maintenance & essential services
Why your choice of cleaning products matters BY EMMA LLOYD, COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER, GOOD ENVIRONMENTAL CHOICE AUSTRALIA What products do you choose to keep your building sparkling clean? Priorities will undoubtedly vary from one place to another. Perhaps affordability is the biggest concern to keep running costs manageable, or maybe it all comes down to how easy a product is to use. Maybe there is a desire to be eco-friendly for any number of reasons, ranging from Green Star points or marketing, to a genuine concern for sustainability; however, what facilities management professionals may not realise is that many standard cleaning products contain ingredients that are harmful not only to the environment, but to human health, as well.
any of us don’t know a great deal about the chemicals present in cleaning products – we simply trust that they will do the job and leave surfaces fresher, cleaner and healthier, with an indoor environment free from germs and dirt. A quick glance at the front of the packaging would most likely show us an explanation of how well the product does its job, and any special claims it makes – environmentally friendly or otherwise. A lot of cleaning products can contain a range of potentially harmful materials. For example, there’s a vast number of chemicals that bear risk phrases to declare that a substance may be a carcinogen, or may be harmful to a developing foetus. It’s rare for these hazards to be obvious to those who actually use the product, even if they read the ingredients list. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are also present in many products. These contribute to poor indoor air quality, lingering in the air after the solvents used in cleaning solutions evaporate. They can trigger allergic reactions, headaches, eye irritation and asthma problems, affecting both cleaning staff and building occupants. While it is still legal to use products that emit VOCs, many facilities management professionals are becoming increasingly aware of the problems caused by these emissions. Anything from the paint on the walls to the choice of flooring and upholstery materials can cause the building’s air quality to suffer, but cleaning products are one of the simplest things to change. Poor indoor air quality can be caused by any number of factors. The United States Environmental Protection Agency has identified inadequate ventilation, chemical contaminants from both indoor and outdoor sources, and biological contaminants as the key factors that are responsible for ‘sick building syndrome’. Occupants of a ‘sick building’ experience acute health and
FACILITY PERSPECTIVES | VOLUME 8 NUMBER 2
comfort effects that can be reasonably linked to time spent in a building, but with no obvious specific cause. Those affected may complain of headaches; irritation to eyes, nose, throat or skin; fatigue and difficulty concentrating; a cough; or dizziness and nausea. They usually feel a sense of relief soon after walking out of the building. Poor indoor air quality doesn’t just cause people to suffer; it also affects their productivity. continued on page 84