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School Cleaning Supplies Can Harm Children


Ordinary school cleaning supplies can expose children to a wide variety of chemicals that can harm their health. That is the finding of the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which found that an average assortment of cleaning supplies released 457 different chemicals, some linked to asthma, cancer, and other health problems.

Children spend many hours in classrooms that have been cleaned by products that can pollute the air. Previous studies conducted in California have shown that cleaning supplies release 32 tons of contaminants and toxins into the air each day in that state alone.

In the current study, the EWG conducted laboratory tests of 21 cleaning supplies commonly used by several major California school districts. Each product was tested individually by a respected laboratory that specializes in evaluating air pollutants released by cleaning products.

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The EWG researchers found that some of the cleaning supplies used by schools and at home release the greatest number of contaminants measured. For example, Comet Disinfectant Powder Cleanser, which is often used in both schools and homes, was found to release the greatest number of pollutants, 146, including benzene, chloroform, and formaldehyde.

Another product which claims to be “non-toxic,” Simple Green, was found to release 93 different air contaminants, while Febreze Air Effects air freshener emitted 89. On the other end of the scale was Glance NA, a certified green glass and general purpose cleaner, which was found to emit just one air contaminant.

The EWG study also found that 24 of the chemicals released by the cleaning supplies have well-established links to asthma, cancer, reproductive problems, birth defects, and other health concerns. The green cleaning supplies tested released an average of eight contaminants, while products that were not certified emitted nearly five times more, an average of 38 different pollutants each. Overall, the EWG study found that compared with conventional cleaning supplies, certified green products contained just 25 percent of the chemicals that have documented ties to specific health problems.

Some schools are making changes in their choices of cleaning supplies. Eight states have passed legislation that either requires or encourages the use of green cleaning products in schools. One problem is that labeling requirements are lax, leaving cleaning supply buyers uncertain about what they are purchasing. One solution is to focus on green products that have been independently certified to meet health and safety standards. Consumers who are interested in learning more about the results of the EWG study can read the report on the Environmental Working Group website.

Environmental Working Group