International Janitorial Cleaning Services Association

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Harmful effects of everyday cleaning products

11 Aug 2018 9:39 AM | Gurinder Gill

The harmful effects of everyday cleaning products originate in the ingredients utilized to manufacture the products. The impacts the products have on organisms such as animals and humans. The lack of safety protocols provided when purchasing the products. The dangerous bi-products of inappropriately mixing products. 

Many cleaning products contain phthalates which produce fragrances. Phthalates have been demonstrated in peer-reviewed research as weak endocrine disruptors. There are multiple exposure routes the main being inhalation and dermal. The main impact of phthalate exposure is reduced male fertility. However, there could be larger environmental impacts due to these products being excreted, not treated in waste management plants, and reaching aquatic life in the receiving environment. A greener choice would be to choose fragrance-free products. 

Antibacterial agents now commonly found in cleaning products can often become a long-term issue. The concern of our time is the formation of resistant bacteria multiplying in sensitive environments such as healthcare facilities. There are now common strains in such facilities due to the extensive use of antibacterial agents in both cleaning and consumable products. Once resistant strains multiply they can infect immune-compromised individuals and cause resistant infections, to which we have to treatment besides trying multiple antibiotics until we hopefully find one that works, which sometimes is not the case. A better alternative would be to use physical methods along with diluted vinegar solution to eliminate harmful microbes. High temperatures and friction are often adequate methods and a green approach to reducing harmful bacteria from surfaces.

Ammonia is most dangerous to immediately exposed individuals such as those responsible for cleaning and those present during the cleaning. It is a volatile highly irritating substance. Ammonia will vaporize and be readily inhaled which will irritate the mucous membranes and could cause irreversible damage with long-term exposure. It is also very fast acting in terms of causing irritation, there is not much of an opportunity to rinse an exposure area and avoid damage. There are multiple green alternatives to ammonia including green stain removers and polishes which are the main uses for ammonia. 

Sodium hypochlorite or bleach is dangerous if it directly comes into contact with the skin or mucous membranes. It can cause chemical burns and irritation very quickly. However, the main concern is if it is mixed with an acidic substance creating chlorine gas. Chlorine gas if inhaled will cause extreme pain and irreversible lung damage. The effects could easily be life-altering and fatal. With many cleaning products containing acidic substances, this could easily happen and has happened in the past. Bleach was often used as a primary disinfectant, however, there are now many safer greener disinfectant alternatives, a simple one being vinegar.

Phosphates are not directly harmful per say to the human population and will not cause specific issues in building occupants. Phosphates used in detergents and dishwashing products go directly into the aquatic environment. They are not commonly removed through wastewater treatment. They provide a limiting nutrient to algae in the impact water bodies causing algal blooms to grow exponentially year after year. Blooms can then produce toxins which are concentrated by organisms such as oysters and mussels. If humans or animals higher on the food chain consume these contaminated products they can suffer from one of many types of poisoning depending on the specific toxin produced. One of which is paralytic shellfish poisoning, if not treated in time will result in death. It is in our best interest to eliminate the use of phosphate containing detergents, as the foaming aspect does not contribute to the actual efficacy of the product. A green alternative would be phosphate free personal care products, clothing detergent, and dishwashing detergents, all of which are readily available.

Overall, a green approach is not difficult to implement and is in our best interest as service providers. 

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