Published on November 12th, 2009 | by Derek Markham


457 Different Chemicals Released into Air by School Cleaning Supplies

A new study by Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that the typical variety of cleaning products used in schools released 457 different chemicals into the air. The environmental health watchdog says that these common cleaning supplies can expose our children to chemicals which have been linked to health problems such as cancer and asthma.

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Cleaning Supplies

According to EWG, the labeling requirements for common cleaners are too lax, and therefor schools don’t even know what’s in the products they are purchasing. For example, Comet Disinfectant Powder Cleanser releases more than 100 air contaminants when used as directed, including chloroform, benzene, and formaldehyde. Not exactly reassuring for parents who are concerned with keeping their kids from being exposed to these types of toxic chemicals.

EWG tested over 20 cleaners used in schools in California, finding hundreds of air contaminants not listed as ingredients by the manufacturers, and found that cleaning a classroom with three widely used, certified green products produces far less air pollution than cleaning the same classroom with three common conventional cleaners. Read the school cleaners test results at EWG.

Children’s exposure to toxins in cleaning chemicals can happen in several ways. Chemicals can contaminate the air and expose children through inhalation, chemicals can remain on surfaces in dust and be absorbed through the skin (or ingested after touching them). Because cleaning activities usually occur in the afternoon after school is over, the exposure is reduced, but students participating in after-school activities (think band practice, sports, or theater) can be exposed to higher levels of air pollution from cleaning supplies.

If we’re depending on the federal government to safeguard our children, it isn’t going to happen. The government does not currently require health and safety testing of cleaning products or ingredients, and does not require that cleaning products list their ingredients.

Some schools have made the choice to purchase safer cleaning supplies (cleaners that have been independently certified to meet protective health and safety standards), and eight states have passed laws encouraging or requiring green cleaning products in schools.

Parents and teachers can help the move toward healthier cleaning supplies at schools by asking questions and talking to school administrators about green cleaning supplies.

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About the Author

lives in southwestern New Mexico and digs bicycles, simple living, organic gardening, sustainable lifestyle design, slacklining, bouldering, and permaculture. He loves good food, with fresh roasted chiles at the top of his list of favorites. Catch up with Derek on Twitter, RebelMouse, Google+, or at his natural parenting site, Natural Papa!

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