EPA Approved Green Cleaning Product Information
Keeping You Safe
Cleaning products are necessary for maintaining attractive and healthful conditions in the home and workplace. In addition to the obvious aesthetic benefits of cleaning, the removal of dust, allergens, and infectious agents is crucial to maintaining a healthful indoor environment. But cleaning products can present several health and environmental concerns. They may contain chemicals associated with eye, skin, or respiratory irritation, or other human health issues. Additionally, the concentrated forms of some commercial cleaning products are classified as hazardous, creating potential handling, storage, and disposal issues for users. Reducing the human health and environmental concerns is an important incentive for implementing an EPP cleaning products program. Many of the recommendations are based on the fundamental pollution prevention principles of reducing the quantity and hazards of materials used.
The purpose of the guide is to provide practical information that will assist federal purchasers in making purchasing decisions. The guide is not a risk assessment document nor is it intended to substitute for Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), labels, or similar documents that provide information on proper storage, handling, use, and disposal. More comprehensive information on cleaning processes and practices is available from a variety of sources, a number of which are listed in the "Contacts and Resources" section of the guide.
Why Green Your Cleaning Products?
Environmental and Health Concerns
NOTE: The following discussion primarily addresses hazards associated with cleaning product ingredients. The actual risks from these chemicals at typical exposure levels are often uncertain, and in many cases are probably low. Regardless of the expected risk levels, however, reducing the intrinsic hazard of a product is a desirable pollution prevention objective as part of decisions that also take into account other important product attributes.
- Cleaning products are released to the environment during normal use through evaporation of volatile components and rinsing down the drain of residual product from cleaned surfaces, sponges, etc. Janitorial staff and others who perform cleaning can be exposed to concentrated cleaning products. However, proper training and use of a Chemical Management System (a set of formal procedures to ensure proper storage, handling, and use) can greatly minimize or prevent exposure to concentrated cleaning product during handling and use.
- Certain ingredients in cleaning products can present hazard concerns to exposed populations (e.g., skin and eye irritation in workers) or toxicity to aquatic species in waters receiving inadequately treated wastes (note that standard sewage treatment effectively reduces or removes most cleaning product constituents). For example, alkylphenol ethoxylates, a common surfactant ingredient in cleaners, have been shown in laboratory studies to function as an "endocrine disrupter," causing adverse reproductive effects of the types seen in wildlife exposed to polluted waters.
- Ingredients containing phosphorus or nitrogen can contribute to nutrient-loading in water bodies, leading to adverse effects on water quality. These contributions, however, are typically small compared to other point and non-point sources.
- Volatile organic compounds (VOC) in cleaning products can affect indoor air quality and also contribute to smog formation in outdoor air.
For additional information, please go to http://www.epa.gov/epp/pubs/cleaning.htm
(Sources: Choose Green Report on General Purpose Cleaners, Green Seal, March 1998; Green Seal Standard and Environmental Evaluation for General-Purpose, Bathroom, and Glass Cleaners Used for Industrial and Institutional Purposes, October 2000; Hormonally Active Agents in the Environment, National Research Council, National Academy Press, 1999)