Indoor Air Quality – How Much Bad Is Really Bad?

Indoor Air Quality – How much bad is really bad?

The air inside your office, your kids’ school, and in the sanctity of your home is pretty clean, right? After all, you and the various hired staff are cleaning regularly and as you enter, you know it is clean because you can smell it. Smell what?

Could it be that the smell of clean is – no smell?

What we smell after using cleaners for the floor, furniture, glass, counter tops, bathroom areas, etc. includes VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) which can be harmful to us and our children and pets. In fact, there are tests showing the indoor air to contain elevated levels of various ingredients of cleaning chemicals long after the use of the chemicals. So, in a tightly built home, school, or office, where we spend up to 90% of our time, we could be breathing in VOCs all the time we are there.

In a study performed for the EPA of air quality in 100 office buildings (BASE Study) it was found that there are significant amounts of VOCs in the office environment. Things like Formaldehyde, Acetone, Toluene, 2-butoxyethanol, Limonene, and Trimethylbenzene were found among many others. Many of the compounds discovered in these offices are harmful to humans. Some are found at levels that are not expected to be a problem when breathed in at the concentrations found for an 8 hour period. What is not mentioned in the analysis of this report is that when the worker goes home, he or she may breathe the same or similar chemicals from the home cleaning process for another 12 hours or more each  day.

Also, while the amount of any one given contaminant may be breathed in at below levels of concern, there is a real possibility that when all the contaminants are added together and the individual worker is breathing VOCs at over 300 ug/cubic meter instead of the individual contaminant at, say, 12 ug/ cubic meter – there could be a more severe problem. The average VOCs in the buildings was above 300.

We would like to believe our schools are better cleaned and safer than even our offices. Such is not the case.

In a study of school cleaning chemicals reported by the Environmental Working Group, 20 cleaning chemicals known to be used in California schools were tested for VOCs. They found 457 VOCs emitted from the 20 cleaning products:

• Comet Powder Cleaner released 146 chemicals,
• Simple Green released 93
• Febreze Air Effects released 89

When studied as to what compounds were released that would be of concern, the list is quite long.

According to U.S. and international health agencies twenty-four air contaminants detected by EWG tests may cause asthma, cancer, and other serious health concerns affecting children and adults. Seven more toxic cleaning chemicals that can linger on surfaces and contaminate dust are disclosed as ingredients by product manufacturers. Ten of the products tested contained one or more of the chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer or reproductive or developmental toxicity:

• Alpha HP Multi-Surface Cleaner, Citrus-Scrub 90
• Comet Disinfectant Powder Cleanser
• Febreze Air Effects
• Goof Off Cleaner (CA VOC Compliant)
• Pine-Sol Brand Cleaner (Original)
• Pioneer Super Cleaner
• Shineline Seal Floor Sealer/Finish
• Simple Green Concentrated Cleaner/Degreaser/Deodorizer
• Waxie Green Floor Finish

Twelve of these toxic chemicals, known widely as Proposition 65 chemicals, are found in the cleaning supplies tested by EWG, including:

• Benzene, a solvent and contaminant linked to cancer and male reproductive system toxicity (Comet Disinfectant Powder Cleanser)

• Chloroform, a gas that causes cancer and developmental toxicity (Comet Disinfectant Powder Cleanser)

• Dibutyl phthalate, an emulsifier known to damage developing male and female reproductive systems (Shineline Seal Floor Sealer/Finish).

• Formaldehyde, a cancer-causing gas also emitted by some building materials and furniture (Simple Green Concentrated Cleaner/Degreaser/Deodorizer, Pine-Sol Original Cleaner, Comet Disinfectant Powder Cleanser, Super Cleaner Concentrate)

• Comet Disinfectant Powder Cleanser alone emitted seven Proposition 65 chemicals.

Products that expose users to Proposition 65 chemicals above legally prescribed levels must be clearly labeled as such under the law, to allow individuals and institutions, such as schools, to choose safer products. Recently, the manufacturer of the graffiti remover Goof Off was successfully sued by a public interest law firm because its Proposition 65 warning label was insufficient (As You Sow v. The Valspar Corporation, 2008).
The Study Reports the Following Toxic Chemicals Either Discovered By Analysis or Declared By the Manufacturer:

Health Concern Chemicals Detected
By EWG Tests or
Disclosed as Ingredients
Products Containing One
or More of These Chemicals
(Number of Relevant Chemicals)
Asthmagens: chemicals that
can trigger the development of
asthma in previously asthma free
individuals – 6 chemicals
from 10 school cleaners
Alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride
(ADBAC)
Didecyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride
Ethanolamine
Formaldehyde
Methyl methacrylate
Styrene
3M Brand Glass Cleaner (Product No.1,Twist ‘n Fill System)(1)
Comet Disinfectant Powder Cleanser (1)

NABC Non-Acid Disinfectant Bathroom Cleaner (1)
Pine-Sol Brand Cleaner (Original) (1)
Pioneer Super Cleaner (2)
Ripsaw (1)
Shineline Seal Floor Sealer/Finish (1)
Simple Green Concentrated Cleaner/Degreaser/Deodorizer (1)
Virex II 256 (1)
Waxie Green Floor Finish (1)

