March 26, 2009

Hospital cleaning products can do harm

Cleaning products used in hospitals may pose a health risk to both cleaning staff and patients, U.S. researchers said.

Study leader Anila Bello of the University of Massachusetts Lowell Sustainable Hospitals Program, and Melissa Perry of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, investigated the cleaning materials and techniques used in six Massachusetts hospitals.

Products used for cleaning and disinfecting are complex mixtures of many chemicals including disinfectants, surfactants, solvents and fragrances. These ingredients are representative of different chemical classes and have a very wide range of volatilities and other chemical properties, the researchers said.

Cleaning products may impact worker, and possibly patient, health through air and skin exposures, the researchers said in a statement.

The ingredients of concern identified in our study included quaternary ammonium chlorides or 'quats' that can cause skin and respiratory irritation. Some products contained irritant glycol ethers that can be absorbed through the skin, as well as ethanolamine -- another respiratory and dermatological irritant. We also found several alcohols such as benzyl alcohol, ammonia and several phenols, all of which can exert harmful effects on the body.

The pilot study is published in the journal Environmental Health.