Environmental Floor Care: The Greening of Custodial Operations

February 1, 2002
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During the last decade, there has been an increasing emphasis on the environment, and the impact and control of chemicals that damage the environment.

During the last decade there has been increasing emphasis on the environment, and the impact and control of chemicals that damage the environment. Federal and state bureaucracies have generated legislation in such numbers that one's head would swim.

A review of professional journals relating to building maintenance indicates that we have been "greened" by laws, but in practicality there remains room for improvement. The review of professional journals, representing six major journals or magazines, representing over 150 issues and over four years, indicates several concerns that impact upon the greening of building maintenance operations:

* The number of laws increased from the 1980s through the 1990s, such as legislation and guidance on the Hazardous Communication Standard (29CFR 1910.1200), the Clean Air Act, Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA), the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compens-ation and Liability Act (CERCLA), the Pollution Prevention Act, the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA Title III, 40CFR372).
* The numbers of agencies involved, and their enforcement powers in monitoring of such legislation, are growing at both the federal and local level. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) are now professional household names.
* The numbers of inspections and fines imposed on facilities are increasing and are becoming more severe.

All of this is enough to strike terror into the administrators of facilities, especially those in the business of keeping buildings and facilities clean since such cleaning uses a variety of chemicals. However, all is not lost. A few simple and common sense concepts can keep our institutions out of problems, and help us to maintain clean facilities while being green.

'Green' chemicals
Why the concern about using green chemicals? The reasons are multiple, yet practical. All legislation and the legal jargon aside, the use of quality ,environmentally safe chemicals is a logical imperative. A proactive "green" housekeeping program is a legislated imperative, an environmental imperative, a risk management imperative and an economic imperative.

* Regulations: Federal, state and local legislation is making the control and minimization of potentially hazardous chemicals a legislated imperative. Failure to comply can be expensive.
* Environmental: Too many case studies have indicated the problems with ignoring the impact of chemicals on the environment. The infamous Love Canal is but one of many documented cases of the use, abuse and refuse of chemicals. In the South Bend, Ind. area, legislation is being drafted to deal with companies that, in the past, dumped hazardous waste and chemicals, contaminating soil and water. The same scenario is being played across the nation. Landfills are now carefully monitoring and prohibiting the disposal of hazardous chemicals. It is an environmental imperative that we use the least hazardous chemicals available.
* Risk Management: Using chemicals that are green presents less potential for harm to the environment and employees working with the chemicals. For instance, why use a product that has a 30 percent concentration of an acid when a low acid, or for that matter non-acid product, may be as effective? A check of most housekeeping safety records indicates the most injuries in the field are caused by improper lifting, improper handling of trash and improper use of chemicals. By minimizing the risk of highly corrosive chemicals, one can minimize injury. Sure, you can use gloves and goggles around hazardous chemicals, but often these are not worn (especially when accidents occur). Using green chemicals can minimize the risk, so using green chemicals is a risk management imperative.
* Economics: Discarding hazardous waste is increasingly problematic and expensive. At one time, many housekeeping products could be "discarded down the drain." Not anymore. Many of the chemicals used, and their subsequent waste, have to be handled carefully and discarded accordingly. It is expensive to dispose of even small quantities of hazardous chemicals, and the disposal can literally cost in the hundreds of dollars. Why buy hazardous chemicals when it is going to cost you nearly as much to discard it at the end of the use cycle as it did to buy it? It is an economic imperative to use low risk, green chemicals.

The key to developing a good program to determine the "greenness" of the chemicals we use, is to utilize a multi-disciplinary and informed approach. Do our research before we buy cleaning chemicals. At a minimum collect the following from the manufacturer of the chemical:

1.A complete and accurate Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). If this sheet is not provided, or is incomplete, avoid doing business with the concern involved. Reputable manufacturers provide accurate and complete MSDS's as a matter of course.
2. Technical data sheets that tell you what the chemical is, what it claims to do, its impact in the cleaning of surfaces, mix ratios, any certifications, etc. Much of this is "advertising" but is beneficial when sorting out "the forest from the trees."
3. Once #1 and #2 are provided ask for a sample of the product, not for testing, but for analysis purposes. Read The Label. Compare the data on the label with the data on the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) provided, if the two are inconsistent or in error, ask the manufacturer for written clarification. If satisfactory information is not provided, cease to conduct business with that company.
4. After collecting items 1-3, sit down with your resident Risk Management or Industrial Safety person to determine:
a. Impact of the chemical on personnel such as the potential for injury or abuse. Areas of concern could include impact on exposed surfaces (skin, eyes, hair, etc), internal organs (lungs, liver) and potential allergies;
b. Impact of the chemical on the environment, to include surfaces, Indoor Air Quality (IAQ), water table, etc.; and
c. Impact of disposal if the chemical is not utilized or waste is generated.
5. If any doubts exist in any of these areas, do not buy the chemical.
Simple steps to Green Housecleaning

A few easy steps can assist in the greening of your housekeeping operations, from chemicals to plastic bags, to paper products:
1. Buy the product that is the least hazardous to the total environment, including impact upon employees, customers, surfaces to be cleaned, indoor air quality, water quality and land.
2. Buy the product in as limited quantities as practical so that expiration dates are not passed, or surplus products are left over. If you buy too much, it must be discarded and this can be expensive, and expose the institution to potential liability. Remember if you bought it, you own it.
3. Buy from companies that can provide supplies Just In Time (JIT) to minimize bulk storage and potential leakage of large quantities.
4. Buy products readily recyclable containers, such as LDPE I, LDPE II and PET.
5. Buy products from companies that provide all the literature that your require for adequate training. Items such as MSDS, labels and fact sheets are a minimum.
6. Buy products from companies that provide legitimate, professional training, not only about their product, but cleaning practices in general, environmental concerns and issues.
7. Buy recycled/ recyclable products. Sometimes products are recycled, but may not be recyclable.

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