Chemical cleaning solutions trigger asthma symptoms new study finds

Companies have to consider chemical free products in order to protect staff health, states Green World Innovations

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The use of chemical cleaning products in the workplace has increased dramatically over the past 20 years. However, the amount of research undertaken to assess the increased risk to employee health has up until recently been negligible. Research, such as the recently released study by David Vizcaya at the University of Montreal, (view at – - – is now starting to highlight the impact that the use of chemical cleaners are having on professional cleaning service employees.

The study shows that fumes from cleaning products used at work can trigger asthma symptoms. Vizcaya and his team evaluated the health of 21 women cleaners who had asthma symptoms over the past year, over a period of two weeks. All were employees of cleaning companies in Barcelona. The study participants recorded the different types of chemicals used during the period and any symptoms they suffered. On average they used just over two different types of cleaning products each day, and on three out of every four working days were exposed to at least one strong irritant, such as ammonia, bleach or hydrochloric acid.

During this period the researchers found that 17 out of the 21 cleaners reported at least one upper respiratory tract symptom, such as sneezing, scratchy throat and runny nose. 18 out of 21 participants also reported other symptoms such as coughing, wheezing or chest pain, with a strong association between exposure to cleaning products and these symptoms among individuals with a history of asthma.

Martin Booth, MD at Green World Innovations commented. “The use of harsh chemicals such as bleach, hydrochloric acid and ammonia is higher than ever before, and yet we still have relatively little idea what long term impact exposure to them is having on the health of professional cleaning staff.

“However, we would expect that the more studies that are undertaken on chemical cleaning products, the more we will see the implicit connection between them and the impact on employee health. With this already increasing volume of evidence companies are now having to weigh up the effectiveness of the cleaning chemicals against the health of their staff.

“There are viable alternatives available though, and organisations now need to look for chemical free solutions, that can clean as effectively as chemicals without having a negative impact on employee health and the environment. The chemical free alternatives, such as aqueous ozone, not only clean as effectively as their more harmful counterparts, but also provide companies with a more efficient solution, both in terms of time and finance, as staff don’t have to use more than one product, cutting down dramatically on investment and the back and forth usually associated with a professional clean.

“The health issues associated with chemical cleaning products are not going to go away. Companies can bury their head in the sand, but ultimately we are going to see more studies with more conclusive evidence that the solutions many companies are currently using are harming their staff. Many are turning to viable chemical free solutions and those that do not will be risking the long term health not only of their staff but their company as a whole. We expect there to be a shift as customers and staff will start to favour companies that are perceived to prioritise the health of staff and the environment.”