Chlorine bleach (sodium hypochlorite) or simply “bleach” as it is commonly referred to, has been a widely used cleaning product in homes for over half a century. However, it has now been officially confirmed as an asthmagen, which is an agent known to cause asthma.
The Healthy Hotels Certification provides travel consumers with an assurance of a healthy stay across 4,000 guest rooms internationally.
In the United States, The Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics first categorised bleach as an asthmagen in 2012, making reference to numerous medical studies and submissions, one of which showed data from four American states over thirteen years, which noted new-onset asthma to be associated with fifty- two percent of bleach exposure incidents.
“I am deeply concerned by the widespread use of cleaning products that is now confirmed to be a direct cause of respiratory disease,” says Cedric Cheong, an indoor environmental quality scientist at the Healthy Hotels Program. “When I give talks and seminars in the community, I always get one or two people who would say to me that they don’t consider a room to be clean unless they can smell the bleach! Mums and dads and those in the cleaning industry who are exposed on a daily basis are unaware of the risks associated with exposure to chlorine bleach.”
Consumers could be forgiven for this misconception. A cursory review of the National Asthma Council of Australia website showed asthma sufferers being specifically advised to clean with bleach.
In contrast, in the United States, persistent consumer pressure has resulted in the country’s largest retailers taking action to address chemical safety within their entire product offerings, covering everything from cosmetics to cleaning products. In the last six months, Target, Walmart and numerous other market leaders, have implemented new or heavily revised chemical safety policies, requiring suppliers to address hazardous chemicals in products they supply. Suppliers utilising unnecessarily hazardous active ingredients in their products have a time frame to adapt their products, or risk losing their preferred supplier relationships.
In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency stopped recommending the use of chlorine bleach in 2010, whilst the Occupational Health and Safety Administration have since retracted its recommendation for bleach usage as a mould cleaner.
In Australia, however, it is the accommodation sector leading the way. According to Nicson White, the spokesman for the Healthy Hotels Program, many hotels are now providing guests with the choice of a low-irritant room, whilst some are bypassing the use of dangerous cleaning products altogether.
“We are seeing a great deal of leadership in the industry today. More and more housekeeping departments are opting to swap their conventional products for modern low-toxicity alternatives, ahead of any legislative requirement to do so. They see the health of their staff and their guests as a priority.”
Dr Peter Dingle, a researcher and toxicologist for the Healthy Hotels Program, advises guests to call ahead before they book their hotel accommodation and ask about the hotel’s policy on cleaning. “Do they have a low-toxicity policy in place, or is it obvious the issue hasn’t been addressed?”
On the subject of bleach in the home, Dr Dingle only has one piece of advice: “There are so many healthy choices to clean your home that don’t involve using bleach. If you have any in your home, throw it out and save yourself and your family from an easily avoided health risk.”