Think again if you believe your chemical choices don’t matter.
Bathrooms are the most utilized and most germ infested spaces in a facility. How you choose to clean these areas is largely based on efficacy and cost. As we will discuss in depth, the individual ingredients on the side of the bottle and the information regarding the compound on the Material Safety Data Sheet effect the health and wellbeing of employees and others exposed to their toxic attributes. Because bathrooms can be germy places, the chemical ingredients used in bathroom cleaning applications have traditionally been classified as toxic, corrosive and dangerous to personnel. Sustainable ingredients are now readily available, so be on the look-out for those compounds that are both affordable and minimize the risk to employees, building occupants and the environment after disposal. Here are some of the more common ingredients found in industrial cleaning compounds and some key take-aways for commercial cleaning companies.
• Ammonia affects the skin, eyes, and respiratory system and is not considered a cancer causing ingredient. Classified as an inorganic substance by the CDC, ammonia occurs naturally and is produced by human activity. Ammonia is a colorless gas with a very distinct odor. Ammonia gas can be dissolved in water. This kind of ammonia is called liquid ammonia or aqueous ammonia. Once exposed to open air, liquid ammonia quickly turns into a gas. Ammonia is applied directly into soil on farm fields, and is used to make fertilizers for farm crops, lawns, and plants. Many household and industrial cleaners contain ammonia.
• Bio-based cleaners are derived from agricultural products such as corn, soybeans, and even coconuts. The US BioPreferred program was signed into law in 2002, expanded in 2008, and expanded once again in 2012, this time by an executive order issued by President Obama. The goals of the program are to increase the purchase of bio-based products and their use in the manufacture of a wide variety of products from furniture to toiletries and cleaning supplies and to diminish the use of petroleum, used for making such items as cleaning chemicals. Just because a cleaner is classified as bio-preferred does not make it green or sustainable so read every label carefully.
• Bleach, or sodium hypochlorite, is another alkali disinfectant. Chlorine was the first agent of chemical warfare in WWI. Bleach works by oxidizing, or breaking down the molecular bonds of stains and germs. Bleach in the bottle is generally a five percent solution. Toxic chlorine gas can be formed if bleach is mixed with acids, such as bowl cleaners. Exposure to bleach can irritate the nose, eyes, skin, and lungs. Serious side effects of using bleach can include respiratory problems, skin burns, damage to the nervous system, asthma flares, extreme headaches, migraines, and vomiting. Safer alternatives to bleach include baking soda, vinegar, lemon and borax.
• Butyl cellosolve, common in all-purpose, window and other types of cleaners, damages bone marrow, the nervous system, kidneys and the liver. The list could fill a book. And it’s a book that would include thousands of other chemicals — some so dangerous that they’re found on lists of chemicals associated with Superfund toxic waste sites and in the toxins section of the U.S. Clean Air and Water Acts.
• D-Limonene is a neutral compound extracted from citrus rind. Straight d-limonene can be used as a solvent; d-limonene combined with a surfactant can be used as a rinseable multipurpose cleaning solution. D-limonene is not very toxic. However in contact with light or air, limonene can react to form small amounts of oxidation products. These can cause skin allergy. Contact with limonene or limonene products can cause eye and skin irritation.
• Enzymes are biological compounds that help speed up chemical reactions, which makes them perfect for cleaning up messes. There are thousands of enzymes involved in everything from the cellular processes in your body to the decomposition of your trash, but enzyme cleaners are made using a few specific enzymes that break down biological substances like fats, oils, proteins, and starches. That means that instead of just wiping away the food on your kitchen counter or the mildew on the shower curtain, enzyme cleaners break down those stains into elements like oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon. Enzyme cleaners are non-toxic and biodegradable.
• Glycol Ethers are solvents found in paint, brake fluid and some cleaning products, and exposure to them has been linked to blood abnormalities, fertility impairments and increased asthma in children. Keep away from cleaning products that carry ingredients like 2-butoxyethanol (EGBE) and methoxydiglycol (DEGME).
• Hydrogen peroxide is an acidic disinfectant commonly used in a 3 percent solution as a skin antiseptic. Although much less harmful than bleach, it works as an oxidizer. Clean tile surfaces, whiten grout, clean toilet bowls, remove tub scum and control mold and mildew. It is often combined with other disinfectants for greater efficacy.
• Phenols found in disinfectants are toxic to respiratory and circulatory systems. Skin exposure to large amounts of phenol has resulted in liver damage, diarrhea, dark urine and hemolytic anemia, ATSDR reports.
