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Your Building Is Clean, Green And Dangerous: Part One

March 07, 2012
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We didn''t develop all of our cleaning chemicals yesterday.

First, there was primitive cleaning, which I suppose was little more than moving the big rocks out the cave.

Then, we turned to natural, organic cleaning.

By the 1940s, petroleum-based and chemical-based cleaning became popular; now, we have graduated to "green" cleaning.

So, just where are we today?

Isn''t "green" cleaning our best protection?

It is a surprising and disturbing fact that today''s science is discovering that using chemicals to kill germs is also killing us.

We are discovering that cleaning chemicals are damaging the health and safety of our workers, our children and our entire ecosystem.

We''re being physically altered in ways we are only beginning to understand, and it doesn''t take a massive exposure to have a serious effect.

A study by Dr. Frederick von Saal at the University of Missouri has shown that estradiol hormone disruption occurs at levels of just a few parts per trillion and can cause cancer cells to grow in a Petri dish.

In 2007, leading experts on endocrine disruption declared that the average human exposure to bisphenol A — even in utero — is occurring at levels shown to cause harm, noting that our exposure is higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) deems safe.

Dr. Gideon Koren from the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto studied the presence of volatile organic compounds (VOC) and concluded that, when the saturation reaches 500 parts per billion, people with sensitivities can become affected.

Notwithstanding these extraordinary conclusions, I want to voice a word of caution and put the contents of this article in a real-world perspective.

These risks exist in nature outside of our buildings, in our homes, in the food we eat, in the liquids we drink, on the furniture we buy, on the pets we love, in the places we shop, in the traffic we sit through, in the air we breathe, in the medications we take and more.

Any and all of these risks can activate a physically or environmentally harmful event.

You''ll find more detail on this topic from the nonprofit Chemical Free Cleaning Network (CFCN) at

Danger: Chemicals In Use

American commercial, agricultural, public, institutional and industrial properties dump six to seven billion pounds of chemicals into our environment each year.

That''s over 20 pounds of toxic chemicals for every man, woman and child in the U.S., and over 1,600 gallons a year for the average office building.

Once these chemicals are used, they are often dumped down a drain untreated.

This constant flow of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals has polluted two-thirds of the streams and waterways in the United States.

This extraordinary amount of chemical pollution is not only harmful to our environment; it also impacts office workers by aggravating or weakening their immune, respiratory, hormonal, endocrine and reproductive systems.

In fact, some studies conclude that 50 percent of all office worker allergies and diseases are aggravated by indoor pollution levels.

There are over 2.4 million cases of cleaning chemical poisonings reported each year from home and workplace incidences.

Bleach and bleach-based products are the number one cause of cleaning chemical poisonings, and over 40 percent of these are delivered from spray bottles used in general purpose cleaning activities.

One out of every five office workers suffers from immune system disorders, and asthma rates have increased 600 percent in the last 25 years.

Many of these ailments are said to be traced to the deteriorating quality of the air inside our commercial and residential buildings.

The National Center for Health Statistics estimates that over 17 million people, including seven million children, have asthma, with 12 million reporting a severe asthma attack in the past year, accounting for more than 16 million doctor''s office and hospital visits.

Some studies suggest that over 180,000 cleaning workers a year suffer some type of injury from the cleaning chemicals they use to do their job.

These are most often connected to lung, skin and eye injuries. Check back next month for the conclusion of this column.

Vincent F. Elliott is the founder, president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Elliott Affiliates Ltd. of Hunt Valley, Maryland. For more information, visit He is widely recognized as the leading authority in the design and utilization of best practice, performance-driven techniques for janitorial outsourcing and ongoing management. Elliott is also the founder of the Chemical Free Cleaning Network (CFCN). More information about that initiative can be found at

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