“Green cleaning” is an often used buzzword in the cleaning industry. There is a lot of information available about green cleaning products and principles, but what it comes down to is providing a healthy work environment for your customers and your own employees. So what does that mean?
Traditional cleaning methods and products have been shown to have potentially adverse effects on your health. But what are these effects? What risks are there to your body? To understand the need for green cleaning, you must know why it necessary. As scientific data becomes more readily available, we are learning more every day about the harmful effects that many chemicals have on the human body.
Health effects can be classified into two groups, acute and chronic. Acute effects are those brought on due to a single event and can cause severe health problems, even death. Examples of such instances include:
- Blindness due to eye contact with certain chemicals, such as acid cleaners, leading to temporary or permanent damage of the eyes
- Poisoning from ingesting or absorbing into the skin toxic chemicals, leading to a wide range of health problems including headaches, nausea, gastric problems, and even death
- Burns of the eyes and skin caused by chemical contact or by mixing incompatible chemicals
- Frostbite from certain aerosol products
Chronic health effects are those which develop over the time from repeated exposure. These types of effects are often difficult to determine, as they slowly develop through long-term exposure. Examples of these health effects include:
- Reproductive disorders including birth defects
- Respiratory ailments
- Endocrine system disorders
- Chemical sensitization resulting in lowered tolerances to future exposure
- Allergic reactions including sneezing, wheezing, hives, skin irritations, and increased sensitivity
- Central nervous system disorders
Some types of exposure may lead to both acute and chronic reactions, including skin and eye irritation, kidney and liver damage, and central nervous system disorders. These effects can be permanent and debilitating.
How do people get exposed to these chemicals? Most of the acute health problems are more of an issue for your employees. Daily use and close physical contact with cleaning chemicals put your cleaners more at risk for “accidents.” Breathing in of fumes, skin absorption, and ingestion are more likely risks for your cleaners. Mislabeled or unlabeled containers can make the improper mixing of chemicals a possibility. If chemicals are stored or used around food areas, exposure is a risk. Improper dispensing equipment or methods can create exposure, as well as exposure from cleaning up chemical spills. Perhaps the greatest risk is due to improper training. A lack of knowledge about chemicals and their risks puts the user in a vulnerable position.
What are the risks for your customers? Improper use of chemicals and poor maintenance practices can lead to what is known as sick building syndrome (SBS). There are several unrelated causes of SBS, such as poor ventilation, moisture problems, mold, and artificial lighting to name a few. Chemical contamination and excessive dust can contribute to these problems resulting in this syndrome. Fragrances in cleaning chemicals can also be a culprit. It is usually a combination of several of these factors, but removing as many as possible will contribute to a more-healthy environment. Symptoms of SBS include:
- Eye, nose, and throat irritations
- Skin irritations
- Neurotoxic symptoms including headaches, sluggishness, mental and physical fatigue, difficulty in concentrating, dizziness, and vomiting
- Hypersensitivity resulting in runny nose, teary eyes, and asthma-like symptoms
How Green Cleaning Helps