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CMM Cleaning Challenge

September 19, 2010
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A problem facing the cleaning community is Hantavirus — one of more than 200 diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans.

The way Hantavirus spreads is the reason it concerns the cleaning industry. It is most commonly passed from infected mice and other rodents to humans through “aerosolization”. As infected mice shed saliva, urine or droppings, humans inhale these particulates — especially if the particulates are stirred up — causing them to become airborne.

Usually, only about 10 percent of Hantavirus victims actually die from the disease; but in one case, a strain found in the Southwest was stronger (see “Hantavirus takes lives”), having a mortality rate of more than 50 percent.

Concern hits home
Although Hantavirus is not widespread in the United States, the abundance of mice and similar rodents continually makes spreading the disease a possibility.

For example, this year, the Chicago Public Schools found evidence of so many mice and rats in various school cafeterias that they were forced to close those buildings until the rodents were exterminated and the facilities thoroughly cleaned.

According to the Washington State Department of Ecology, mice are quite common in schools and many other types of buildings, especially during the winter months when they look for a warmer place to live.

The department said rodents cause tremendous damage to property through defecation and urination. It estimates that, in a six-month period, one mouse will leave 6,000 droppings… remnants of which can be inhaled by humans.

Protecting yourself
Building service contractors (BSCs) and in-house cleaners can minimize their exposure to Hantavirus and other pollutants by making sure the facilities they clean are uninviting to rodents. They do this by working with building occupants to ensure food is not left out on desks, in lunchrooms, or dropped on floors.

They should work with facility engineers to seal building openings with insulation or wire, barring rodents from entering.

Cleaners need to avoid walking through areas of a facility that may be rodent-infested, and building occupants should be encouraged to do the same.

HEPA can help
Another step cleaners can take is refraining from stirring up dust when cleaning — especially when working in a building that has been closed for a considerable amount of time.

If cleaners see rodent droppings, they should not sweep or dust these areas. Instead, they should vacuum up the droppings using a true high efficiency particulate air (HEPA)-filtered vacuum cleaner.

HEPA filtration vacuum cleaner systems have been found in some top-of-the-line machines for a number of years, and are becoming more common in a variety of models today.

HEPA needs help
HEPA filters alone are insufficient prevention of allergens and harmful particulates entering the atmosphere.

HEPA filtration means that the filter can remove 99.97 percent of particulates down to 0.3 microns in size — about 500 times smaller than the period at the end of this sentence. HEPA filters are able to filter out all known asthma triggers — from pollen grains to dust mite fecal pellets — as well as the contaminants that can become airborne and cause Hantavirus.

But, HEPA filters will do little good if impurities escape the casing of the machine. In order to prevent this, look for vacuum cleaners that are completely sealed.

A true HEPA vacuum cleaner means airflow must pass through and be cleaned by the HEPA filter, with impurities deposited into the machine’s high-filtration paper bags — not released into the atmosphere.

It’s not only the casing of the machine that renders it as a true HEPA vacuum cleaner, but also the design of its components must meet specific criteria.

When purchasing true HEPA machines, BSCs and cleaning managers should ask their distributors if the manufacturer has done additional testing to see how well the machine holds up under the often rough-and-tumble conditions of contract cleaning.

Make sure there are no faulty seals in the machine, and no possibility of tearing, spilling, or gaps developing in the vacuum cleaner body, hose, and conduit connections that might allow contaminants to flow from the machine into the air.

David Stanislaw is chief engineer at Tornado Industries, a Chicago-based firm that manufactures vacuum cleaners and floor care equipment.

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