Background: In recent years, cleaning has been identified as an occupational risk because of an increased incidence of reported respiratory effects, such as asthma and asthma-like symptoms among cleaning workers. Due to the lack of systematic occupational hygiene analyses and workplace exposure data, it is not clear which cleaning-related exposures induce or aggravate asthma and other respiratory effects. Currently, there is a need for systematic evaluation of cleaning products ingredients and their exposures in the workplace. The objectives of this work were to: a) identify cleaning products' ingredients of concern with respect to respiratory and skin irritation and sensitization; and b) assess the potential for inhalation and dermal exposures to these ingredients during common cleaning tasks.
Methods: We prioritized ingredients of concern in cleaning products commonly used in several hospitals in Massachusetts. Methods included workplace interviews, reviews of product Materials Safety Data Sheets and the scientific literature on adverse health effects to humans, reviews of physico-chemical properties of cleaning ingredients, and occupational hygiene observational analyses. Furthermore, the potential for exposure in the workplace was assessed by conducting qualitative assessment of airborne exposures and semi-quantitative assessment of dermal exposures.
Results: Cleaning products used for common cleaning tasks were mixtures of many chemicals, including respiratory and dermal irritants and sensitizers. Examples of ingredients of concern include quaternary ammonium compounds, 2-butoxyethanol, and ethanolamines. Cleaning workers are at risk of acute and chronic inhalation exposures to volatile organic compounds (VOC) vapors and aerosols generated from product spraying, and dermal exposures mostly through hands.
Conclusion: Cleaning products are mixtures of many chemical ingredients that may impact workers' health through air and dermal exposures. Because cleaning exposures are a function of product formulations and product application procedures, a combination of product evaluation with workplace exposure assessment is critical in developing strategies for protecting workers from cleaning hazards. Our task based assessment methods allowed classification of tasks in different exposure categories, a strategy that can be employed by epidemiological investigations related to cleaning. The methods presented here can be used by occupational and environmental health practitioners to identify intervention strategies.