UKCPI response to media coverage on air quality reports 15/16 February 2018

Posted by Charlotte Salter, on February 16, 2018.

Using cleaning products in the home, as instructed, does not lead to respiratory illness.

Cleaning products play a vital role in our health and well-being, and when used appropriately keep us safe from a wide range of potential health hazards.

In addition almost all consumers choose fragranced products, as they add to their enjoyment of their home, especially important as we are increasingly spending up to 80-90% of our time indoors.

A paper from Bergen University in Norway claimed that over a 20 year study period, people who used cleaning products showed a somewhat greater decrease in lung function than normal with ageing.

In fact, the study does not link lung function decline in women to use of cleaning products as opposed to exposure to other irritants such as dust or mould while cleaning, or indeed lifestyle differences between cleaners and non-cleaners. The study did not have any control for cleaning without products (e.g. vacuuming, dusting or using microfibre cloths).

And contrary to what has been reported in the media, the use of products in spray form was less associated with poorer lung function than non-spray products according to the paper.

The control group of 197 women (less than 10% of the total women), who say they do no cleaning, may simply contain more better off people who have healthier lifestyles – their slower decline of lung function may be linked to other lifestyle factors rather than the fact that they don’t do much cleaning.

With the men, where there were equal numbers saying they do/do not do regular cleaning at home, there was no greater decline of lung function among those who clean. The study did not have any control for cleaning without products (e.g. microfibre). It also failed to find any increased risk of chronic airway obstruction (COPD).

Whilst UK Health and Safety Executive data shows that a small number of people who are professional cleaners (i.e. using professional cleaning products every day), can exhibit asthma like symptoms* it is not the case that household use of consumer formulations could give rise to such respiratory concerns – if the products are used as the on pack instructions.

Nonetheless, UKCPI members constantly monitor new studies to ensure their own risk assessments are sound so that consumers can be confident that when appropriately used their products do not pose a risk while protecting their health and well-being.

*The number is between 15 and 20 cases each year and declining. It is also unclear whether any such reaction to professional cleaning products is the result of correct use according to instructions or to accidental exposure or misuse (not following instructions).

For more information please contact:
Philip Malpass, Director General of UKCPI, or Charlotte Salter, UKCPI Communications Officer, or see the UKCPI FAQs on VOCs and indoor air.

Note to editors

Also reported today was a US study from the University of Colorado which looked at how outdoor VOCs can contribute to low-level ozone formation which can then have adverse health as well as environmental effects when levels are high enough to form smogs as experienced in the San Francisco bay area.

They made various assumptions and used a mass balance approach to speculate for example that as emissions from vehicle engines decrease so emissions from other fossil fuel based sources such as consumer products must increase to ensure a mass balance. Assumptions made ignored that fact that many ingredients in cleaning products (such as fragrances) are designed to evaporate (VOCs) are plant or bio based not fossil fuel based.

The American Cleaning Institute commented on this report:

“The findings of research on the estimated emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in many consumer products, including some cleaning products, need to be put into the context of changes manufacturers have made in these products.
“The fact is, in California – which is referenced in the study – regulators have placed limitations on the VOCs in most consumer products over the past three decades. Laundry and dishwashing products in particular have a minimal impact on VOC emissions overall through the selection of ingredients that biodegrade during wastewater treatment.
“The authors themselves note in their study:
“Most organic compounds in soaps and detergents dissolve in water and end up in sewer systems, with negligible amounts emitted from wastewater treatment plants.”
“Media reports on this research ignore the steps that have been taken by manufacturers to manage the VOC emissions from their products.
“It is important to remember that cleaning products serve a vital role in everyday life, contributing to healthy home and workplace environments when used as directed.
“The cleaning products industry has demonstrated its commitment to manufacturing sustainably while maintaining its social commitment to providing consumers of all economic levels with cost efficient cleaning products leading to improved hygiene.”

Contact the UKCPI on or call 07843 199397.