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Make Sure Your Child’s School Is Fragrance-Free

When any parent sends their child off to school, they are doing so trusting that their child will be safe. There are a number of concerns parents have while their kids are at school. Things like….”Are they getting the best possible education?”, “Are they making friends?”, “Are they being bullied?”, etc…. The last thing a parent should have to worry about is the quality of air in their child’s school. Poor air quality can lead to a number of allergies and/or respiratory problems. The air quality in schools can be negatively affected by what type of cleaning products they use. Cleaning products with fragrances can be particularly harmful. Luckily, there may be some things you can do as a parent to help. In this article from Green Cleaning Magazine, they give 6 tips on how to help keep your child’s classroom fragrance-free.


6 Tips for a Fragrance-Free Back to School Zone

back to school

It’s back to school season when every parent puts a focus on protecting their child’s health in the classroom. One of the often-overlooked areas, however, is the presence (and prevalence) of air-contaminating fragrances.

More than 53 million children and 6 million adults in the United States spend significant amounts of time in more than 120,000 school buildings across the country. Studies have shown, however, that certain cleaning products used in the school setting, such as industrial-strength cleaning products and room deodorizers, contain chemicals identified as potential asthmagens (triggers of asthma symptoms), allergens, carcinogens, and air contaminants. In fact, about 25 percent of chemicals in school cleaning products are considered toxic—and they also contribute to poor indoor air quality. Women and girls are especially vulnerable to fragrance: with studies showing that that they are two to three times more likely to have fragrance allergies than men and boys.

The good news is that schools are becoming increasingly aware that healthy and environmentally-friendly facilities foster academic achievement and staff well-being. And, as states have begun to enact air-quality policies, many more eco-friendly products have become available for school use. To date, ten states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation to advance green cleaning in schools and more eco-friendly products have become available for school use.

How can you encourage your own school to limit the fragrances in your child’s environment? Here are six solid tips from Women for a Healthy Environment (WHE).

1. Encourage your school to purchase janitorial supplies with green cleaning in mind. Many manufacturers and retailers use terms such as “environmentally safe,” “green,” and “non-toxic” to boost sales. Some of these claims are valid but many are not. Choose products that are rated “green” by independent third-party organizations.

2. Encourage your child’s school to ask its employees to refrain from wearing scented products (especially ones where the sole purpose is to produce a scent).

3. Ask your principal to designate classrooms and other areas as non-scented/fragrance-free zones.

4. Share resources that your school may use to educate employees and parents, such as this WHE Fragrance Free Toolkit and this poster about fragrance sensitivity that can be placed around the school.

5. Discuss a fragrance-free school policy with your district. Click on the link to the resource guide above for examples of fragrance-free school policies.

6. Provide triclosan-free and fragrance-free hand sanitizers and chlorine-free and fragrance-free hand wipes to your teacher for use in the classroom.

The Rise of Green Cleaning

Nowadays, green cleaning products can be found in just about any store, right next to traditional cleaners. In fact, some stores actually have a wider selection of green products than they do for traditional cleaners. However, this wasn’t always the case. For many years, many people were unaware of the dangers traditional cleaners could cause to people and/or the environment. Therefore, they were most likely unaware of any green alternatives, as well. So, how did green cleaning go from being a niche to mainstream? That is exactly what this article from GreenBiz, discusses. A brief history of the rise of green cleaning.

Green cleaning: The journey from niche to mainstream

In 1962, Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking book “Silent Spring” was published. It forced the general public and members of the U.S. government to take a serious look at society’s use of chemicals and pesticides.

By the end of the decade, young people around the world took up the cause for “ecology,” as it was then called. This led to the first Earth Day in 1970, an event reflecting the much greater environmental consciousness that was spreading throughout the world.

Not long afterward, the first green cleaning products made their way onto the shelves of health food stores as the green cleaning movement began. Today, green cleaning is no longer niche, with an increasing number of certifications and other tools that have pushed it into the mainstream.

Green cleaning goes mainstream with certification

More than 20 years passed before green cleaning could make much progress in the professional cleaning industry. One key reason was a lack of standards that clearly defined what a green cleaning product is — and what it is not. Building owners and managers never were sure if the products they used were truly healthier and safer for the environment.

This began to change in 1993, when then-President Clinton signed Executive Order 12873 directing federal agencies to develop plans to purchase environmentally preferable products, which it defined as “products or services that have a lesser or reduced effect on human health and the environment when compared with competing products or services that serve the same purpose.”

Importantly, the definition explained that the improvements could be made throughout the product’s life cycle, stating that the “comparison may consider raw materials acquisition, product, manufacturing, packaging, distribution, reuse, operation, maintenance or disposal of the product or service.”

