Last week, while volunteering at my daughter’s classroom Halloween party, I flinched a little as I saw one of the other parents dutifully strolling around dispensing the requisite waterless, chem-filled hand sanitizers. Aside from my skepticism that anti-bacterial soaps will actually do much to kill a virus, I also suspected the ingredients in the sanitizer weren’t much better than the germs they were designed to kill. So when the teacher instructed two of my daughter’s peers that they were supposed to wash their hands with soap and warm water instead (apparently per parental instruction), I quickly chimed in that I wanted Eliana to do the same. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder what other chemicals were being sprayed around the room when the cleaning staff arrived.
This year, as Swine Flu Mania consumes teachers, kids, and parents around the globe, cleaning products are enjoying unprecedented popularity. This makes EWG’s latest safety report, targeting industrial cleaners most commonly found in school, miraculously well-timed. The results, as you probably guessed, aren’t uplifting. Most of you probably exert a fair bit of effort making sure your cleaning closet is stocked with the safest products on the market; frustrating, then, to learn that the bulk of your child’s day is spent surrounded by the very chemicals you are diligently trying to avoid.
Testing 20 common cleaners used in classrooms and school bathrooms, the EWG found hundreds of air contaminants, most of which were not listed on the ingredients labels. Comet Disinfecting Powder Cleaner alone contains 147 Air Contaminants, of which 6 are actually listed on the label, and 7 are known carcinogens.
Thankfully, the EWG does not simply hand out this unsettling information and then walk away. They offer a guide to help you talk to your school about non-toxic cleaning products (of which there are many), including a customizable letter to start the conversation. I already sent the link to one teacher I know who is working to eco up our school. If you’re also concerned about hand sanitizers and liquid soaps in the classroom and bathrooms, be sure to check out the Skin Deep database to learn more about what’s in them, and consider donating a family-size jug (or 2) of safer alternatives, like Dr. Bronner’s, EO, Desert Essence, or Terressentials.