JEFFERSON CITY — After more than 20 years of using cleaning products, Tina Reinkemeyer was sure the chemicals were aggravating her health.
"I have allergies and a bad pulmonary function test," she said.
Cleaning homes for a living exposed Reinkemeyer to the cleaning agents on a regular basis.
"The tub and tile cleaner would make me wheeze and cough," she said. "It was just horrible."
She discovered much less irritation and allergy problems when she began using naturally made cleaning products. Reinkemeyer then decided to look into more natural cleaning agents she could make.
"I thought I really needed to look into what else I could find and use," she said. "Those products can be really bad for you."
After her children were born, the desire to eliminate the use of as many chemicals in foods and cleansers became more important.
"For kids, the exposure to these chemicals is more serious because their immune systems are not fully developed," she said.
It is that concern for chemicals such as triclosan and parabens that also has caused Norma Luebbering of the Courtyard Early Learning Center to begin using all-natural cleaning products — except bleach, which she is required by law to use as a sanitizer.
The fumes from bleach and other harsh cleansers, Luebbering said, would burn her lungs.
"I have been looking for other cleansers to use that are not so harsh chemically but still meet my needs and still be safer for the children and the environment," she said.
Natural cleaners made from a variety of natural ingredients — including olive oil, purified waters, vinegar, and essential, therapeutic-grade oils — still provide the cleaning qualities but do not contain the harmful chemicals.
"Our skin absorbs things either we put on or that comes in contact with it," Reinkemeyer said. "So if you think about all the chemicals we drop on our skin while cleaning, it is easy to see how much interaction we really do have with them."
She went on to say that "when I use the natural cleaners, I do not have to worry about it getting on my skin or the chemicals lingering in the air and harming the children."
Reinkemeyer said that for people who do more cleaning and have more exposure to the cleaners — such as stay-at-home moms or domestic employees — there is a 54 percent increase in the risk of being diagnosed with various cancers.
Parabens — chemicals found in cosmetics and other products — have been known to cause allergic reactions for a long time, but it also has been discovered that they can increase a woman's risk of breast cancer; they can also cause reproductive problems.
Young boys exposed to such chemicals before puberty might be at an increased risk for reproductive problems and a variety of cancers.
Researchers have found that the chemical triclosan, which is found in a lot of anti-microbial soaps and toothpaste products, can react with chlorine in the tap water, transforming into chloroform.
Chloroform is defined as a colorless, heavy toxic liquid with an ether odor that is used as a solvent or veterinary anesthetic.
These chemicals do not just affect humans, but pets as well.
Robert and Therese Hyatt have been using natural cleaning products since Reinkemeyer began cleaning their home.
Therese Hyatt said she began to pay particular attention to the chemicals when their Chihuahua, Caesar, would sneeze after a room freshener was sprayed.
"He would just sneeze and sneeze after we would spray his room," she said. "I use the natural air freshener, and not only does he not sneeze, he follows me around to smell it."
Reinkemeyer said the chemicals used in most home cleaners and deodorizers trigger allergic reactions in pets and humans, making it all the more important to watch what you use.
"You never know if you are allergic to something until after you have been exposed to it," she noted. "We do know these chemicals cause a variety of things and have been linked to cancers, illness and pollution in our water."