Throughout the 1990s, federal agencies, state and local governments led the green cleaning movement with the belief that it was their duty to use these affirmative procurement strategies to protect human health and the environment. But as they moved forward, they also became confronted with the sheer complexity of the issues because cleaning requires myriad products, including disinfectants, floor and carpet care products, heavy-duty degreasers and graffiti removers.

Based on the increased demand for green cleaning products came the introduction of green certification organizations, which made it easier for purchasers to identify green products and buy them with confidence.

These independent, third-party organizations are designed to protect consumers and product-users, and help manufacturers and distributors scientifically verify whether a green cleaning product has a reduced impact on the environment, compared to similar products. To earn third-party green certification and bear the ecolabel of the certification organization, products must meet, among other things, three key criteria:

1. The product has been evaluated using science-based environmental leadership standards.
2. It performs as well as or better than other products in its class based on accepted standards.
3. It has been independently certified without bias or conflict of interest.

Additional criteria, standards and attributes that may be covered by green certification include:

• Use of the product helps protect indoor air and environmental quality.
• The product is manufactured using recycled content (postconsumer/postindustrial), as well as being made from renewable, sustainable resources.
• The product does not contain chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) or other ozone-depleting substances.
• The product is recyclable and biodegradable.

Green cleaning in the 21st century

Today, green cleaning continues to evolve and grow. In fact, one of the most significant events in the movement just recently went into effect. The U.S. Green Building Council and its members have adopted the latest Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification rating system, LEED v4.

One big change requires the use of environmentally preferable cleaning products instead of receiving optional LEED credits for green cleaning products. LEED v4 also requires that facilities increase purchases of green cleaning chemicals, paper products, plastic liners and similar items from 30 percent to 75 percent. It also doubles the required purchases of green cleaning equipment, such as high-air-filtration vacuum cleaners, from 20 percent to 40 percent.

In addition, new compliance options give cleaning product manufacturers, janitorial service providers and facility managers more flexibility and options.

Besides EcoLogo/UL Environment and Green Seal, previously the only certification bodies recognized for LEED certification, v4 now also recognizes the EPA’s Design for the Environment program.

Cleaning Industry Management Standard-Green Buildings and GS-42, Green Seal’s standard for commercial and institutional cleaning, have been added as options to meet the green cleaning prerequisite.

The new version encourages innovation with the use of devices that turn ordinary tap water into an effective cleaning solution, completely eliminating the environmental impacts associated with the production and packaging of cleaning chemicals.

Greater emphasis is placed on conserving energy and water in janitorial cleaning activities, as well as for on-premise laundry and kitchen operations.

However, LEED v4 is not the only major change affecting the professional cleaning industry. Others include the following:

Ecolabels: Selecting green cleaning products used to be a challenge. With the advent of certification, standards and ecolabels, buyers have been given more tools to choose appropriate products. However, the EPA believes it can be difficult for purchasers to tell which ecolabels and standards are authentic and appropriate.

To help, the EPA recently announced the publication of Draft Guidelines for Product Environmental Performance Standards and Ecolabels for Voluntary Use in Federal Procurement. While the guidelines are designed to help federal purchasers, they also may help other public sector and private sector markets that rely on ecolabels and standards to make purchasing decisions. Some manufacturers in the industry are concerned that these new guidelines will stifle innovation, however, and it remains to be seen if or how this directive will evolve.

Transparency: Another trend in the industry is for manufacturers to disclose more information about the ingredients in their cleaning products. A step beyond certification and ecolabels, this move is intended to help purchasers better understand all the environmental, safety and health characteristics of products before they select them. Very simply, users want to know what’s inside the products they use, even green ones. For instance, one certified-green product may include an ingredient that can cause an allergic reaction in small children. Knowing this, a purchaser can select another green cleaning product that does not include this ingredient. The focus on greater transparency took an important step forward with the recent announcement from Walmart on its chemical requirements with transparency being a major component of their requirements.

Globally Harmonized System: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has modified the Hazard Communication Standard now used in the United States. The modifications are designed to make chemical information and warning labels consistent with those in many other countries around the world and with the United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals.

The key reason for the integration is to ensure all chemicals manufactured or used in the United States are labeled so that information on use, precautions and warnings are similar around the globe. In other words, a cleaning worker using a cleaning chemical in India or China will have, know and understand the same set of warning and hazard labels as a cleaning worker in North America. The ultimate goal is safety for the worker as well as building users.

Professional cleaning and cleaning products today are safer, more sustainable, effective and cost effective than those made just a few years back. These changes also have had a major impact on the professional cleaning industry in general. The days of cleaning workers being an invisible part of building operations is long gone. Today, and much the result of the green cleaning movement, they are considered one of the most crucial parts of a facility’s or business’s operation.

Bottles image by Anton Chalakov via Shutterstock.