A clean facility is a healthy one – most of the time – but it’s ironic that some products designed to make our buildings cleaner and healthier may contribute to asthma. According to K.D. Rosenman, MD, Department of Medicine, Michigan State University: “Cleaning products contain a diverse group of chemicals…Their potential to cause or aggravate asthma has recently been recognized.”[i]
Ingredients such as bleach, quaternary ammonium compounds or “quats”, phthalates, and many VOCs (volatile organic compounds) found in typical cleaning products have all been associated with causing asthma or other respiratory ills.
Studies show professional cleaners using bleach-containing formulas are at increased risk of asthma.[ii] Bronchitis, shortness of breath, coughing and other respiratory problems are linked to regular use of bleach-based and other ‘irritating’ cleaning products.[iii]
Phthalate, a common ingredient in product fragrances, ends up in dust that people inhale, and is present in higher concentrations in environments where people have asthma. According to Science News Magazine, people exposed to “…dust with the greatest concentrations of di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) were 2.9 times as likely to have asthma as were [those] exposed to the lowest concentrations of that phthalate.”[iv] The cited study was done on children, but may relate to all directly or indirectly.
Use of “Quats” – compounds in floor cleaners and disinfecting products – may also promote asthma[v]. Volatile ingredients in ...cleaning formulas, furniture polishes, and oven cleaners can irritate mucous membranes and contribute to respiratory disease[vi].
Prudent avoidance of products containing these suspect ingredients makes sense, especially when practical alternatives are available. “‘Better living through chemistry’ was once a popular phrase, but now, based on what we know, we should revise that to, ‘Better living through preventive facility care and minimizing most petrochemicals,’” said Allen Rathey, founder of the Healthy Facilities Institute.
[i] KD Rosenman - Michigan State University, J. Occup. Environ. Med. (May 2003).
[ii] a. “Asthma symptoms in women employed in domestic cleaning: a community-based study.” Medina-Ramón M, Zock JP, Kogevinas M, et al. Thorax 2003;58:950–4.
b. “When asthma was modeled using multivariate regression, the odds ratios were increased for frequent use of bleach…The authors concluded that the initiation or aggravation of asthma symptoms is associated with the use of bleach and other irritant domestic cleaning products.” Medina-Ramón and colleagues; a case-control study among domestic cleaning women, nested in the 2000–2001 ECRHS cohort in Cornellà, Spain.
[iii] a.“Excess incidence of asthma among Finnish cleaners in different industries.” Karjalainen A, Martikainen R, Karjalainen J, et al. Eur Respir J 2002;19:90–5.
b. “Occupational airways diseases from chronic low-level exposures to irritants.” Balmes JR. Clin Chest Med 2002;23:727–35.
c. “Asthma, chronic bronchitis and exposure to irritant agents in occupational domestic cleaning: a nested case-control study.” Medina-Ramón M, Zock JP, Kogevinas M, et al. Occup Environ Med. 2005.
[iv] “The Association between Asthma and Allergic Symptoms in Children and Phthalates in House Dust: A Nested Case–Control Study.” Carl-Gustaf Bornehag; Jan Sundell; Charles J. Weschler; Torben Sigsgaard; Björn Lundgren; Mikael Hasselgren; and Linda Hägerhed-Engman. Environ. Health Perspect. 2004 October; 112(14): 1393–1397.
[v] a. “Occupational asthma due to indirect exposure to lauryl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride used in a floor cleaner.” PS Burge and MN Richardson; Occupational Lung Disease Unit, Birmingham Heartlands Hospital, UK. Thorax, Vol 49, 842-843, 1994.
b. “A combined respiratory and cutaneous hypersensitivity syndrome induced by work exposure to quaternary amines.” Bernstein JA, Stauder T, Bernstein DI, et al. J Allergy Clin Immunol 1994;94:257–9.
[vi] “Asthma risk, cleaning activities and use of specific cleaning products among Spanish indoor cleaners.” Zock, J-P; Kogevinas, M; Sunyer, J; Almar, E; Muniozguren, N; Payo, F; Sanchez, JL; Anto, JM. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health. Vol. 27, no. 1, pp. 76-81. Feb 2001.