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10 Ways to Find Safer Cleaners

Lowell, Massachusetts, January 9, 2006--Glowing customer endorsements, pictures of animals, or the color green on a label does not mean that a cleaning product is safe. Follow these 10 Tips so that you can recognize and purchase safer and greener cleaners:

1. Look for cleaners that have credible third-party certification.
An example includes the Green Seal label (www.greenseal.org/). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also provides environmentally preferable product information at http://www.epa.gov/epp/. If your store or supplier does not offer any of these products, ask the Manager when she or he intends to carry them. A letter signed by you and your neighbors or colleagues is a very effective way to elicit local support for the chemical companies trying to do the right thing.

2. Find out if your state or region has a green procurement program (usually for government contract purposes).
Massachusetts has a green procurement program. Visit http://www.newdream.org/procure/products/approved.php for a list of approved products. Further help is available for Massachusetts businesses from the Toxics Use Reduction Institute Laboratory (www.turi.org/) at UMass Lowell (www.uml.edu/).

3. Don't automatically disinfect when you clean.
While disinfecting may be necessary on kitchen surfaces for preparing food or on telephones if someone is sick, it is best to limit the use of disinfecting products because overusing antimicrobial products may lead to the spread of "super bugs." Antimicrobial products contain chemical agents that are capable of destroying or inhibiting the growth of microorganisms. These can be dangerous pesticides. Contact the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics (www.apua.org/) and the Center for Disease Control (www.cdc.gov/ncidod/op/cleaning.htm) for more information.

4. Don't confuse fragrance with cleaning performance.
If colors are used to differentiate cleaning products, these should be safe, too (such as those used for Food, Drug and Cosmetic purposes). Some people are chemically sensitive to these kinds of ingredients. Fragrances can also be used to mask odors that may be associated with an unsafe ingredient. Use unscented products wherever possible. Food grade colors are listed under EAFUS: A Food Additive Database maintained by the Food and Drug Administration (www.fda.gov).

5. Be wary of salespeople who tell you that their product is safe when used as directed.
This may mean that the cleaner could be considered dangerous when stored or handled as a concentrate. Products need to remain safe under all kinds of conditions for everyone coming into contact with them, including pets and children.

6. Avoid using cleaners that contain these chemicals:
Nonyl- and octyl-phenols are used to make alkylphenol ethoxylate (APE) liquid laundry detergents and are suspect hormone disrupters. Hormone disrupters are chemicals that are suspected to interfere with normal hormonal processes, causing cancer, birth defects and immune problems. In Europe, these products contain the slightly more expensive, but safer, alcohol ethoxylates instead.

7. Look for labels that divulge ALL of the cleaner's chemicals.
These labels are similar to those used on food stuffs whose ingredients total 100%. While companies participating in valid green labeling initiatives report all of their ingredients, many smaller firms selling safe products do not have funds for certification. Reading labels thoroughly can reward these companies, too, with your business.

8. Contact the manufacturer of the cleaner(s) you are currently using and ask for the Materials Safety Data Sheet. Their contact information should be somewhere on the label. To date, workers (not consumers) have a right to this information. Alternatively, visit the National Institutes of Health (NIH) web site http://hpd.nlm.nih.gov/index.htm

9. Use only cleaners containing an HMIS1 and/or NFPA2 numerical rating listed on Material Safety Data Sheets.
These ranking systems take into account a product's health, fire, reactivity and specific hazards, from a score of 0 (minimum) to 4 (severe) in each category. Displaying these values is not mandatory and constitutes a financial commitment for testing on the part of a chemical vendor to provide more data than just what is absolutely required by law. For bathroom, general purpose, glass and carpet cleaners, avoid any product with a score higher than 2 in any of the above categories.

10. Stay away from cleaners that carry "Danger"or "Warning" statements. Remember, as a guideline:
4 = Danger - May be fatal on short exposure. Specialized protective equipment required.
3 = Warning - Corrosive or toxic. Avoid skin contact or inhalation.
2 = Warning - May be harmful if inhaled or absorbed.
1 = Caution - May be irritating.
0 = No unusual hazard.

This information is provided as a public service from the Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. Established by the State's Toxics Use Reduction Act of 1989, TURI provides research, training, technical support, laboratory services and grant programs to reduce the use of toxic chemicals while enhancing the economic competitiveness of local businesses. The TURI Laboratory provides free testing services to Massachusetts manufacturing companies to help reduce the amount of hazardous chemicals used for surface cleaning.
For more information on the technical aspects and environmental and health impacts of cleaners, degreasers, solvents and their components, including household products, contact the TURI Laboratory, Jason Marshall, 978-934-3133, Jason@turi.org
1 Hazardous Materials Information System2 National Fire Protection Association (www.nfpa.org).
2 National Fire Protection Association (www.nfpa.org).