behind the ongoing increase in breast cancer cases in the U.S. According to the New York Times, the chances that a 50 year-old white woman will develop breast cancer has increased from 1% in 1975 to 12% today. Anecdotal evidence from some of the latest epidemiological data suggests that younger women (and a growing number of men) are contracting the cancer.
Environmental Factors Outweigh Genetics, Health
Some of this increase likely results from better detection. But many of these problems appear to stem from a person's surroundings rather than their genetics or health. For example, researchers have found that Asian women living in the U.S. have much higher rates of breast cancer than Asian women living in Asia. This implies that the problem is something environmental.
"It is highly likely that environmental toxins in air, food, dust, soil and drinking water have contributed to increasing rates of cancer in Americans of all ages, including our children," reported Dr. Philip Landrigan, Director of the Center for Children's Health and the Environment at New York's Mount Sinai School of Medicine, in testimony before Congress. "The known and suspected causes of childhood cancer include benzene, other solvents, radiation, arsenic, parental smoking, certain pesticides and certain chemicals in the environment that have the potential to disrupt the function of the endocrine system."
Household Items May Be at Fault
Other chemicals that scientists suspect of playing a role in the rise of these illnesses include simple bleach, flame retardants (many of which have been banned in Europe) and components of plastics used in packaging for food, canned goods, and, until recently, children's bottles and sippy cups. The American public may already be sensing the danger as sales of green cleaning products are skyrocketing. Industry, too, is changing its tune. Both Clorox and cleaning products company S.C. Johnson have begun to reveal ingredients lists for their products, although its still hard to ascertain the true impact of the chemicals they list due to the multiple forms these chemicals could take.
The new disclosure policies are clearly due in part to impending green labeling initiatives by retailing giant Wal-Mart (WMT) and to aggressive rating and disclosure policies by GoodGuide, an online product rating site that focuses on environmental and health impacts of household cleaners, cosmetics and health products. Cleaning products company Clorox (CLX) rolled out a green line of cleaners and the entire segment of green cleaning is growing at triple-digit rates, according to product research firm MinTel.
But many of the substances that health care experts are worried about tend to persist in the environment for many years. So even as Americans switch to a greener cleaning regime, the trends in health problems that may be resulting from these more toxic substances may not slow or reverse for decades. In other words, even if Americans can learn to ditch the happy smells, they are hardly ouf of the woods on breast cancer or other potentially deadly ailments.