Cleaning & Restoration Association News

Hazards to Your Health?

Chemophobia is an interesting word, especially when it isn’t even shown in Random House Webster’s College Dictionary, a book that claims more new words than any other dictionary with more than 207,000 definitions. Not to berate a subject, but as time marches on, more and more people are getting involved with environmental concerns, which they should. There are, however, over-extensions of fear about chemical usage. It’s unfortunate, chemicals are needed to keep this society alive—be it drugs for arthritis or other health related compounds, or even toothpaste to clean your teeth. As you can see, chemistry looks different from different viewpoints. This thin line is easy to cross and brings out my concerns that customers may over-judge and think a clean carpet can be hazardous. Why? Because chemicals were used in the cleaning process.

Recently, I read an article about a student of Eagle Rock Junior High School who was trying to demonstrate the fear the public has developed about chemicals. His point was to show how alarmists have pushed the panic button with fear of everything in our environment. I liked his approach.

He circulated a petition calling for the removal of a chemical called dihydrogen monoxide on the grounds it was detrimental to the environment and our health, and for plenty of good reasons:

  • It can cause excessive sweating and vomiting

    • It is a major component in acid rain

      • It can cause severe burns in its gaseous state

        • Accidental inhalation can kill you

          • It contributes to erosion

            • It has been found in tumors of terminal cancer patients.

            This petition was ominous to the persons who had partaken in it and 86% of those asked supported an immediate ban of this foreboding chemical. Although the petition may have been passed only among students, I can assure you the response level would have been similar in adults. In either case, it would be hard for those respondents to accept that the chemical, dihydrogen monoxide is water. We should question these results as being from people who lack either general scientific knowledge or are developing their conclusions from popular press reviews and basically feel that if it has anything to do with chemicals it has to be bad.

            Of course, some chemicals are legitimately dangerous. Chemicals such as sulfuric acid (battery acid), hydrochloric acid, caustic soda (drain cleaner), and others have often been responsible for severe accidents and health problems. They are recognized as hazardous, must be used with extreme caution, and should not be stored in the living quarters of a residence.

            However, there is a group of people extremely sensitive to chemicals that you or I would not give much consideration. These chemical sufferers have developed what is known in the field as Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS). This has been a controversial disability, with much disagreement between experts. Some state it is a psychological condition that makes a person feel that any type of chemical will prompt it as a disability. Other experts classify it as a true medical condition, one that has puzzled the medical field, especially when each person has a different reaction to different chemicals.

            MCS has been classified by certain federal agencies as a true disability and with some reporting that up to 5%-10% of the population has MCS.

            Some extreme sufferers will become ill when exposed to whiffs of garlic, perfumes, flowers, citrus fruits, shampoos or the off-gassing of a new carpet. With these sensitive individuals in mind, new buildings have been constructed with the prime purpose of minimizing chemical exposure. Consequently, the aspect of a recently cleaned carpet becomes more of a possible hazard than you or I would consider as a potential problem.

            Keep in mind, if a customer has allergies, it should be considered as a flag of caution. In fact, you should explain that to avoid any health problems, the carpet could be cleaned with hot water—no chemicals used. This would relieve the homeowner’s concerns and also avoid any future legal involvement.

            Individuals with MCS, when exposed to sensitive chemicals, usually develop closed nasal and throat passages and have extreme difficulty breathing. Some sufferers may carry oxygen bottles wherever they go, to assist breathing. This is a common practice by those with serious health problems.

            Although chemicals used in the process of cleaning can be a problem to the small percent of the population that suffer from chemical sensitivities, it should be remembered that cleaning removes potential allergens. Cleaning will protect health. Cleaning reduces exposure to mold, dirt, dust, and bacteria by removing them from the home or office environment, turning a harmful condition into a healthier one. And talk about a psychological response: A clean environment promotes the overall feeling that generates satisfaction. Remember that when a carpet is cleaned, the quality of life in that residence has been improved and the bottom line is we subconsciously emote a healthy feel. I’ve always felt that a carpet cleaner is just not a cleaner but a health professional who comes into a home to provide not just a cleaner home, but a healthier one.

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