Nature recently published a story that should shock the clean freaks among us. Researchers have found that common disinfectants lower fertility and cause birth defects in mice (full story subscribers-only, free Seattle PI summary here). Which implies that they could do the same thing to us. Dr. Patricia Hunt has also been a key player in the recent dramatic findings about bisphenol A, the bottled-water plastic that mimics estrogen.:
Two chemicals widely used in cleaning agents for homes, offices and hospitals cause birth defects and fertility problems in mice whose cages have been in contact with them, according to Patricia Hunt at Washington State University in Pullman. The quaternary ammonium compounds ADBAC (n -alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride) and DDAC (didecyl dimethyl ammonium chloride) were identified after an exhaustive search for what was causing a massive drop-off in mouse fertility after Hunt moved her research animals to Pullman from Case Western Reserve Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio, in 2005.
From Seattle PI:
Hunt told Nature she’s concerned about the potential effect on humans:
This group of compounds acts on the cell membrane, and does a fantastic job of killing everything. But, you know, we’re composed of membranes too.
For your reading pleasure, here’s the safety sheet (pdf) of the floor cleaner Hunt used. It’s made by Johnson Wax for industrial use. The problem is that the stuff uses two ammonia compounds from a family – the quats – you’ll find in dozens of other cleaners, fabric softeners, spermicidal jellies and shampoos.