If itís important to use less toxic products in our homes, itís equally
important to use them in our workplaces and public institutions. There is
growing recognition of the importance of indoor air quality at work from an
employee viewpoint. Institutions also need to consider the impact of cleaning
products on the health of users. Hospitals, schools, nursing homes and day care
centres are places where children, the ill and the elderly spend many hours, and
these are groups which are especially vulnerable to hazardous chemicals. Use of
less toxic products, particularly those which are scent free and low in solvents
make public places more accessible to people with chemical sensitivities and
asthma. Cleaning staff who spend 40 hours a week working with cleaning
chemicals, often in concentrated formulations, are an occupational group which
is often exposed to many carcinogens and other hazardous substances.
Cleaning products are increasingly recognized as a significant source of
indoor air pollution, as well as contributing to broader environmental
pollution. As more institutions adopt scent free and environmentally friendly
policies, the demand for less toxic alternatives is increasing. The good news is
that these products exist, and finding them is not that difficult.
As with every type of product, finding the right one for the job is a process.
If you use one less toxic product which you donít find effective for a
particular job, donít conclude that the only alternative is the toxin containing
product you have always used. The range of product options is expanding as the
hazards of many existing products become better understood and the demand for
less toxic alternatives increases. Less toxic choices are not necessarily more
expensive, and in some cases can save money.
The following points will assist people looking for less toxic cleaning options
for institutional use.
- In many cases, the products and recipes in the household cleaning
section can be used in institutional settings.
- The website of the Janitorial Products Pollution Prevention Program
(JP4), provides information and sources for less toxic institutional
www.wrppn.org/Janitorial/jp4.cfm. These lists were developed in
the US, but many products are available in Canada, sometimes under different
- The Labour Environmental Alliance Society in British Columbia is a
valuable source of information on toxins in cleaning products, as well as
how to find less toxic alternatives. Ask for their pamphlet, Toxins and
Cleaners, and visit their website www.leas.ca. Bebbington Industries
Nova Scotia company, manufactures the Green Knight line of
institutional/industrial cleaning products. Products bear the Ecologo label
and have been evaluated as very low in human health impacts.
- Look for products which meet the Ecologo
www.envirodesic.com (Canada) or Green Seal
www.greenseal.org (US) standards.
Products bearing these labels have undergone a third party evaluation. The
standards are based principally on decreased harm to the environment, rather
than to human health, but they are a good start. In many cases, the same
chemicals are hazardous to both human health and the environment. Some
products which meet these standards may not have been evaluated yet.
- In any request for proposals or contract process, list ingredients which
should not be contained in any products to be used in your workplace.
Adopting an overall policy which specifies that your workplace will select
cleaning products which are scent-free and least harmful to the environment,
as the PEI government has done, provides a good starting point. Information
on the most hazardous chemicals to avoid is available in the Toxins and
Cleaners pamphlet from LEAS (see above #3) and on the JP4 site.
- Maintenance in Schools, an article written by Karen Robinson of CASLE
(Citizens for a Safe Learning Environment,
www.chebucto.ns.ca/Education/CASLE), outlines many of the issues
involved in choosing less toxic cleaning products.
- The Canadian Auto Workersí campaign to eliminate carcinogens in the
workplace has identified many hazardous chemicals used in industrial
processes. CAW has also identified substitutions which can be made for many
of them. Cathy Walker, the CAW's Director of Occupational Health and Safety
heads up the Prevent Cancer campaign.