CLEANERS & GREEN ALTERNATIVES
CLEANERS & GREEN ALTERNATIVES:
TRADITIONAL CLEANING PRODUCTS
Many indoor air quality complaints arise from inadequate housekeeping that fails to remove dirt and dust. Schools should be cleaned frequently, thoroughly and effectively. However, the industrial strength cleaning products and room deodorizers that some schools use actually add to indoor air pollution. These products can produce odors and emit a variety of chemicals. Conventional cleaning products may contain toxic ingredients that can not only cause rashes, headaches, nausea and dizziness, but can also lead to long-term health problems such as asthma, cancer and lung disease. Many are known to affect the respiratory system, central nervous system, reproduction, development, kidney and liver.
Exposure to traditional cleaning products poses a serious risk to children for a number of reasons. Children’s organ systems are still developing. Cleansers produce aerosols, vapors, fumes or dusts that may be inhaled or come in contact with eye tissue. Residues from chemicals can come into contact with skin and either burn skin tissue or get absorbed through the skin and be carried to body organs. Many of their behaviors expose children to threats from toxic chemicals. They often play on floor or ground and come in contact with chemical residues. They then either put their hands in their mouth or don’t wash hands before eating and accidentally eat chemicals through hand-to-mouth contact.
Toxic cleaning products used in schools also present a significant threat to custodial staff who handle them directly. One custodian uses an average 194 pounds of chemicals a year, 25% of which are hazardous substances. NIOSH reports that 12% of work related asthma is the result of exposure to cleaning products. Every year 6% of custodians are injured by a chemical exposure and 20% of these injuries are serious burns to the eyes or skin and12% are the result of chemical fumes.
Schools should look for safer alternatives to traditional cleaning chemicals. If conventional products are being used, the following practices will help to protect school occupants:
- Have a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for any liquid or chemical used
- Provide training for all staff who might be exposed to hazardous products
- Have a hazardous response plan is in place for dealing with chemical spills and accidents
- Be sure that all products are labeled properly and that label instructions on proper usage, dilution and disposal are carefully followed.
- Ventilate work areas
- Do not use hazardous chemicals in mechanical rooms or HVAC plenums.
- Wear protective equipment ( goggles, respirators and aprons)
- Store hazardous products in high locked cabinets and in original containers. A local exhaust system should be permanently installed where hazardous products are stored. To prevent chemical off-gassing, be sure that product lids are tightly secured when not in use.
GREEN ALTERNATIVES - ENVIRONMENTALLY PREFERABLE CLEANING PRODUCTS
According to the CT Department of Administrative Services website, “Environmentally Preferable Products are products or services that have a lesser or reduced effect on human health and the environment when compared with competing products or services that serve the same purpose. … By purchasing products with fewer toxic ingredients, we minimize the hazardous impacts of those products during manufacture and reduce the damage caused through accidental spills and when disposed. We also reduce the risk to workers handling the products, and the risks posed to building occupants.” The EPA’s website lists the benefits of Environmentally Preferable Purchasing as 1) Improved ability to meet existing environmental goals, 2) Improved worker safety and health, 3) Reduced liabilities and 4) Reduced health and disposal costs.
Use of safer alternatives and green/environmentally preferable cleaning products (EPP) in schools can help reduce the health risks to students and staff associated with traditional cleaning products Third party certification of institutional cleaners is important to ensure product quality. Common third-party programs are: EPA’s Design for the Environment, Green Seal (GS) in the US and Environmental Choice (EC) in Canada. EPP products should contain no known carcinogens and no or low VOCs. They should be biodegradable, neutral pH , non-flammable, non-reactive, non-irritating to eyes and skin and free of fragrances and dyes. Cleaners should be multi-purpose, not packaged in aerosol/spray cans and have dispensing systems that minimize exposure to concentrated solutions
When deciding which safer alternatives to use, schools should:
- Use plain soap and water as cleaning agents when possible
- Remove dust with a HEPA vacuum or a damp cloth
- Use disinfectants only as required by state law
- Select the safest available materials that can achieve the desired result
- Review all information on product labels and MSDS sheets
- Request information from suppliers about the chemical emissions of the products being considered for purchase.
If products with strong odors or air contaminants must be used, it is best to use them early in the weekends or vacation periods to allow fumes to dissipate before the building is reoccupied. Exhaust fan should be used during application and vapors from cleaning products should be completely eliminated before air handling systems are switched to their unoccupied cycles.
CT GREEN CLEANING PRODUCTS IN SCHOOLS LAW SUMMARY
(CT Public Act 09-81; CT General Statutes Section Nos. 10-220 and 10-231 g)
- Requires school districts to implement a green cleaning program to clean and maintain their schools by July 1, 2011.
- Green cleaning program means the procurement and proper use of environmentally preferable cleaning products as defined by the Department of Administrative Services (DAS) for all state-owned buildings. DAS currently requires that environmentally preferable cleaning products used in state-owned buildings be independently certified by one of two third-party certified organizations: Green Seal or Eco Logo.
