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Maintenance And IAQ

September 19, 2010
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Adults in the United States spend an average of 20 to 30 minutes per day cleaning their homes and more than 2 percent of the working population is employed as janitors, cleaners, maids and housekeeping staff. So what do these statistics mean?

It means many people are exposed to potentially harmful cleaning chemicals every day.

However, this does not mean you should stop cleaning or maintaining your building.

The health benefits of cleaning are important.

Dust control and deep cleaning are effective methods for reducing indoor contaminants — viruses, bacteria, particulates, endotoxins, molds and allergens — all of which can make people sick.

On the other hand, results from a growing body of scientific studies demonstrate that cleaning products and processes used to keep indoor environments clean may also contribute to indoor pollution and health problems when people are exposed on a frequent basis.

A typical cleaning product may release up to 200 different volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air for workers and building occupants to inhale.

VOCs associated with cleaners can cause eye, nose and throat irritation; coughing; headaches; general flu-like illnesses; skin irritation; and in some extreme cases, long-term health problems such as cancer or neurological imbalances.

Many VOCs also produce odors that may be objectionable.

A recent study of more than 3,000 people showed that 40 percent of participants who used cleaning sprays at least weekly and who did not have asthma at the beginning of the study experienced asthma symptoms including wheezing, or were found to use asthma medication.

The most commonly used products were glass-cleaners, furniture polishes and air-refreshing sprays.

Additionally, other studies show certain VOCs may react with ozone to form additional air pollutants.

For example, d-Limonene and other terpene compounds used in polishes, scented deodorizers, cigarettes, fabrics and various consumer products readily react with low concentrations of ozone brought in from the outdoor air or produced by ionizing air cleaners.

This reaction creates aldehydes and ultrafine particles that can be irritating and hazardous to building occupants.

The results from another study demonstrate that a mopping agent containing terpene generated vast amounts of ultrafine particles in reaction with ozone.

The results also showed 10 minutes of mopping with this agent influenced indoor particle concentrations for more than eight hours, presenting an extended inhalation risk.

Below is a table of cleaning products and typical VOCs associated with these products.

Type/use of Products VOCs
Surface cleaners Acetic acid esters, acetone, butoxyethanol, methoxyethanol, methoxyethoxyl ethanol
Surface cleaners/fragrances Butyl acetate
Surface cleaners/aerosols Propylene glycol
Aerosol cleaners Isobutane, isobutene
Hard surface cleaners Methyl methacrylate
All cleaners/polishers/waxes C6-C10 Substituted alkanes
Fragrance/disinfectants Acetaldehyde
Disinfectants/moth repellants Napthalene
Disinfectants Phenol, ethanol, Isopropanol
Deodorizers Dicholorobenzene
Orange fragrance Limonene
Pine Fragrance Pinene
Biocides Formaldehyde
Waxes/polishes Siloxanes
Dry cleaners Tetrachloroethylene
Degreasers/spot removers Trichloroethylene
Spot removers 1,4 dioxane

Good cleaning and proper maintenance are required for healthy indoor environments, and this harmonization can be accomplished with proper education, training and use of low-emitting, non-toxic cleaning chemicals.

To select low-emitting products, look for those that have been third-party certified by organizations such as the GREENGUARD Environmental Institute and Green Seal.

Be leery of products labeled "natural" and "green" or with self-declaration claims, as such claims may not always be accurate.

Products carrying the GREENGUARD Certification mark have been voluntarily tested for more than 10,000 VOCs and have met the most rigorous chemical emission standards in the world.

Products meeting Green Seal certification requirements have been verified to meet low toxicity environmental requirements.

Reducing airborne emissions through the selection and use of low-emitting and low-toxicity cleaning products and processes will help achieve acceptable indoor air quality for all indoor environments.

For more information on cleaning, maintenance and indoor air quality (IAQ), please read the white paper, Cleaning Chemicals and Their Impact on Indoor Environments and Health.

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