Executive Summary from Research for School Cleaning

Executive Summary: School Cleaning Product Choice: Research into Options

Citizens for A Safe Learning Environment (CASLE)
November, 2000
This report is based on research done for a school board Product Evaluation Committee which had the overall mandate of developing a procedure(s) for choosing least-toxic, effective, cost-effective products for use in the schools through a pilot project of selecting an all-purpose cleaner. The project encountered significant problems and ended in the selection of a product that contained an APEO, an unidentified dye, and, if the performance tests can be relied upon, appeared to perform comparable tasks at a higher dilution and consequently higher cost than others in the competition.
CASLE representatives on the committee consequently researched and wrote the following reports in an attempt to guide the process back to reliability. The committee’s project was never completed, but we offer this information in hopes that it will enable others to progress further and faster toward the goal of choosing least-toxic, effective, cost-effective products for use in our province’s schools.
Enclosed are:
A) Presentation to product Evaluation Committee, November, 1998. This section outlines problems inherent in some “self-designed” or “in-house” performance tests. Two examples, (1) the dilutions used by company representatives were not the dilutions recommended by the manufacturer, thus skewing the results. Committee members were not aware of the recommended dilutions (2) scouring pads, unclean equipment, faulty timing, and other test design flaws rendered the results questionable.
B) Information on Chemicals and the Evaluation Process, February 1999 (updated Oct. 2000). An international search was done for ECOchoice/Ecolabeling programs. Advice from the Swedish Secretariat on ecolabeling sent us back to Canada for some of the world’s best programs.
Safe product selection is a specialty. Please read the entire report for issues and details covered, such as APEOs, dyes, formaldehyde, formaldehyde mimickers, shortcomings of WHMIS, and more.
Other materials included with this report:
  • VOCs and Odors; Key Factors in Selecting “Green” Building Materials? C. Coombes
  • Guidelines for Material and Product Evaluation, Bernd Seifert
  • ECOLOGO information package
  • Envirodesic Certification Program information package
  • Waterloo Ecoclassroom standards and cleaning materials, 1991-1996.
  • Annapolis Valley and South Shore product specifications
  • Hormone Disruptors fact sheet, Canadian Institute on Child Health
  • Is This Your Child’s World, D. Rapp, page 178-181 and Chapter 12
  • Also included are copies of Maintenance Chemicals in Schools
  • an article on WHMIS strengths & weaknesses
  •  The Healthy School Handbook, US NEA, Chapter 7
  • Environmental Assessment and Specification of Green Building Materials, L.M. Froeschle
  • Annapolis Valley Regional School Board Painting Authorization Form- Reply from The Standards Council of Canada re: labs in Atlantic Canada
  • The Gippers Guide to Environmental purchasing
  • Soap products may be killing Atlantic Salmon article
  • Environmentally Responsible procurement, NS Dept of Finance
* Also listed are some leads that merit follow-up.

Some Observations from this report are:

1. Evaluation of products for ecotoxicity or human health protection is a specialty. Not all testing labs are equally informed or accredited.
2. Working from a list of “ingredients to be avoided” risks missing products with negative synergistic possibilities and toxin mimickers. Relying on accredited labs is more sure and inclusive.
3. Several evaluation labs were examined. Some had limited or no expertise in product choice/chemical makeup re: human health/earth health. Some have a clear specialty in protecting Mother Earth, while others focus on human health:
  • ECOLOGO’ s primary interest in protecting Mother Earth, but also human health.
  • ENVIRODESIC’s primary focus on human health but also mother earth.
  • ORTECH’s primary focus on human health but also mother earth.
  • ECOLOGO and ENVIRODESIC/ORTECH have speakers available, as would most companies/services.
4. Nearly all sources contacted recommended that testing be part of the tender process, paid for by the applicants. Some areas in Canada are already taking the guesswork out by doing this.
5. In-house performance testing tends to be unreliable. Standardized comparative tests for performance are also available through the accredited labs and can be part of the tender requirements paid for by applicants.
6. Choose the least toxic product capable of doing the job (cost effectiveness & performance taken into account) and use Safe Work practices to avoid exposing staff and students in cases where some hazard exists. (ie: floor waxing, gym floor refinishing, painting.)
Citizens for A Safe Learning Environment