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Allergies are abnormal immune system reactions to things that are typically harmless to most people. When you're allergic to something, your immune system mistakenly believes that this substance is harmful to your body. Substances that cause allergic reactions, such as certain foods, dust, plant pollen, or medicines, are known as allergens. In an attempt to protect the body, the immune system produces antibodies to that allergen. Those antibodies then cause certain cells in the body to release chemicals into the bloodstream, one of which is histamine. The histamine then acts on a person's eyes, nose, throat, lungs, skin, or gastrointestinal tract and causes the symptoms of the allergic reaction. Future exposure to that same allergen will trigger this antibody response again. This means that every time an allergic person comes into contact with that allergen, he or she will have an allergic reaction. Allergic reactions can be mild, like a runny nose, or they can be severe, like difficulty breathing. An asthma attack, for example, is often an allergic reaction to something that is breathed into the lungs in a person who is susceptible.


Allergens are substances that cause allergic reactions.  Some of the most common are:


  1. dust and other airborne irritants and pollutants in the air, such as chalk dust or smoke, which irritate airways;

  2. exercise or other physical activity;

  3. cigarette smoke is a major cause of asthma symptoms, and not just for smokers since secondhand smoke can trigger asthma symptoms in people who are around smokers;

  4. scented products such as perfumes, cosmetics, and some cleaning solutions can trigger symptoms, as can strong odors from fresh paint or gasoline fumes;

  5. weather:  cold or dry air can sometimes trigger asthma symptoms in certain people, as can extreme heat or humidity; respiratory tract infections; 

  6. colds, flu, and other viral infections can trigger asthma in some people.

Also, some research studies have found that high levels of air pollutants such as ozone may irritate the sensitive tissues in the bronchial tubes and can possibly aggravate the symptoms of asthma in some people with the condition.


Ammonia is a naturally occurring gas that forms when organic matter decomposes, and therefore it is found in our atmosphere.  Man-made ammonia occurs in the form of gas and also liquid when the gas is pressurized.

Since ammonia easily mixes with water as a solution, it is used as an ingredient (5-10%) in many cleaners including window sprays, oven foam, toilet bowl cleaners, wax removers, and countertop sprays. 

The chemical has a very pungent, distinctive odor, and it’s difficult to combust unless highly concentrated.  This makes ammonia safer than some other chemicals used for household purposes, as most people will recognize the smell and leave a toxic area to prevent fainting.

Even in low concentrations inhaling ammonia or getting it on your skin can cause burning or fainting.  It is lethal if ingested in sufficient quantities.  Overall, environmental impacts from household use are minimal.  Note:  Ammonia reacts with chlorine bleach to produce toxic and irritating chloramines.

Ammonia used in low concentrations, as in household cleaners, is safe on all surfaces.  In its pure form or in high commercial concentrations (25-35%), it will corrode and ruin some surfaces.


Antibacterial refers to any agent that interferes with the growth and reproduction of bacteria.  An antibacterial agent is not necessarily a disinfectant, which actually kills a large amount of microbes—up to nearly 100%.  Personal cleansing and household cleaning products should contain an active antibacterial or antimicrobial ingredient in order to not only clean but also to control the growth of microorganisms.*
*The words antibacterial and antimicrobial are often used interchangeably. Strictly speaking, however, antimicrobial means activity against a wide variety of microorganisms, while antibacterial refers to activity against bacteria.

Antiseptics vs. Disinfectants

We control microorganisms (also called microbes) with substances that kill or reduce their numbers on non-living tissue and on living tissue.

Substances that kill microbes and are applied to living tissue (the skin, for example) are called antiseptics.

Substances taken internally to destroy microbes inside the body to kill microbes are called antibiotics.

Substances applied to non-living tissue (surfaces such as floors) are called disinfectants.


Asbestos is the name given to a number of naturally occurring, fibrous silicate minerals that are mined for their useful properties such as thermal insulation and as an acoustic insulator.  It is used in fireproofing and other building materials.

