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Renee Blanchard's picture

The issue of disinfectants is a controversial topic for those trying to eliminate toxic cleaning products from their businesses, homes, and schools. It is a product that is commonly used in places where large amounts of people visit to help lower the risk of spreading bacteria; like bathrooms, office buildings, and theme parks, but often contain harmful chemicals that can impact your respiratory, development, and reproductive systems.

What is a Disinfectant and Why Should You Care? A disinfectant is an agent that kills infection-producing organisms. If a disinfectant can kill infection-causing organisms, then it can also kill organisms that we want to keep in our bodies, especially in vulnerable populations, like children. In fact, in order to sell disinfectants in the market a company must register its product with EPA as a pesticide. But we must balance this information with the need to protect the greater public health. This is why controversy surrounds disinfectants and why companies have been struggling to put a non-toxic disinfectant on the market. But it seems that Seventh Generation just did and according to a New York Times article so has Martha Stewart.

There is a call from environmental health advocates to reduce the amount of toxic disinfectants being used when cleaning. What seems to be happening in public places is that the strongest disinfectant available is being used improperly regularly, either by not cleaning appropriately before use, using the wrong disinfectant, or by using them when they aren’t even needed. This practice should shift to using a disinfectant only in high touch areas, after cleaning the area first, and only in the spot that needs a disinfectant. And what we really need are lots of creative and innovative companies to design out the toxic part altogether for places that need to use a high volume of cleaning products.

The Pressure is On. Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE), in coalition with organizations across the country, has been running a very successful campaign called the Safe Cleaning Products Initiative. They released a report called Disinfectant Overkill in 2008 that includes a fact sheet. In the fact sheet it states, “The overuse of disinfectant chemicals also contributes to the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, more commonly known as “superbugs”. In September 2009 Senator Franken introduced legislation to require cleaning product companies to disclose the ingredients in their products. No, that is not common at the moment. But check out this great timeline of how consumers are keeping the pressure on these companies to be more transparent about the chemicals in their products. Our health is being compromised by the overabundance of toxic chemicals in our cleaning products and we need a mixture of quality products and good policies to help.

What You Can Do. INFORM has a project called Cleaning for Health. It includes a wide range of reports and fact sheets to help understand what chemicals in the cleaning products we use are harmful and how to avoid them. It even helps you mobilize other people in your community, like janitorial staff and facilities managers, to make healthier decisions. What has been the most surprising for me while learning about green cleaning is that using a number of different chemicals to clean our homes, offices, and schools isn’t a necessity. Many times if we just shift around our cleaning practices a little bit, we would do a pretty good job of cleaning with very few chemicals at all. Putting mats inside and outside the front door and using microfibers go a long long way to healthier cleaning. There are organizations in almost every state that is working on green cleaning, especially when it comes to schools and day cares.

Read up on the organization's I've pointed to and join the effort!

For a toxic free future,
Renee Claire

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