Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Is Borax Bad for You?

Borax scored an F on EWG's 2012 Guide to Healthy Cleaning. Yikes! This comes as a surprise to me. I've been singing praises for borax (which is not the same thing as boric acid) as a natural cleaning agent to friends and family since I started cleaning green. In fact, almost every green cleaning book and website I've read has had only good things to say about it.

The product on the right may have to go.
According to Environmental Working Group's research, borax's ingredients have a "high concern [for] developmental/endocrine/reproductive effects; [along with] some concern [for] skin irritation/allergies/damage, respiratory effects." These ingredients are sodium borate, which they conclude may damage unborn child and fertility, and sodium borate anhydrous, which showed "clear evidence of endocrine disruption in at least one animal study", some "upper respiratory tract irritation", and the same dangers to fertility and unborn child.

While I'm concerned, I'm mostly confused. I'm not sure how much weight to give the results of a study done on non-human animals. The humans studied showed greater risk for decreased libido and sperm count, but they worked in a borax factory! Exactly how much borax does one need to absorb via skin, inhale, or ingest for it to be harmful?

I assume the workers were exposed to way more sodium borate than your average home user. Of course, this predicament begs the question: is a product ethical if the workers who make it are in danger? One could ask the same thing about many products and services though.

Years ago, a study linked essential oils of lavender and tea tree oil to gynecomastia, male breast growth, in three young boys. I bring this up because the study concludes: "The threshold might depend on several undefined factors, including the concentration of the oil in a product; the duration, frequency, and quantity of use of the product; and the genetic characteristics of persons exposed." I don't see people clamoring to end all use of essential oils. Most informed people  respect the power of botanicals and use essential oils with this power in mind. Perhaps we should learn more about borax before we deem it absolutely unsafe for home cleaning.

I'm not sure where I stand on the borax safety issue. I wish there were more answers available. In the meantime, I'm going to use washing soda as an alternative (it scored an A), and dip into my supply of borax sparingly. I guess it's better to be safe than sorry. I just hate to be one of those people who doesn't have the full story and as a result is needlessly afraid of practically everything. I don't want to live in fear. I want to live abundantly!

What do you think? Do you use borax? Would you continue to use it?

Read more:
Avoid Borax in Your Green Cleaning Products (via Mother Nature Network)
Borax: Not the Green Alternative It's Cracked Up to Be (via Enviroblog)
Getting to the Bottom of Borax: Is it safe or Not (via CrunchyBetty)

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2 comments:

  1. Crap. I've been using Borax to great effect in my homemade liquid soaps, and I don't think this study is enough to spook me. (I've already read several other ppl's take on the study elsewhere...) However, it may spook potential customers who see it on an ingredients list. I'm still diggin up info on this, but I gotta say, I am disappointed..

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