Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Simple Green: Not simple, DEFINITELY not green!

Warning:  this is gonna make you really mad. At least I hope so.

Taking a break from studying for comps, I decided to Google: Is Simple Green safe for washing dishes?

I had run out of dish soap (I use the natural stuff, the stuff you get in the Organics section of Fred Meyers), and I thought: why not make a simple solution of baking soda, water, and Simple Green?

I did, and it was fantastic. With my limited supply of funny-colored water, I have to say my dishes never looked cleaner.  The solution was much thinner than dish soap, however, so I ran out after a week or so. No problem: I have a gallon of Simple Green under the sink. It will be months until I run out!

I bought this jug of Simple Green from our local Home Depot about a year ago, and I’ve been using it in an old spray bottle to clean my countertops, walls, etc. It does an amazing job of removing grease. Some time ago, I’d heard that SG is not all that great for the environment.

But I kind of pushed that aside and went on with my life.

The other day, looking at the late afternoon sun winking on a perfectly sparkly water glass sitting in my dish drainer, I felt a wave of X-Files skepticism: This stuff was cleaning my dishes really well, AND kind to the environment? Too good to be true.  

I googled “Simple Green MSDS”, and downloaded it (you know, the Material Safety Data Sheets: the comprehensive label for any chemical product listing its reactivity, flammability, and of course its ingredients).

Simple Green is a mixture of 78% water, and 5% each of the following:

Ethoxylated Alcohol
Tetrapotassium Pyrophosphate
Sodium Citrate
It also has 1% or less each of “fragrance” and “colorant”
OK, so what is this first one, this 2-butoxyethanol?
It’s a type of synthetic chemical known as an organic compound. Organic because it’s made with carbon, not because it’s harmless to the environment. It’s composed of 6 parts carbon 14 parts hydrogen and 2 parts oxygen (and when I say MADE, I mean this molecule does not occur in nature, it was made in a lab). It’s mainly used as a solvent in a variety of industrial applications because it’s great for removing oily substances. Ironically, it’s used in fracking as well as in oil spill cleanups: 
(Hey Bernie, I got an order for 50,000 gallons for the Alberta Tar Sands, and another 50,000 for Prince William Sound--Hooters tonight, my treat)
It’s made from butanol, itself a very toxic 4-carbon alcohol that's widely used in a bunch of commercial applications (Hey Joe, the Simple Green people just gave us another order for 500,000 gallons of butanol--Hooters tonight, my treat)
The molecule is a sturdy-looking little thing, but don't let that fool you. If you made a 2-butoxyethanol using balloons, it would look like a dachshund with many bumps along its back and sides (the C-H bonds) and a big head made out of oxygen and hydrogen (the reactive part).
Once this stuff hits the air, it forms a bunch of different peroxides (molecules with reactive oxygen - oxygen bonds), many of which are very flammable if not downright toxic.
But, it degrades in a few hours into presumably harmless compounds. Thus, the Simple Green people are allowed to label it “biodegradable.”
Furthermore, it takes a relatively high amount to kill lab animals. This is known as the LD-50 test. LD stands for “lethal dose,” 50 refers to 50% of the test population.  They basically give the animals enough of the stuff until 50% of them die. We do this in the US for every chemical substance used in industrial, medical, commercial, and home purposes (exceptions are products that specify not tested on animals). For rats and rabbits, that comes out to 5g of 2-butoxyethanol per kg of body weight (5g is about a shot glass). Since your average laboratory rat weighs about half a kilo, that's about 1% of its body weight; presumably it would act pretty quick and painless. For a rabbit (2-6 kg) a bit slower. And probably squirmier.

Thus, the Simple Green people are allowed to label it "non-toxic.” 
In other tests it wreaks biological havoc. If it doesn't kill them, it effects their neurological systems, causing loss of equilibrium and coordination. It causes skeletal defects in their litters, it reduces their red blood cell counts, and causes lesions in their livers, spleens, and bone marrow. And it causes cancerous tumors in the forestomachs of rodents.
It enters the body via inhalation or absorption through the skin (all those times I washed my dishes bare handed, OMG!!), and once there, it breaks down into substances called metabolites that clog up our biological filters, including my favorite filter, the liver. Concentrations of these metabolites are toxic.
Should I skip my glass of wine tonight?
I am sure I’ve poured at least a shot glass of concentrated Simple Green into my dish soap bottle, and added water to make a nice, foamy detergent for my dishes, counter tops, and dish cloths, which I’ve rinsed liberally in the stuff, over and over and over.
Needless to say, I never made it to the other ingredients.  I threw away the bottle of “dish soap” and the tainted sponge, wrote in big black magic marker on the jug of Simple Green “DO NOT USE, CONTAINS CARCINOGENS” capped it tightly and stuck it in the farthest corner of my cabinet where it sits from now on, lurking like an evil green time bomb.
How THE FUCK were we supposed to know, especially if they slap a label on that says “Simple Green is a safer alternative to toxic cleaners, bleaches, and solvents”
One website says that OSHA does not regulate this product as carcinogenic to humans because humans lack forestomachs.
Another website says the US EPA classifies the chemical as a Group C, Possible Human Carcinogen.
New Jersey by the way. They’re not taking any chances. They’ve got pages and pages for you to read.
I consider myself pretty savvy—I research lots of things (it’s kind of my default mode as a student)—but I’m really angry. This company has deliberately deceived millions of unsuspecting people by saying their product is safe, simple, and green.
You have to ask yourself: why do they put this horrible chemical in their product?
Simple: Green.
It costs very little green to manufacture, it cleans really well, and it makes them lots of green.
Look around at your friends and family. Count how many have/have had cancer.  Are you really surprised cancer is so common? Don’t argue with me it’s because modern medicine allows humans to live longer and diseases of old age like cancer are a natural consequence of longevity. Bullshit. Cancer is getting children, teens, adults, the elderly, men, women, black, white, fat, skinny, athletic, sedentary, rich, poor, you name it. Like it or not, we eat, sleep, breathe and absorb these manmade poisons day in and day out. These and hundreds more.

OK, I admit this is not a very scientific thing to say. I'm reacting more as a human being than as a scientist. But...I lost my mom and my aunt to cancer. I was told I have to be very careful because of my family history. Yes, Blah, Blah Blah....
And, I’m fucking sick of it. Yes, I drive a car. I fly in planes. I live and participate in a fossil-fueled world. But can’t I at least have a say in what I decide to use in my home?
Physicians for Social Responsibility says cancer is the SECOND leading cause of death in the US.  And—news flash--it’s largely preventable. 75 to 80% of cancers diagnosed in this country are believed to be from exposure to carcinogens in the environment.
Where's that (sparkly, sparkly) glass of wine. Sorry liver.


  1. Have you ever considered the irony that your body uses the same enzyme to break down 2-Butoxyethanol as it does to metabolize the alcohol in your wine? In fact, the LD-50 of the alcohol in wine is about the same (actually slightly less) than the one you state for 2-Butoxyethanol.

    You should review the MSDS for ethanol (wine alcohol). They list mutagenic effects, developmental effects, reproductive effects, and damage to a host of organs. I would not be worried about an incidental exposure to the ingredients in Simply Green. I would be much more worried about a chronic ingestion of alcoholic beverages.

    All the best,


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