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Hazardous Chemicals in the Hands of the Chemically Hazardous

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So a well-meaning friend shared a post from one of those "kemikuls r bad / big-pharma keeps us sick for profit / magical diluted fairy water cures cancer" type pages, which in turn was a link from a similarly themed website. The link was to an article titled "3-Ingredient Natural Grout and Tile Cleaner – keeps tiles spotless & grime-free without chemicals" and was presented on the page along with this caption:

The only thing I HATE more than scrubbing is filling my house with dangerous chemicals that my kids go near. Thank goodness I stumbled across this incredible and effective recipe that helps keep my home spotless. Try it out and let me know what you think

The ingredients to this magical concoction are baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, and dish soap.

No "dangerous chemicals", eh?

First lets consider the boggling dissonance in someone can saying "natural" and "safe" ingredients and then listing hydrogen peroxide as one of those. Hydrogen peroxide is a manufactured chemical. It can only be purchased by the average consumer in a very dillute form because undiluted it is a corrosive acid and explosive if heated. It's transported by rail as a hazardous chemical in reinforced tanker cars. 

Baking soda has a friendly name so it must be OK. Who doesn't like baking, or soda? Cake and a can of orange Crush. As safe as your 8th birthday party. It is, of course, also a chemical: sodium bicarbonate. Sodium bicarbonate is a mild base and… hold-up…. didn't we get told in Junior High chemistry that mixing acids and bases is maybe not such a great idea unless you are trying cause an energetic reaction? Yeah. 

So what happens when you mix sodium bicarbonate and hydrogen peroxide?

Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate): NaHCO₃
Hydrogen peroxide: H₂O₂
H₂O₂ + NaHCO₃ = NaOH + H₂O + CO₂ + ½O₂
NaOH = sodium hydroxide

The "Hazards Identidification" section of the MSDS on sodium hydroxide:

Potential Acute Health Effects:
Very hazardous in case of skin contact (corrosive, irritant, permeator), of eye contact (irritant, corrosive), of ingestion, of inhalation. The amount of tissue damage depends on length of contact. Eye contact can result in corneal damage or blindness. Skin contact can produce inflammation and blistering. Inhalation of dust will produce irritation to gastro-intestinal or respiratory tract, characterized by burning, sneezing and coughing. Severe over-exposure can produce lung damage, choking, unconsciousness or death. Inflammation of the eye is characterized by redness, watering, and itching. Skin inflammation is characterized by itching, scaling, reddening, or, occasionally, blistering.

Potential Chronic Health Effects:
CARCINOGENIC EFFECTS: Not available.
MUTAGENIC EFFECTS: Mutagenic for mammalian somatic cells.
TERATOGENIC EFFECTS: Not available.
DEVELOPMENTAL TOXICITY: Not available.
The substance may be toxic to mucous membranes, upper respiratory tract, skin, eyes. Repeated or prolonged exposure to the substance can produce target organs damage. Repeated exposure of the eyes to a low level of dust can produce eye irritation. Repeated skin exposure can produce local skin destruction, or dermatitis. Repeated inhalation of dust can produce varying degree of respiratory irritation or lung damage.



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