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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Green Cleaning in Schools

In a prior post, I wrote about cleaning homes with eco-friendly cleaners that don’t harm our health or the environment.
But what about other places where we or our families spend a lot of time? What about our children, whose immune system is not yet fully developed and who are most vulnerable to toxins in their environment?

Very often, the products that are used to keep schools and daycare centers clean contribute to poor indoor air quality, seriously affecting those with asthma or other respiratory problems. What those toxins in conventional cleaners do to the systems of healthy children we can only assume.
Most schools and day care centers use traditional cleaning products which are often loaded with harsh and harmful chemicals. As a result, children and staff are unnecessarily exposed to chemicals that have been linked to asthma and other respiratory problems, cancer, reproductive and neurological harm, and hormone disruption. Additionally, these products are known to have negative impacts on the environment, including contributing to water pollution, smog, and damage to the ozone layer.
It is essential that we become aware of the issue and get involved in the cleaning process outside our homes as well. Think about your workplace, too!
Why do cleaning supplies matter? Because good indoor air quality is essential for us and especially our children - for their well-being, health and proper development.
Switching to green cleaning supplies will
  • reduce air pollution in their classroom dramatically
  • eliminate exposure to ingredients that are linked to asthma or cancer
  • reduce the use of non-necessary antibacterial agents such as Triclosan (may disrupt thyroid and estrogen hormones and forms toxic byproducts in tap water and the environment)
  • be safe for workers and children and the cleaning will be just as good as with conventional cleaners
  • NOT cost more money!
  • eliminate exposures to hazardous chemicals found in conventional cleaners, like
* heavy metals (such as lead and cadmium that can cause cancer as well as neurodevelopmental damage in children.
* 2-butoxyethanol a solvent that damages red blood cells, causing anemia.
* phthalates (frequently found in fragrances in cleaning products. Dibutyl phthalate is also used in floor finishes and window cleaners. Children exposed to phthalates in indoor settings face increased risk of asthma and allergies)
* alkylphenol ethoxylates (The E.U. and Canada have banned these chemicals in cleaners)
* carcinogens, mutagens, formaldehyde and reproductive toxins

If you start to get concerned and would like to get involved, you can send this sample letter from the Environmental Working Group to your school or day care center:

Parents: Please customize this letter to raise your specific concerns about cleaners with local schools.
Dear ---,
As a concerned parent with a child attending [name of your school], I am writing to learn more about the cleaning supplies used to maintain school facilities. Because many cleaning supplies contain toxic chemicals that can be hazardous to children's health, and can pollute the air with harmful contaminants, I would like to become involved in efforts to assure the use of the safest possible products and cleaning methods in my child's school.
As you may know, asthma is a serious issue nationwide. At present, nearly 1 in 10 children in the U.S. suffer from this terrible health condition. Asthma is the leading cause of hospitalization for children under 15, and the primary cause of missed school days due to chronic illness. As you know, it is difficult for students to learn if they are not in school. As more research accumulates, there is growing concern that chemicals in cleaners can contribute to asthma. Cleaning ingredients have also been linked to cancer and other serious health concerns, and there are ecological problems as well.
Fortunately, growing awareness of the health and environmental impacts of cleaning products has led to the development of many effective, cost-competitive, third-party certified green cleaning products. These green cleaners meet strict criteria concerning ingredient safety, resulting in safer products with reduced toxicity to children, teachers, custodians, and other school staff. School districts all over the country have made the switch to green cleaners, for the benefit of both students and staff. Many districts have even saved money in the process. Eight states have now passed laws requiring or encouraging use of green cleaners in schools.
Recent research compares the air pollution released by cleaning a model classroom with conventional versus green cleaners. The results are clear -- total levels of air pollution are six times higher in the classroom cleaned with conventional products. Green cleaning products create markedly safe and cleaner indoor air in the classroom -- while achieving the same level of cleanliness. (Learn more at
I would like to learn what cleaners are used in our school, how often they are used, and for what purpose. If these products include certified green cleaners, then I commend you for safeguarding the health of the children under your care. If not, then I urge you to make the switch to certified green cleaning products. Use of certified green cleaning products and practices results in cleaning performance equal to or better than that of conventional products and practices, and should not increase overall spending on school maintenance.
Thank you for your time. I look forward to working with you to ensure that our schools are clean, safe, and healthy for students and staff alike.

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