As school begins, it is important to be educated on the dangers of cleaning products. As we all know, cleaning is essential to protecting our health at home, school, work, and other public places we visit. However, cleaning projects, whether they be soap, polish, grooming supplies, sprays – often contain harmful chemicals. It’s extremely important that we do not let our abundance of caution and use of cleaning supplies cause more respiratory harm than COVID-19.

With the emergence of COVID-19, we have all ramped up our efforts to keep things clean and free from contagions. As a quick recap, according to Yale Medicine, coronaviruses are a family of viruses, seven of which are known to infect people. Their crown-like spikes -coronas, that appear under the microscope- are where they get their name. COVID-19, the term we hear most often is caused by SARS-CoV-2. This disease appears mild to moderate in most people, however, in others, it can cause life-threatening pneumonia and death. We are continuing to learn about COVID-19 on a daily basis.

Some of what we have learned shows that transmission is most likely to occur through close contact with another person that has the virus. To date, it appears that the highest transmission rates are through droplet transmission, which is why we’ve all been wearing masks. It’s also why we’ve been practicing social distancing, better hand hygiene, and quarantining as needed.

I say this because we are all using and possibly overusing cleaning supplies that could harm our health and the health of children. According to the American Lung Society, “many cleaning supplies or household products can irritate the eyes or throat, or cause headaches and other health problems, including cancer. Some products release dangerous chemicals, including VOCs (volatile organic compounds.) Other harmful ingredients include ammonia and bleach. Believe it or not, natural fragrances such as citrus can react to produce dangerous pollutants indoors.”

According to the Cleveland Clinic, there has been a 20% jump in poison control center calls related to household cleaners and disinfectants such as bleach, nonalcohol disinfectants, and hand sanitizers since the emergence of this pandemic.

While they help rid our homes and classrooms of dangerous germs, cleaners and disinfectants need to be used carefully – especially around children. According to pediatrician Eva Love, MD, “It doesn’t take much to make a child sick. Their small body size and fast metabolism increase their risk of developing significant toxicity from these products.”

So, what to do, right? Here is what the experts say.

  • Only use them as directed. Read the labels and follow the directions. Don’t assume the way you’ve always used it is the correct way.
  • Use one at a time. Don’t create a cocktail of chemicals in an attempt to really get something clean. (Mixing bleach with vinegar can produce poisonous gas.)
  • Wear protection. Hard surface cleaners can irritate your skin, eyes, and throat. Make sure the area has adequate ventilation and keep kids out of the room while this is done.
  • Store chemicals in a safe location.
  • Treat “safer” cleaners the same. If you’re using a “homemade cleaner” or something marketed as “green,” that doesn’t mean you get complacent on safety protocols. Unless you have an advanced degree in chemistry, I’d be abundantly cautious.

Here is a list of cleaners the EPA says are safer for human health and the environment.

References:

1. Institute of Medicine, Division of Health Promotion, Indoor Air and Disease Prevention. Clearing the Air: Asthma and Indoor Air Exposures. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2000. Kanchongkittiphon W, et al. Indoor Environmental Exposures of Asthma: An Update to the 2000 Review by the Institute of Medicine. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2015; 123: 6-20.

2. Nazaroff WW, Weschler CJ. Cleaning Products and Air Fresheners: Exposure to Primary and Secondary Air Pollutants. Atmospheric Environment. 38, 2004: 2841-65.

3. California Air Resources Board (CARB). Report to the California Legislature: Indoor Air Pollution in California. Sacramento, CA: California Environmental Protection Agency. 2005.

4. Steinmann, AC. Fragranced Consumer Products and Undisclosed Ingredients. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 29,2009: 32-8.

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