- By July 1, 2011 and thereafter no person shall use a cleaning product in a public school unless it meets the DAS standard.
- The types of cleaning products covered in this legislation include: general purpose cleaners, glass cleaners, bathroom cleaners, floor finishes, floor strippers, hand cleansers and soaps.
- Any disinfectant, disinfecting cleaner, sanitizer or other antimicrobial product regulated by the federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act is not covered by this law.
- Requires the State Department of Education and State Department of Public Health to amend the school facility survey (ED050) to include questions on a school’s green cleaning policy on or before April 1, 2010.
- Requires school districts to provide school staff and, upon request, parents or guardians of students enrolled a written copy of the school’s green clean policy by October 2010 and annually thereafter.
- Requires the school district green clean policy to include:
- The types and names of environmentally preferable products being used
- Locations of application of these products
- Schedule of cleaning
- The name of the supervisor in charge of green cleaning
- Requires the school district green clean policy to contain the statement: “No parent, guardian, teacher or staff member may bring into the school facility any consumer product which is intended to clean, deodorize, sanitize or disinfect.”
- Requires school districts to provide a written copy of the green clean policy to parents and guardians of students who transfer to a school and to any staff hired during the school year.
- Requires the school district green clean policy and information provided on the school facility survey (ED050) about indoor air quality issues be posted on each school’s and/or the board of education’s website.
QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
Question: What are MSDS sheets?
Answer: Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) are product information sheets produced by the company that manufactures or imports the product. They contain information about the ingredients in the product. MSDSs must contain the following information:
- Date the MSDS was prepared
- Name, address and phone number of the manufacturer or importer
- Hazardous ingredients list, with % of the substance in the mixture or product
- Exposure limits for individual products
- Health effects of exposure and routes of entry into the body
- Safe Handling and storage of the product
- Personal protective equipment and control methods to use to prevent exposure
- Fire and explosion hazards
- Emergency and accidental spill cleanup information
- First aid procedures to use in case of exposure
Under the US Worker Right to Know Law, school districts are required to provide custodians access to the MSDSs of all products they may be exposed to when working.
School districts are also required to ensure that all cleaning and maintenance products are properly labeled, that special training for all employees who might be exposed to hazardous products is provided, and that a hazardous response plan is in place for dealing with chemical spills and accidents.
Question: Do green cleaning products cost more than traditional products?
Answer: Environmentally preferable cleaning chemicals are readily available through most manufacturers and distributors and the products themselves are generally not more expensive. There may be some initial costs for employee training and the installation of dispensing systems. There may be costs associated with the disposal of toxic cleaning chemicals currently in use.
Question: Is there more to “green cleaning” than just buying green cleaning chemicals?
Answer: A green clean approach includes both the purchase of environmentally preferable products and the use of best cleaning practices. Custodians need to be trained in the correct procedures for using the new materials. Green cleaning also means using common sense practices to reduce dirt and litter from coming into the building in the first place. For example, sidewalks and parking lots should be kept free of dirt and snow, and walk-off mats and trash cans should be placed at all school entrances.
Question: What problems have you found with cleaning supplies or practices during a school walkthrough inspection?
Answer: We found unlabeled cleaning chemicals and unapproved personal cleaning supplies in many classrooms. We also discovered that floor waxing was being done early Monday morning instead of on Friday night. Strong odors greeted students and staff when they started their week.
Our school was using two separate “green” products for two different purposes. One night custodian decided to mix the two products to get his job done faster. The next morning there was a steady stream of students and staff visiting the nurse’s office with respiratory problems. The custodian claimed the mixture didn’t bother him at all.
TRADITIONAL CLEANING PRODUCTS:
Centers for Disease Control/Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry ToxFAQs:
Centers for Disease Control/Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry ToxGuidess:
EPA Indoor Air Quality Scientific Findings Resource Bank on Indoor Volatile Organic Compounds and Health
Healthy Schools Network, Inc. Sanitizers & Disinfectants Guide
INFORMED Green Solutions Chemicals of Concern in Cleaning Products:
INFORMED Green Solutions Evaluation Check List
INFORMED Green Solutions Respiratory Hazards and Restroom Deodorant Blocks:
CT DPH IEQ website section on Green Products
Coalition for Safe & Healthy Connecticut website section on Green Cleaning:
CSIERT Cleaning for Health Fact Sheet:
EcoLogo/UL 3rd Party Certification website:
EPA Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) website
Green Seal website:
Healthy Schools Network, Inc. Guide to Green Cleaning
Healthy Schools Campaign The Quick & Easy Guide to Green Cleaning in Schools
INFORMED Green Solutions Green Cleaning website:
INFORMED Green Solutions Environmentally Preferable Cleaning Products Evaluation Form: