By Stephen Ashkin Green
Green cleaning is catching on quickly. With the help of tools like LEED for Existing Buildings, which makes implementation easier by identifying the chemicals and other products to make green cleaning cost-effective, it is increasingly being recognized as a no-brainer strategy for facilities concentrating on environmental goals.
What makes green cleaning so important? One crucial factor is the potential harm that can be caused by traditional cleaning chemicals. Facility executives should understand the science behind cleaning, and how the chemicals in products can affect human health. That science should inform all decisions about cleaning programs. Properly selecting and using green cleaning products can help safeguard the health and safety of building occupants and the planet.
Science has made it clear that cleaning products can have an impact on building occupants. Some traditional products are known to contribute to health problems such as eye, skin and respiratory irritation as well as asthma and other allergic reactions, which can lead to occupant complaints and hurt attendance and productivity. Replacing these products with those that reduce the potential for harm has numerous advantages and is likely less costly than increasing the supply of fresh air or general ventilation rates.
Also important is the impact on cleaning personnel who have longer-term exposures at higher concentrations to chemical cleaning products. This exposure can sometimes lead to serious chronic illnesses such as cancer, and neurological or reproductive disorders.
The better facility executives understand how chemicals in cleaning products can cause harm, the better they will be able to choose cleaning strategies and products that will provide a healthy high performing building.
To minimize risks, it is important to understand how toxins can enter the body. These routes of exposure include ingestion, inhalation and dermal exposure.
People may ingest contaminants found in drinking water, foods and beverages, and from residues of cleaning products on food preparation surfaces, as well as from poorly cleaned hands.
Another route of exposure is inhalation. According to EPA, indoor levels of pollutants may be two to five times, and occasionally more than 100 times, higher than outdoor levels. Levels of indoor air pollutants may be of particular concern because most people spend about 90 percent of their time indoors.
Poor air quality may come from exterior sources like ozone, radon and automobile exhaust, but also from sources generated within buildings. For example, cleaners dispensed from aerosol cans, fragrances used in products that mask odors and solvents found in polishes all contain ingredients that can have a negative health impact when inhaled. As these chemicals pass from the lungs into the blood stream, they affect the nervous system and other major organs. This can result in symptoms including dizziness, respiratory distress, trigger asthma and more.
The final route of exposure is absorption through the skin. For example, 2-butoxyethanol, which is common in many traditional cleaners and degreasers (commonly called a “butyl cleaner”) , is readily absorbed through the skin and can be toxic to the reproductive system and other major body organs.