Part of keeping our world green is exercising concern for the health of the people that live on our planet. This has become a real issue when it comes to air quality in offices and community buildings as well as the use of toxic materials in people’s jobs. One community that is starting to really express concern over their personal health and well being is custodial staff and janitors.
The Dangers of Cleaning Certainly keeping buildings clean is an important part of maintaining healthy environments for everyone. Working or spending time in a building filled with dust, dirt, grime, mildew, or worse yet mold, for example, can be quite damaging to anyone’s health. However, if the products that we use to clean up these biohazards are toxic in themselves, we are simply trading one problem for another. That is why people are becoming increasingly concerned about the well being of their janitorial staff, which means reconsidering the products they use.
An Issue Rises to the Forefront As the dangers of various chemicals and toxic cleaning practice come to light, janitors and custodial staff are starting to demand that their health be taken into consideration. Of course, the remnants of dangerous cleaning chemicals linger on various surfaces from toilet seats to door handles, and impact us all. But for the janitorial staff who is working closely with these products every day, the danger is much more severe.
In many areas janitors and other cleaning personnel are starting to take the danger seriously and are organizing, even protesting, to demand safer working conditions and products to work with. For example, in California a group of janitors have organized to try to force Albertson’s grocery stores to re-evaluate the cleaning products that the janitorial staff is required to use in an effort to protect the workers and customers alike. This is not an isolated incident as similar concerns spring up around the country.
The Most Dangerous Chemicals One of the most dangerous issues in any cleaning agent, as well as other chemical mixtures such as paint, are the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are released as the product dries. In many instances, the more strongly something smells the more likely it is to be releasing these VOCs. For example, the smell of new carpet and new car, smells that so many people enjoy as a sign of freshness, are actually highly toxic VOCs releasing.
One common cleaner used for surfaces in restrooms and kitchens turns out to be very dangerous, and high in VOCs. Clorox bleach disinfecting wipes include dimethyl benzyl ammonia chloride and dimethyl ethyl benzyl ammonia chloride, two chemicals that are also used as pesticides. Furniture polish often includes silicones and petroleum products, including propane.
Many such chemicals can cause breathing problems and rashes at best, and poisoning, development/reproductive issues or cancer at worst. Glycol, common in glass cleaners, has been shown to cause reproductive problems. Benzine is an industrial solvent used in some cleaning products, and has been found to contribute to leukemia. The list goes on and on.
The Move to Green The biggest challenge when it comes to keeping our cleaners safe is the fact that after decades of use, we are only just starting to learn the toxic long-term effects of the chemicals in our cleaners. Who knows in another ten, twenty or fifty years how much more we will learn about the dangers of cleaning chemicals. Thus, choosing natural ingredients to clean with is of paramount importance to current and future generations.
One of the most important commitments that any company can make to going green is to move to eco-friendly (and people friendly) cleaners. By choosing safer, non-toxic cleaners an organization can keep both their employees and customers safe.