Carcinogens – 11 chemicals
from 11 school cleaners
Acetaldehyde
Benzene
2-Butoxyethanol
1-Chloro-2,3-epoxypropane
Chloroform
Ethylbenzene
Formaldehyde
N-Ethyl-N-nitroso-ethanamine
Quartz*
Styrene
Trichloroethylene
Citrus-Scrub 90 (1)
Comet Disinfectant Powder Cleanser (7)
Febreze Air Effects (1)
Glance HC Glass and Multi-Surface Cleaner (1)
Goof Off Cleaner (CA VOC Compliant) (1)
Pine-Sol Brand Cleaner (Original) (1)
Pioneer Super Cleaner (2)
Shineline Seal Floor Sealer/Finish (1)
Simple Green Concentrated Cleaner/Degreaser/Deodorizer (3)
Waxie 21 Glass Cleaner (1)
Waxie Green Floor Finish (1)
Reproductive Toxins – 4 chemicals
from 4 school cleaners.
Benzene
Dibutyl phthalate*
Ethoxyethanol
Toluene
Alpha HP Multi-Surface Cleaner (1)
Comet Disinfectant Powder Cleanser (2)
Goof Off Cleaner (CA VOC Compliant) (1)
Shineline Seal Floor Sealer/Finish (2)
Hormone Disrupters – 8 chemicals
from 9 school cleaners
Benzophenone
1-Chloro-2,3-epoxypropane
Dibutyl phthalate*
Ethylene glycol
N,N-Dimethylformamide
Nonylphenol ethoxylate*
Phenol
Styrene
3M Brand Glass Cleaner (Product No. 1, Twist ‘n Fill System)
Clorox Regular Bleach (1)
Comet Disinfectant Powder Cleanser (2)
Glance HC Glass and Multi-Surface Cleaner (1)
Goof Off Cleaner (CA VOC Compliant) (2)
Shineline Seal Floor Sealer/Finish (3)
Simple Green Concentrated Cleaner/Degreaser/Deodorizer (2)
Twister (1)
Waxie 21 Glass Cleaner (1)
Neurotoxins – 17 chemicals
from 15 school cleaners
Acetone*
Benzene
Benzonitrile
Benzyl alcohol
Chloroform
Cyclohexanone
Dibutyl phthalate*
N,N-Dimethylformamide
Ethyl acetate
Isopropyl alcohol
Methyl ethyl ketone
Methyl methacrylate
Phenol
Styrene
Toluene
Trichloroethylene
Xylene
3M Brand Bathroom Cleaner (Product No. 44, Twist ‘n Fill System) (1)
Alpha HP Multi-Surface Cleaner (1)
Citrus-Scrub 90 (1)
Clorox Regular Bleach (1)
Comet Disinfectant Powder Cleanser (5)
Febreze Air Effects (1)
Goof Off Cleaner (CA VOC Compliant) (4)
NABC Non-Acid Disinfectant Bathroom Cleaner (1)
Pine-Sol Brand Cleaner (Original) (1)
Ripsaw (1)
Shineline Seal Floor Sealer/Finish (3)
Simple Green Concentrated Cleaner/Degreaser/Deodorizer (1)
Virex II 256 (1)
Waxie 21 Glass Cleaner (1)
Waxie Green Floor Finish (1)

*Chemicals not detected in air contaminant tests, but disclosed as ingredients by manufacturers Asthmagens identified by the
Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics (AOEC 2009). Carcinogens identified by International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as known, probable, reasonably anticipated, or possible human carcinogens (IARC; Groups 1, 2A, and 2B), the National Toxicology Program (Groups 1 and 2), the EPA Integrated Risk Information System (weight-of-evidence classifications A, B1, B2, C, carcinogenic, likely to be carcinogenic, and suggestive evidence of carcinogenicity or carcinogen potential), or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (as carcinogens under 29 CFR 1910.1003(a)(1)) Reproductive toxins identified by the State of California under the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 (California Code of Regulations, Title 22, Division 2, Subdivision 1, Chapter 3, Sections 1200, et. seq., also known as Proposition 65). Hormone disrupters identified by the European Union in Appendix 9 of Towards the Establishment of a Priority List of Substances for Further Evaluation of Their Role in Endocrine Disruption (European Commission DG ENV 2000, 2007) Neurotoxins identified in literature review by Grandjean and Landrigan (2006).

It is significant that a manufacturer need not disclose ingredients that are not designated as hazardous, nor is it required to list a hazardous ingredient if it is used at less than 1%.

Examples of Dangerous Products Currently In Use

• Formula 409 contains n-Alkyl Dimethylbenzyl Ammonium Chloride, n-Propoxypropanol, and Monoethanolamine. Worker exposure limit is between 3-6 parts per million.

• Tilex contains Tetrapotassium ethylenediamine tetraacetate (EDTA) which has been found to be both cytotoxic and genotoxic in laboratory animals and is known to cause reproductive and developmental effects.

• Simple Green contains 2-butoxyethenol Lethal dose is 2.5 mg/kg in rats and exposure to humans can cause hypotension, metabolic acidosis, hemolysis, pulmonary edema, coma, and death.

In your home you may be using many of these same cleaning compounds.

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