By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Apr 18, 2008 at 5:24 AM

If things look a little greener around here this April, there's a good reason. Our editorial staff is busy expanding the ideals of Earth Day into a month-long celebration of energy conservation, alternative transportation, recycling tips and about a million ways you can be a better friend to the planet. Welcome to Green Month, Milwaukee.

Are you one of those people that hasn't quite been ready to try out "green" cleaners but cares enough about the environment to spend 20 minutes reading the labels in the store to find the ones with the least amount of phosphorus or chlorine?

Well, natural and organic-focused food stores like the Outpost, Beans and Barley and Whole Foods now carry an ever-wider range of products that claim to be natural and better for the environment than petroleum-based ones. Seventh Generation is perhaps the brand most often seen, but there are others and some, like Whole Foods, offer store branded versions, too.

A press release for Whole Foods' upcoming Earth Day (April 22) toxic cleaners trade-in points to many negative effects of petroleum- and phosphorus-based cleansers.

"Some evidence links the chemicals in conventional household products to cancer, asthma, allergies, multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome (also known as environmental illness), hormonal disruption, reproductive and developmental disorders."

Bill Graffin, public information manager for the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, says there's a lot of research that needs to be done, but that in the meantime, local water treatment plants are not equipped to protect the waterways from toxins from household cleaners and other sources.

"There’s very little science on all the impacts that all the various medicines, personal care products and chemicals have on the environment," he says. "Wastewater treatment plants are not designed to remove everything that gets flushed or poured down a drain.

"Scientists are finding trace amounts of various chemicals in waterways around the world. No one knows what effects trace amounts could have on the environment or humans over a prolonged period of time."

Pamela Lundquist writes in National Geographic's "Green Guide," that we should be concerned, especially from a personal health standpoint.

"Cleaning products are one of the most commonly-cited culprits for poor indoor air quality. A Spanish study published in November 2003 surveyed over 4,000 women and found that 25 percent of asthma cases in the group were attributable to domestic cleaning work. And chemicals commonly found in cleaners include hormone disrupting alkylphenol ethoxylates and lung irritants butyl cellosolve, and ammonia, and the extremely corrosive sodium hydroxide (found in oven cleaners).

"Furthermore, in the U.S., store-bought cleaning products are not required to have ingredients listed on labels, so consumers need to search out those brands that do list them."

Customers can bring in a toxic cleaner to Whole Foods from 5 to 7:30 p.m. on April 22 and trade it for a free enzyme-based cleaner to replace it.

Enzyme cleaners work by utilizing natural proteins that eat whatever it is you're looking to clean. Sounds great, right? Well, the Green Guide says it is ... sort of. Some powdered enzymes can also cause asthma, notes Senior Editor Emily Main. There are other ingredients in the enzyme-based cleaners that aren't so good, either.

"Because ready-to-use enzyme cleaners are diluted with water, they require the use of preservatives," Main notes, "and many companies use harsh chemicals like propylene glycol, a skin and eye irritant, and other neurotoxic glycol ethers such as butyl cellosolve."

But, she says, if you buy concentrated versions, which have less water, you can avoid some of those preservatives. And even if the enzyme-based cleaners aren't perfect, they're a step in the right direction, according to Lundquist.

"Improved cleaning methods involving less-toxic and nontoxic products can better indoor air."

Whole Foods Milwaukee spokeswoman Autumn Faughn says many customers have been eager to make the switch at similar trade-ins around the country.

"Whole Foods Market has does this in other cities and the response is very positive. Last year, our Deerfield IL store featured a Toxic Trade-In Day and had over 200 customers arrive ready to trade up."

The store partners with Naturally Clean -- which uses only coconut oil as a surfectant and liquid plant-derived enzymes, which do not cause asthma,  in its cleaners -- to do the events nation-wide.

"Naturally Clean is ‘touring' the Whole Foods Market stores in the region this year and has dates planned for Toxic Trade-Ins in Madison, Chicago, Ann Arbor and the Twin Cities.

"Naturally Clean (is) one of our regional offerings," notes Faughn. "Their offices are in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., which is just a little more that 370 miles from our store."

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.