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August 2018

UPDATE: The dangers of harsh chemicals, and why we clean with bacteria

Written by Nathalie Leblond
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Long gone are the days when the smell and burn of ammonia-based products was embraced as the sign of a clean home or office!  People are becoming increasingly aware of the negative impact that harsh chemicals - such as ammonia - can have on both one’s health and the environment.Subsequent to us writing about the dangers of harsh chemicals,  the European Cleaning Journal reported that a Spanish woman in Madrid died after cleaning her kitchen with ammonia-based products. After two hours of cleaning she called emergency-services, saying she felt faint, but by the time that paramedics arrived she had gone into cardiac arrest and could not be resuscitated.

Ammonia is commonly found in glass cleaning products, oven cleaners and toilet bowl cleaners. Exposure to high concentrations of the chemical can burn a person's eyes, nose and throat. It can also lead to lung failure, heart failure and brain damage. In domestic use products it is usually diluted enough to not be cause for concern, but Dr Kelly Johnson-Arbor, a medical toxicologist at the National Poison Control Centre, says all cleaning products are irritants."The best thing you can do is to use one agent at a time, take breaks and make sure that the space is ventilated where possible."

An article in the Independent declared that cleaning products are as bad for your lungs as smoking 20 cigarettes a day!  “In the long run cleaning chemicals very likely cause rather substantial damage to your lungs," said one of the doctoral students responsible for the research cited in this article. "These chemicals are usually unnecessary; microfibre cloths and water are more than enough for most purposes."

Another article on webwire entitled “ Work-Related Asthma and Mitigating Employee Exposures to Cleaning Chemicals and Disinfectants”  highlighted the fact that for millions of asthma sufferers, exposure at work to allergens and irritants is either causing - or exacerbating - their asthma. According to the National Institute of Health there are more than 250 substances which are known or believed to cause or exacerbate work-related asthma, and these substances are found in many chemicals, including cleaning solutions and disinfectants.

The Californian Department of Public Health (CDPH) published a report in which it found that  nearly 10% of all work-related asthma cases were caused by exposure to cleaning products. Almost 20% of those affected - such as cleaners - used cleaning products directly, and the other 80% of affected workers attributed their asthma symptoms to cleaning products having been used nearby.

And it’s not only asthma. For cleaners, housekeepers and maintenance staff itchy skin, rashes, sore eyes and burns can all be traced back to one common denominator; cleaning products.

According to research carried out by The Environment Group 53% of cleaning products under review contained lung-harming ingredients. In addition, well-known carcinogens like formaldehyde and chloroform were found in several cleaners.  Some products are potentially fatal if inhaled or swallowed, some can cause irreparable damage to skin and eyes and others have the potential to cause foetal and reproductive damage following prolonged exposure.

And what about damage to the environment? APEs - a type of cleaning compound with bioactive consequences - have been banned in the UK for their effect on an organism’s endocrine system. And to go back to bleach, advocates of this ubiquitous cleaner will claim that water processing and treatment rapidly reduce bleach to chloride ions, and that there is no real possibility of the formation of trace toxic by-products, however bleach is formed from the organochlorine family of chemicals which are rarely found in nature and which can take centuries to decompose. Greenpeace has called for a complete end to organochlorine production.

Perhaps worth considering is what chemicals are used by your daily cleaners at the office or the staff who perform deep cleans, and whether frequent exposure to these chemicals could be putting their health at risk. Here at Initial we’ve wised up to the harm that prolonged exposure to certain chemicals can cause to both our colleagues, customers and the environment, and as a result have moved away from the use of harsh cleaning chemicals in our business. Our bathroom deep cleaning service now uses environmentally friendly bio-preparations that contain bio-enzymes, as does our eco-cap urinal odour control product and the cleaning sprays we use to support it.  

We even wrote a blog about how the future of hygiene will contain bacteria; have a read here. In it we suggested that bio-enzyme products should be seen as a rising star in as the future of hygiene, and view that is further supported by the health implications - discussed above - of continued exposure to harsh chemicals.  

Contact the experts at Initial to find out how you can have a clean and healthy workplace without the health risks caused by harsh cleaning chemicals.  

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Nathalie Leblond

Nathalie Leblond

Nathalie is the Category Manager at Rentokil Initial, and has worked in the hygiene and pest control industry for 12 years. Although after 12 years cockroaches still have the power to terrify her, she has learnt countless ways to defeat germs both in the workplace and at home. She is a passionate advocate for Global Handwash Day and the health benefits that can be derived from regular handwashing and hygiene practices. When not contributing to the Initial blog, Nathalie is writing press releases for sister businesses, Rentokil and Ambius. You can find her on LinkedIn.

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