Cleaning for Healthier Schools


You wouldn’t expect schools to be places that are hazardous to children’s health. Unfortunately that’s just the case in most American schools and the problem comes from an unexpected source – cleaning products. Some of the most commonly used cleaning products contain chemicals that are classified as respiratory irritants, carcinogens, or neurotoxins. Some of these substances can cause liver or kidney damage and many are toxic to the skin, eyes, and nasal passages.

These cleaning products pose risks to the workers who use them, but their use in schools is of particular concern because children’s developing bodies are more susceptible than adults to the effects of toxic chemicals. Exposure to certain toxins at critical times in a child’s life can cause neurological damage, and we are now seeing an explosion of developmental, learning, and behavioral disabilities among children in the U.S. Occupants of elementary and secondary schools make up 20 percent of the US population, and an estimated 17 percent of US children under the age of 18 suffer from one or more of these conditions.

Indoor air pollution associated with everyday cleaning products (among other factors) has also been associated with respiratory irritation, new-onset asthma and can aggravate the symptoms of asthma, now the primary cause of missed school days among children. Childhood asthma now affects nearly 5 million children and childhood deaths related to asthma have almost tripled over the past 15 years. Overall asthma rates in the U.S. have more than doubled over the past two decades, with the disease now affecting more than 20 million people. Occupational asthma is also on the rise with janitorial workers experiencing twice the rate of other occupations.

Sick building syndrome, a result of airborne building contaminants may also be exacerbated by the toxic chemicals contained in cleaning products. Building occupants may experience headache; irritation or dryness of the eyes, nose, throat, or skin; dizziness; nausea; fatigue; asthma; allergies; and respiratory disease. The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that between 30 and 70 million US workers are affected by sick building syndrome. The EPA reported indoor air quality to be unsatisfactory in one out of five public schools.

Schools do not have to expose children and staff to air that contains toxic chemicals from cleaning products. A new generation of products has been developed that can keep our schools and other public buildings free of hazardous cleaning emissions. All over New England and the U.S., schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, government agencies, and businesses are switching to these environmentally preferable products. Such alternative products not only protect the health of workers, students, and other building occupants, they also reduce air, ground, and water pollution.