When damaged or disturbed, microscopic bundles of fibers become airborne. If inhaled into the lungs they can cause significant health problems. A 1989 law that banned most asbestos-containing products was overturned, and today it can be found in numerous products.


Asthma is a lung condition that causes a person to have difficulty breathing. Normally we breath by taking in air through the nose or mouth, which then goes into the trachea (windpipe) passing through the bronchial tubes, into the lungs, and finally back out again.  A person with asthma has sensitive, or hyperactive, airways that become inflamed when exposed to certain triggers, or things that cause the inflammation. (See Asthmatic Triggers) These triggers—such as dust, exercise, and cigarette smoke—cause the smooth muscles around the airways to swell and tighten up. When this happens, thick mucus also forms which further causes difficulty in breathing.

When breathing becomes difficult, a person with asthma is said to have a flare-up or asthma attack.

While the cause is unknown, asthma is thought to result from environmental and genetic factors.  It isn’t contagious.

Asthma, Numbers of People with

It has been estimated that more than 20 million people in America suffers from a type of asthma. That is roughly 7% of the population. A report also showed that as many as 300 million people worldwide suffers from this condition. By 2025, there will be at least one hundred million more people suffering from asthma.

Every day in America:

  • 40,000 people miss school or work due to asthma.

  • 30,000 people have an asthma attack.

  • 5,000 people visit the emergency room due to asthma.

  • 1,000 people are admitted to the hospital due to asthma.

  • 11 people die from asthma.

Asthmatic Triggers

An asthmatic trigger refers to something that causes an attach or flare-up of asthma (see Asthma). 

Baking Soda, As A Cleaning Agent

Also known as bicarbonate of soda and sodium bicarbonate, baking soda is a chemical salt made from a naturally occurring ore called trona.  Because it is weakly alkaline, baking soda acts to neutralize acids and break down proteins.  Therefore, it is used as a tenderizer and a leaven. 

As a cleaning agent, baking soda is used to clean jewelry, carpets, ink stains, fish tanks, windows, screens, and many other surfaces.  Added to water when doing laundry, baking soda stabilizes the pH level enhancing the detergent’s effectiveness by softening the water and neutralizing acidic scent molecules.


Bleach is a chemical that removes colors or whitens primarily through oxidation.  Many bleaches have strong bactericidal properties, and are used for disinfecting.  Household “clorine bleach” is a solution of approximately 3-6% soidum hypochlorite.

Household sodium hypochlorite bleach has been studied extensively for human safety and environmental effects.  The only harmful effects are possible minor, temporary effects such as localized skin and eye irritation if used responsibly.  No chronic effects have been found, and while accidental acute effects can be painful, they are mostly reversible.

As for the environment, no emissions of sodium hypochlorite from normal household or institutional use find their way directly to the environment. Sodium hypochlorite degrades quickly, primarily to sodium chloride, during use or in sewage systems. It also decomposes in soil, primarily to salt. Typical use was found to be not harmful to sewage treatment or septic tanks.  Sodium hypochlorite is practically non-toxic to birds and mammals.

Bleach is a disinfectant, not a cleaner.  Yes, it does a fantastic job of whitening and killing germs, but it doesn’t really clean dirt and residue from surfaces.


A naturally occurring mineral, borax is composed of sodium, boron, oxygen and water.  First appearing in history over 4,000 years ago, borax is used as an effective laundry whitener (alternative to bleach); a general-purpose cleaner; a disinfectant; and an insecticide for cockroaches, ants and fleas.  It can irritate the skin, and is toxic if ingested in sufficient quantities:  15-20 grams for an adult; less for a child.  Borax should be kept out of reach of children and pets.

So, is borax toxic?  It certainly is to roaches, ants, and fleas because borax is used as a pesticide for such pests.  But the amount required to kill a bug is not toxic to humans.  But in a sufficient quantity—15-20 grams—borax ingested by an adult is lethal.

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