• Quaternary ammonium compounds are derived from an ammonia ion and are used as disinfectants. Sometimes called ‘quats,’ these compounds are surface-active agents that break down the cell walls of microbes causing leakage of the internal contents. Quaternary ammonium compounds (QACs) are widely used as adjuncts to hygiene in domestic cleaning products. Current concern that the increased use of such biocides in consumer products might contribute to the emergence of antibiotic resistance has led us to examine the effects of a QAC-containing domestic cleaning fluid on the population dynamics and antimicrobial susceptibility of domestic sink drain biofilm communities.
• Nonylphenol (NP) and Nonylphenol Ethoxylates (NPE) a common detergent found in industrial laundry detergents and all-purpose cleaners, has been banned in Europe; it has been shown to biodegrade slowly into even more toxic compounds. There is little evidence for any significant effects of exposure to NPEs on human health. However, exposure to high levels of NPEs may cause irritation of the lungs, digestive system, skin and eyes. NPEs are thought to interfere with hormones in animals and may therefore interfere with the development and reproductive system in animals. NPE is very toxic to fish and other water-dwelling organisms and is considered a hormone disrupting substance, mimicking estrogen. It degrades relatively readily in the environment to form the even more harmful nonylphenol (NP). Nonylphenol is not readily biodegradable and take months or even longer to degrade in surface waters or in soils and sediments, where it tends to be immobilized. Non-biological degradation is negligible. Bioconcentration and bioaccumulation is significant in water-dwelling organisms and birds, where it has been found in internal organs at between 10 and 1000 times greater than the surrounding environment. Nonylphenols are not broken down effectively in sewage treatment plants.
How chemicals disrupt sewage treatment and our health
An Environmental Working Group analysis of water quality tests conducted in 2011 by 201 large American municipal water systems in forty-three states has determined that each of these systems detected thihalomethane contamination. The conclusion of the study was that more than one-hundred million Americans served by these large waterworks were exposed to toxic trash. Substances that we use every day are turning up in our lakes, rivers and ocean, where they can impact aquatic life and humans.
Derek Muir of Environment Canada and colleagues have determined that of the thirty-thousand or so chemicals used commercially in the United States and Canada, about four-hundred resist breaking down in the environment and can accumulate in fish and wildlife. These researchers estimate that of this fourhundred, only four percent are routinely analyzed and about seventy-five percent have not been studied. The EPA regulates just nine pollutants generated by chlorine or chloramine, four trihalomethanes and five haloacetic acids (EPA 2012a). These nine regulated chemicals represent less than two percent of the more than six-hundred unwanted chemicals created by the interaction of water treatment disinfectants and pollutants in source water (Barlow 2004).
Water pollutants and our health
• In 2011 a French research team, pooling data from studies in France, Finland and Spain, found that men exposed to more than fifty parts per billion of trihalomethanes had significantly increased bladder cancer risks (Costet 2011).
• A 2007 scientific team in Spain associated exposure to trihalomethanes greater than thirty parts per billion with increased bladder cancer risks (Villanueva 2007).
• In 2007, researchers from four Taiwanese universities reported that people faced twice the odds of dying from bladder cancer if they drank water with trihalomethane contamination greater than twenty-one parts per billion.
• In 2002, researchers at the Federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry reviewed the findings of fourteen major studies and concluded that there was moderate evidence for an association between trihalomethane exposure, small-for-gestational-age newborns, neural tube defects and miscarriage (Bove 2002). The neural tube is the structure in the fetus that develops into the brain and spinal cord.
• Some studies point to concerns with specific haloacetic acids. Dibromoacetic acid has been shown to disturb the balance of the intestinal tract and to cause disease, especially in people with weakened immune systems (Rusin 1997). This particular haloacetic acid compound is toxic to the sperm of adult rats at concentrations as low as 10 parts per billion. At high doses, it has caused a range of neurological problems in test animals, including awkward gait, tremors and immovable hind limbs (Linder 1995). Two members of the haloacetic acid family -- dichloroacetic acid and trichloroacetic acid -- have been shown to cause severe skin and eye irritations in humans (NTP 2005).
• A technical bulletin released by the Oregon Department of Human Services in 2004 warned that long-term exposure to haloacetic acids at or above sixty parts per billion may cause injury to the brain, nerves, liver, kidneys, eyes and reproductive systems.
In 2005, the EPA considered lowering the legal limit for trihalomethanes to 40 parts per billion, calculating that this move would prevent nearly 1,300 bladder cancer cases each year and save the US between $2.9 and $7.1 billion (EPA 2005). The agency did not attempt to establish this lower standard as a regulation with the force of law. Instead it made marginal improvements in the way it would measure trihalomethanes for compliance with existing regulations and gave water treatment facilities until 2016 to comply with these modest changes.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry @ atsdr.cdc.gov/