Cleaners and Disinfectants

The Problem

Everyone expects a hospital to be clean. However, many traditional cleaning products, floor strippers, and disinfectants present a variety of human health and environmental concerns. They often contribute to poor indoor air quality and may contain chemicals that cause cancer, reproductive disorders, respiratory ailments (including occupational asthma), eye and skin irritation, central nervous system impairment, and other human health effects.

In addition, some of these products contain persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic chemicals (PBTs), are classified as hazardous waste, and/or otherwise contribute to environmental pollution during their manufacture, use, or disposal.

Triclosan, an antibacterial biocide increasingly prevalent in liquid detergents and soaps (janitorial products), could enhance the ability of bacteria to resist antibiotics, and poses a long-term threat to wildlife and to human health. Traces of triclosan have been found in human breast milk.

Less-toxic, environmentally friendly maintenance products exist for almost all health care facility needs.

Hospitals also use a variety of methods to disinfect and sterilize surfaces and equipment. Some of the most commonly used products, however, such as glutaraldehyde and ethylene oxide, have been shown to cause serious health effects. Alternatives to these products offer effective disinfection while protecting health care workers and the environment.

 

What You Can Do

Using unscented "green" cleaners can reduce maintenance costs, help protect the environment, safeguard the health of building occupants, increase employee productivity, and improve indoor air quality.

A good place to start to identify environmentally preferable cleaning products is Green Seal Environmental Standard for Cleaners used for Industrial and Institutional Purposes (pdf).

Health Care Without Harm also urges hospitals to eliminate Gludaraldehyde, and switch to safer substitutes for disinfection. See our fact sheet, 10 Reasons to Eliminate Gluraraldehyde (pdf).