Environmental Health

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How is the environment affected by the cleaning products we use in schools?

According to the Green Cleaning Pollution Prevention Calculator, cleaning products have an effect on our environment’s health by being poured down the drain, polluting the air, and leaching into the ground outside. Even before they get to your school, they affect the environment when they are produced in factories and create air pollution and waste at those sites. Specifically, they can cause more than just air pollution, by accumulating in the bodies of plants and animals, causing endocrine problems in wildlife, contributing to ozone depletion, and causing water pollution.

Are the students in my school being negatively affected by cleaning products? What are the signs to look for?

According to Healthy Schools Network, Inc., toxics might be affecting your students if they…
· Start the school day feeling okay but then later complain of a headache or sick stomach
· Feel sick, tired, or angry after the school day
· Have to use more asthma medications at school than out of school
· Exhibit the previous symptoms or learning difficulties on specific days or during the heating season
When students and staff exhibit these symptoms it is sometimes referred to as “Sick
Building Syndrome.” Visit the EPA’s page on Sick Building Syndrome for more information on the topic.

How do I know which cleaning products are a health hazard?

We can help you identify some specific products that are definitely a hazard, but often you have to look for the specific ingredients in all products to determine whether or not they are safe. So, it’s important for you to know where to look for the ingredients. Of course you can look on the label on the product itself. But, remember that sometimes the chemicals listed on the label are just the active ingredients. Many inactive ingredients may not be listed but can still cause harm. Therefore, it’s important to either call the manufacturer’s customer service number and ask them for all the ingredients, or consult the MSDS that should be shipped with each product. If an MSDS was not shipped with the product, call the manufacturer to request one, or if the MSDS is two years old or more, request a new one anyway. What is the MSDS? An MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) is an information sheet produced by the manufacturer which lists the hazardous ingredients, their potential health hazards, information on safely handling the product, and a rating of 0 to 4 gauging the level of health hazard. However, because they are written by the manufacturer, they do not always provide a complete picture of all the ingredients, and if you have any other questions, you should talk to the manufacturer’s customer service department.

How can I identify just the most dangerous cleaning products?

Check out the Janitorial Products Pollution Prevention Project for a quick n’ easy list of the most dangerous types of cleaning products and the most significant active ingredients to avoid in those products. Plus, avoid using aerosol sprays. According to U.M.O. Extension, Office of Waste Management, the fumes from aerosol spray cans can be quickly absorbed into the blood by inhalation.

What if my cleaning supplies seem to have a number of different dangerous chemicals, how do I know which ones are more dangerous compared to others?

Check out the JP4’s Risk Evaluation Guide, which will give lists of dangerous chemicals in four tiers of risk: ingredients to avoid, ingredients to avoid if possible, ingredients to use with extreme care, and ingredients to use with normal care.

The best way to educate yourself is to treat all cleaning chemicals as potentially hazardous until you’ve researched the health effects of each of them.
Make a list of the chemicals in the cleaning products, and we can help you find their toxicity. Try the Health Effects Notebook for Hazardous Air Pollutants for a thorough list of all the major chemicals indoors that create toxic fumes. The chemicals are listed in alphabetic order and you can click on each one to find out what the known health effects are and the types of products in which the chemicals are found. If you want a more thorough explanation of the chemical, try the Toxicological Profile Information Sheet by the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry. Scroll down through the list of chemicals to find what you are looking for. After you click on the chemical and its page comes up, go to the right-hand column under Related Resources and click on the ToxFAQ. A list of questions will be answered about the chemical including its known health effects, its health effects on children specifically, its health effects on the environment, how to limit exposure, etc. Then at the bottom of each page, they provide a phone number and email to answer any further questions you may have.

Want to calculate how much toxic hazard you could eliminate for the health of your staff, students, and environment by cleaning green in your school?

Try the Green Cleaning Pollution Prevention Calculator by the EPA. It will take the estimated space in your school, the estimated quantity of different cleaning items you use, and it will calculate the percent reduction in chemical use you could have if you cleaned green. The calculator is especially helpful in gauging the impact of each item that you currently use and each alternative item or alternative practice you could develop. If you try the calculator and decide it’s now time to take action, scroll down and find out how!

Teach your students about toxic chemicals and the alternatives!

Try this classroom lesson, Hazardous Substances and Hazardous Waste for multiple grade levels. Students will learn about how chemicals affect everyday life.