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DEM Helps Rhode Islanders Meet Cleaning and Disinfecting Needs While Preventing Health Risks and Pollution

PROVIDENCE The Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is announcing today a program of online resources including a training module in four languages aimed at limiting the harmful effects of chemicals in everyday cleaning products on human health and the environment. The Green Cleaning Pollution Prevention Program focuses on steering households and businesses away from cleaners and disinfectants containing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other hazardous chemicals and toward greener, safer alternatives.

Along with the Rhode Island Committee on Occupational Safety and Health and the Northeast Waste Management Officials Association, DEM created a simple and effective training program offering instruction on safe disinfection and chemical safety. It was administered across 14 training sessions from March to September for both English and Spanish-speaking audiences. The trainings were part of English Language Learners (ELL), English as a Second Language (ESL), and Spanish Speaking Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) Hazardous Waste Operator 40-hour and 10-hour training programs. The training module is available in Spanish, Portuguese, and Chinese on DEM's website. DEM is holding a webinar on this topic on Thursday, Nov. 18, at 10:30 AM.

"The COVID pandemic has raised our awareness about the need to maintain a healthy indoor environment. It's also flu season when we're more concerned about keeping surfaces clean to avoid the spread of germs," said DEM Acting Director Terry Gray. "Through this program, DEM is trying to help Rhode Islanders change not only the cleaning products we use but also our mindset. We're encouraging households and businesses to think about issues like biodegradability, low volatile organic compounds, and low impact on indoor air quality before they buy their next supply of cleaners and disinfectants. I am grateful to DEM Senior Environmental Scientist Ann Battersby for her work in delivering such a timely, topical, and useful program to constituents."

Cleaning products are essential for maintaining healthy conditions in homes and in the workplace. Cleaning provides obvious aesthetic benefits such as the removal of dust, allergens, and infectious agents. It is important to note, however, that cleaning products can present several health and environmental concerns. Many cleaning products contain chemicals associated with eye, skin, or respiratory irritation, or other human health issues. They also may cause headaches and other health problems, including cancer. Some cleaning products release dangerous chemicals into the indoor air. These are VOCs. VOCs and other chemicals released when using cleaning supplies can contribute to chronic respiratory problems, allergic reactions, and headaches. Studies are underway to assess how these chemicals affect people who have asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Past studies have linked exposure to chemicals from cleaning supplies to occupational asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

Often, cleaners come in concentrated forms. Some of the concentrated commercial cleaning products are classified as hazardous. It creates potential human health and environmental risks if the products are handled, stored, or disposed of improperly. Using green cleaning products can help reduce the human health and environmental concerns that come along with cleaning. The US Environmental Protection Agency has a program called Safer Choice that helps consumers, businesses, and purchasers find products that contain ingredients that are safer for human health and the environment.

For more information on DEM programs and initiatives, visit Follow DEM on Facebook, Twitter (@RhodeIslandDEM), or Instagram (@rhodeisland.dem) for timely updates.

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  • Department or agency: Department of Environmental Management
  • Online:
  • Release date: 10-27-2021

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