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Help reduce indoor air pollution

24 October 2016

Many commonplace cleaning products that are used in our houses, schools, hospitals and work places are thought to contribute to poor indoor air quality and health problems, with a high cost to people who already suffer from illness, to our health services and to businesses.

Indoor air pollution has been linked to cancer, asthma, stroke and heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and to changes related to dementia. A recent Royal College of Physicians report, Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of air pollution, examined the impact of exposure to air pollution across the course of a lifetime and highlighted an often-neglected source of air pollution -  our indoor spaces. The report specifically mentioned the following air pollutants:

  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are commonly found in cleaning products as solids or liquids, but readily evaporate and could contaminate an indoor atmosphere. VOCs can include, terpenes associated with fragrances; hydrocarbons, glycols, and glycol ethers associated with solvents; and chlorinated hydrocarbons associated with spot cleaners, degreasers and disinfectants. Breathing low levels of VOCs for long periods of time may increase some people's risk of health problems.
  • Formaldehyde vapour is a colourless gas with a pungent, irritating odour used in the production of resins acting as glues for wood products, pulp and paper. It is also found in some plastics, coatings, paints and varnishes, and in textile finishings and can cause irritation of the lungs when breathed in a confined indoor space.

So how can these potentially harmful indoor air pollutants be avoided? One way is to carefully select the products we use, including our cleaning products, and a simple way to do this is to choose EU Ecolabel products, denoted by the recognisable flower logo.

A cleaning product awarded the EU Ecolabel logo has passed 11 stringent environmental, fitness-for-use, waste and health criteria, that incorporate the entire life cycle of the product. Importantly, VOCs are strictly limited to a maximum of 6% (by weight of the final product) and formaldehyde is excluded completely. 

The EU Ecolabel criteria for cleaning products also restrict any ingredient that is REACH classified as having the potential to cause an allergy or allergic skin reactions, asthma or breathing difficulties if inhaled, and cancer. In July this year, a major UK distributor of cleaning products revealed that their cleaning staff had reported health benefits from using EU Ecolabel products, including reduced skin irritation and improved breathing. 

The EU Ecolabel was formed by the European Commission in 1992 with the aim of designing an official, independent, collaborative and integrated environmental label to help businesses and consumers make the right environmental and health choices. A UK EU Ecolabel licence holder for a range of cleaning products said that “gaining the award represents the pinnacle of achievement in respect of product sustainability…and provided us with a very clear guide on what sustainable best practice is and gives our company the necessary credibility in a market where there is plenty of ‘greenwash’.”

As well as cleaning products, the scheme has sets of criteria to deal with the environmental and health impacts of other common household products, such as soaps, shampoos, body washes, hand dishwashing and laundry detergents, furniture, electronic products and paints. The competent body for the EU Ecolabel in the UK is Defra and the scheme is delivered by UK EU Ecolabel Delivery (UKED). 

Written by UK Ecolabel Delivery