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Open Access Highly Accessed Research

Quantitative assessment of airborne exposures generated during common cleaning tasks: a pilot study

Anila Bello12*, Margaret M Quinn2, Melissa J Perry1 and Donald K Milton123

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Environmental Health, Harvard School of Public Health, 410 Park Drive, Boston, MA- 02215, USA

2 Department of Work Environment, University of Massachusetts Lowell, One University Avenue, Lowell, MA- 01854, USA

3 Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health, School of Public Health, University of Maryland, College Park, MD -20742, USA

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Environmental Health 2010, 9:76  doi:10.1186/1476-069X-9-76

Published: 30 November 2010

Abstract

Background

A growing body of epidemiologic evidence suggests an association between exposure to cleaning products with asthma and other respiratory disorders. Thus far, these studies have conducted only limited quantitative exposure assessments. Exposures from cleaning products are difficult to measure because they are complex mixtures of chemicals with a range of physicochemical properties, thus requiring multiple measurement techniques. We conducted a pilot exposure assessment study to identify methods for assessing short term, task-based airborne exposures and to quantitatively evaluate airborne exposures associated with cleaning tasks simulated under controlled work environment conditions.

Methods

Sink, mirror, and toilet bowl cleaning tasks were simulated in a large ventilated bathroom and a small unventilated bathroom using a general purpose, a glass, and a bathroom cleaner. All tasks were performed for 10 minutes. Airborne total volatile organic compounds (TVOC) generated during the tasks were measured using a direct reading instrument (DRI) with a photo ionization detector. Volatile organic ingredients of the cleaning mixtures were assessed utilizing an integrated sampling and analytic method, EPA TO-17. Ammonia air concentrations were also measured with an electrochemical sensor embedded in the DRI.

Results

Average TVOC concentrations calculated for 10 minute tasks ranged 0.02 - 6.49 ppm and the highest peak concentrations observed ranged 0.14-11 ppm. TVOC time concentration profiles indicated that exposures above background level remained present for about 20 minutes after cessation of the tasks. Among several targeted VOC compounds from cleaning mixtures, only 2-BE was detectable with the EPA method. The ten minute average 2- BE concentrations ranged 0.30 -21 ppm between tasks. The DRI underestimated 2-BE exposures compared to the results from the integrated method. The highest concentration of ammonia of 2.8 ppm occurred during mirror cleaning.

Conclusions

Our results indicate that airborne exposures from short-term cleaning tasks can remain in the air even after tasks' cessation, suggesting potential exposures to anyone entering the room shortly after cleaning. Additionally, 2-BE concentrations from cleaning could approach occupational exposure limits and warrant further investigation. Measurement methods applied in this study can be useful for workplace assessment of airborne exposures during cleaning, if the limitations identified here are addressed.