The Toxic Truth about School Cleaning SuppliesNovember 2nd, 2009
A new study of air pollution caused by school cleaning supplies, conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), reveals that cleaning supplies commonly used in many California school districts could be clouding classroom air with more than 450 distinct toxic contaminants, including chemical agents linked to asthma and cancer.
More than 20 school cleaning products chosen by major California school districts were tested by EWG, ranging from conventional products, to products advertised as green, to products that are green certified by Green Seal and EcoLogo.
The results? Ten products tested contain one or more of the chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer or reproductive or developmental toxicity. The worst offenders include Comet Disinfectant Powder Cleanser, Febreze Air Effects, and Simple Green. Other especially polluting cleaning product types include air fresheners, graffiti removers, and floor finishes.
In contrast, certified green cleaning supplies like Marauder, Glance NA, and Alpha HP resulted in emission of just 15 air contaminants. Tests that compared cleaning a model classroom using three ordinary cleansers with three "certified green" products showed that "green" cleaning supplies released less than one-sixth of the air pollution produced by conventional cleaning. Tests did find low levels of chemicals tied to cancer and asthma in some of the green products. But overall, certified green cleaning supplies produce lower pollution levels and fewer chemicals than conventional products. The EWG suggests green products certified by Green Seal and EcoLogo as safer choices for schools. Read the "Greener School Cleaners = Healthier Kids" Report here or read more about the Green Seal standard.
Many schools are already taking action to curb children's exposure to dangerous conventional cleaning products by adopting green cleaning policies, and many have even saved money by replacing a "ready to use" conventional cleaning product with a highly concentrated, certified green cleaner.
One successful example is the Novato Unified School District in California (NUSD) where the Green Team removed unapproved cleaning supplies brought into classrooms by teachers and parents and switched to green cleaners district wide at no extra cost. In 2008-2009, NUSD began the school year with all Green Seal Certified cleaning supplies by Buckeye International. Read more of the NUSD's success story.
In addition to school districts, legislators across the nation have begun taking action on green cleaning in the schools as well. Over the past five years, eight states (New York, Illinois, Maine, Missouri, Connecticut, Maryland, Nevada, Hawaii) have passed legislation requiring or encouraging use of these green cleaning products in schools. Maine and Missouri's laws are voluntary, while New York's and Connecticut's are the strongest, mandating the use of only third-party certified products. Schools that switch to green cleaning and improve indoor air quality are finding higher attendance rates, improved worker safety and teacher productivity, and greater academic achievement.
In California, California Assemblywoman Julia Brownley (D-41st District) introduced legislation this spring that would require public schools to adopt the use of certified green cleaning products if they could do so at the same cost. The Clean and Healthy Schools Act (AB 821) is currently before the Assembly's Appropriations Committee for consideration. Read more about how to support the passage of AB821 or click here to see a U.S. map showing government and school district support for green cleaning across the country.
In addition to supporting these efforts, what can you do to keep the air in classrooms clean?
- Learn about your school's cleaning policy and educate school staff about certified green cleaning supplies.
- Ensure that all cleaning is done at times when students, including those staying for after-school programs, are not in the building.
- Support local, state, and federal efforts to promote green cleaning in schools and to require safety testing and disclosure of ingredients.
- Use EWG's Safe Cleaning Tips for Your Home.
- For how to help your school make the switch, and a sample letter to your school, click here.
You can read more about green cleaners and find products with our Green Schools Buying Guide, developed by the Green Schools Initiative to help schools make purchasing decisions that will protect children's health and the environment. This Guide includes information on alternatives to toxic products such as cleaners, art supplies and toys, pesticides and much more.
What about H1N1?
School and health officials are rightly concerned about controlling the spread of the H1N1 virus. This report analyzed air contamination from school cleaning products and does not make any specific recommendations in relation to H1N1 except to follow the advice of the government health officials. The EWG recommends that all schools follow the official guidance of the CDC and their local health authorities (http://www.flu.gov/professional/school/schoolguidancepdf.pdf ). According to the CDC, school staff should routinely clean areas that students and staff touch often with the cleaners they typically use. The CDC does not believe any additional disinfection of environmental surfaces beyond recommended routine cleaning is required.