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'Green' cleaning products

From her new book, "Green This! Volume 1: Greening Your Cleaning",  Deirdre Imus give us natural tips  on how to clean up the planet and your home.

Cleaning is a basic necessity in life, and enviromentalist Deirdre Imus, aims to show busy moms how to "green" clean their homes sparkly and bright with simple solutions. Deirdre was invited to appear on TODAY to discuss her book, "Green This! Volume 1: Greening Your Cleaning." 

Here’s an excerpt:

Chapter 1: A New Meaning of Clean

Our most precious natural resource We all want the best for our children — the best schools, the best doctors, the best foods. But often, we give little thought to the environment where our children live, and the quality of the air they breathe. Some of us smoke with our children sitting right next to us. We bring home dinner from a fast food restaurant because it's cheap, or zap leftover lasagna in the microwave because it's convenient. We spray pesticides on the lawns where our children play, and set off roach bombs in the rooms where they sleep. We use chlorine bleach, and ammonia, and dozens of other toxic chemicals to clean the clothes our children wear, and the plates they eat off, and the carpets they lounge on to watch TV.

We make these compromises every day, not because we don't care about our children — on the contrary. More than anything, we want our homes to be clean and sanitary, safe havens where our children can thrive. We compromise because we're busy and exhausted and overcommitted. Taking constant shortcuts seems the only way to manage our hectic lives.

But the time has come to slow down and start paying more attention — our children's futures depend on it. We live in a world polluted by toxins. We're exposed to pesticides and carcinogens in the foods we eat and the clothes we wear; in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the substances we use to clean our houses. The deadly chemical cocktail building up in our bodies is causing us great harm, manifesting itself in everything from asthma to cancer. Toxins are ravaging our lives — and even more so the lives of our children. Because they are smaller and still developing, they are far more vulnerable than we are to toxic exposures, yet they are assaulted at identical levels.

Now, as a result, their health is suffering. In the United States, childhood cancers, now the leading cause of death by disease for children between the ages of one and nineteen, increased by approximately 21 percent between 1975 and 1998. Certain other cancers — brain tumors, leukemia, acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), and central nervous system malignancies — are growing even faster, at rates of about 30 percent over the last two decades. The National Cancer Institute estimates that these rates will continue to grow an additional one percent every year. And that's just the beginning. Over the past decade, we've seen a sixfold increase in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). An appalling American diet has produced an obesity epidemic, and diabetes is at nearly epidemic proportions as well. Childhood asthma is the leading cause of emergency room visits and absenteeism in schools. Rates of autism are rising fast, and rheumatoid arthritis has become the third-most-common chronic childhood disorder. Premature births, problems conceiving, and birth defects are all on the rise.

Simon Schuster

It's no secret that environmental factors contribute to many of these extremely serious health issues. But even as our bodies rebel against toxins, we continue exposing ourselves to them recklessly, without pausing to consider how our snap decisions might affect our health, or the health of future generations. Most of us feel helpless when confronted with these terrifying realities. We shrug off the health crisis our kids are facing as beyond our individual control.

I'm here to tell you that we can take action to improve this situation, and it's much easier than you might think. As consumers, we have the power to control the level of toxins that enter our homes. With a little knowledge, we can give our families a much healthier life.

Rethinking how we clean our homes is, to me, the most logical place to begin this process. After all, unlike so many other modern conveniences, we don't use chemical cleaning products to save time or money. We use them because our mothers used them -- because, quite simply, we don't know any better.

Throughout the book, I've tried to identify ingredients that may be harmful to you and your family. Some of my assertions might be controversial; the manufacturers of these products will insist that they have been tested and are safe when used as directed. But I don't think that should be the end of the inquiry. Even if the products I discuss are not necessarily toxic to all people in all circumstances, they do all contain potentially dangerous substances. Obviously, the hazards depend on many factors, including how concentrated the chemicals are, and how long we're exposed to them, but can we really afford to take risks with our children's health? Even if the phenol in a single squirt of air freshener isn't immediately harmful, the amount in a bottle is likely to be toxic if your child ingests it. And kids love to sample everything they can get their hands on.

I am also concerned that there has not been sufficient testing to determine the harm to the environment or the long-term ill-health effects of exposure to commercial cleaning products. What little we do know is frightening, so instead of gambling with our children's future, I really recommend using nontoxic alternatives whenever they're available.

Did you know that the ingredients in many common household cleaners — laundry and dishwashing detergents, glass and tile cleaners, air fresheners, furniture polish, carpet shampoo — have been linked to a number of serious childhood health disorders, everything from asthma to cancer? If not, it's not your fault: The manufacturers of these familiar items never tell us that their products are packed with potential carcinogens, neurotoxins, mutagens, teratogens, and endocrine and hormone disrupters. Misleading or incomplete labels can fool even the most conscientious moms.

These companies have no incentive to enlighten us. Think about it. If more of us knew that the cleaning products we depend on every day contained potentially dangerous chemicals, we'd surely stop buying them immediately. And if we did that, these hugely powerful corporations would be forced to change their business practices, or start losing money fast. But what's more important in the end — these companies' profits, or our children's futures?

As a culture, I think we're all looking for ways to live healthier and get closer to nature, whether consciously or not. We desperately want to lower our toxic burden, not add to it every time we do the dishes or disinfect the toilet. Unfortunately, that's exactly what we're doing every time we clean our homes with chemicals.

The good news is that there is a safer way to keep your homes germ and dirt free — without sacrificing quality, or investing any extra time or money. There's no reason to lower your standards or empty your wallet to protect your children's health. No reason, either, to feel stressed by the changes I'm proposing you make. I know from experience that stress paralyzes people, and I can't emphasize enough that real change occurs slowly, one tweak at a time.

I repeat: This doesn't have to be a big project. I'm not asking you to put your life on hold, or do weeks of research, or overhaul your entire household. I've written this book to demystify the process for you, to give you realistic steps that will empower you to make the first small changes.

The more you learn, the more you'll understand how much common sense my whole approach makes. You'll begin to ask: If nontoxic products exist that work as effectively as — and sometimes even more effectively than — the synthetic cleaners I grew up with, why would I knowingly expose my children to harmful toxins? Why not eliminate all traces of chemicals that might make my kids sick or harm the environment?

As parents, we have a responsibility to start asking these questions — and to start demanding answers. We need to equip ourselves with this information so that we can make the right choices for our kids. Children are our most precious natural resource. They don't have a voice of their own. It's time we spoke up on their behalf. For their sake, I encourage you to make the commitment to a healthier life today. Excerpted from “Green This! Volume 1: Greening Your Cleaning” by Deirdre Imus. Copyright @ 2007 by Git'R Green, Inc.  All rights reserved.  Published by Simon & Schuster No part of this excerpt can be used without permission of the publisher.