Erin is the founder of Green Home Doula, LLC and a member of WVE’s PAQ (People Against Quats) – a national action group of concerned people who are taking action to eliminate or reduce exposure to quats in public spaces.
We’ve heard from many of you about the hurdles you face in trying to get quats out of public spaces – whether it’s schools, gyms, child care centers, or in the cleaning supplies used at your office. Below Erin shares her experience in helping a local preschool replace quats, and also offers helpful tips to help you get started quitting quats in your community. If you’d like to connect with Erin and other concerned caregivers, consider joining WVE’s PAQ group today! Click here to learn more.
WVE Parents Against Quats (PAQ)
Ten years ago, during my first pregnancy, I started researching non-toxic baby products and was shocked and dismayed to discover how many toxins were in supposedly safe everyday products. This led me to conduct my own research into a wide range of household items, from children’s mattresses to drinking bottles to cleaning products. Armed with this knowledge, I founded a company with the aim of helping parents and teachers replace products with non-toxic alternatives to improve their children’s and students’ environments and make them as safe, healthy and green as possible.
In spring 2019 I started working with a Chicagoland preschool that was interested in making their classrooms as non-toxic as possible for the students and teachers.
After auditing the entire school, I suggested several changes. The one that had the greatest impact was to replace the quats-based disinfecting cleaners being used in the classrooms with non-toxic alternatives. The quats-based cleaner being used was mandated by the local DCFS (Department of Children & Family Services).
I explained to the school’s director that quats are registered as pesticides with the EPA and thus present several health risks, including:
- Skin irritation
- Reproductive issues
- Spread of “Superbugs”
I also explained that young children are more susceptible to these risks as they are smaller than adults and their organs are still developing.
Starting Conversations with the School Director
The school director was receptive to replacing the quats-based cleaner with non-toxic alternatives. For everyday cleaning, I proposed Meliora All-Purpose Home Cleaner. Meliora is a Chicago-based company that ships its products in plastic-free packaging.
For disinfecting I suggested Seventh Generation Disinfectant Spray. The fact that Seventh Generation is a reasonably well-known brand helped with getting the teachers on board with the changes, as well as the DCFS representative.
For additional safer alternatives, this resource from the Washington State Department of Health provides some options and best-practices to apply when using disinfectants in a classroom setting. And Mount Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center, offers this guide for simple steps to a healthy home environment.
Getting Teachers Involved
The next step was to present the proposed plan to the teachers. During the presentation, I distributed the facts on quats handout from Women’s Voices of the Earth. The teachers had been using the quats cleaners for many years and it was critical that the difference in cleaning versus disinfecting was clearly understood. I explained that it is only necessary to use disinfectants for cleaning when bodily fluids or raw meat come in contact with a surface, or in an operating room.
I explained that regular cleaning with soap and water has been proven to be just as effective as disinfectant cleaners and avoids the related health risks. The following quote from Alex Scranton, Director of Science and Research for Women’s Voices for the Earth, was perfect: “Unless you plan on doing some open-heart surgery on your kitchen table, there is no need for quats to sterilize the surfaces in your house. It’s like killing a housefly with a sledgehammer…”
The fact that quats remain on a surface after it’s been cleaned was a big motivator for the school to switch products. Quoting Alex Scranton again: “… quats will linger on a surface long after you have cleaned them. This means that your exposure (and your kids’ exposure) continues every time you touch that countertop. In some experiments it took months of re-sanitizing surfaces that had be cleaned with quats to be normal again. There is a reason that disinfectant wipes with quats also recommend against using on any food-contact surfaces (like cutting boards, plates or cutlery, high chair trays etc.) because these potent chemicals can contaminate the food they come into contact with, even well after cleaning is done.”
By the end of the presentation, the teachers were engaged and showed support in making changes to reduce the toxins in the classrooms. The teachers are no longer using the quats cleaners and have welcomed the non-toxic alternatives.
Engaging the School Board
Then followed a presentation to the school board. After this session, I was asked to provide evidence to show that cleaning with soap and water is as effective as using quats based cleaners. I turned to governmental and non-for-profit organizations, like the FDA, U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institute of Health, and Women’s Voices for the Earth, citing several research studies that have demonstrated that antibacterial/disinfectant cleaners are no more effective than soap and water and worse, have the potential to cause harm.
Tips to Get Started
I realize I was lucky to work with a school that was actively wanting to make the switch to non-toxic products. This isn’t a luxury for many of us trying to take on toxic exposure in public spaces. But here are four helpful tips I learned to help you get started.
- Come with the facts. More and more studies are reflecting not only the health concerns linked to quat exposure, but also the overall effectiveness of these chemicals to actually prevent illness. Here are a few handy resources to share that address these issues:
- Fact Sheet on Quats in Disinfectants (also available in Spanish translation)
- Quaternary Ammonium Compounds in Cleaning Products: Health & Safety Information for Cleaners and Supervisors from Mount Sinai Selikoff Centers for Occupational Health
- Health & Asthma-Safer Cleaning in the Classroom: Information for Teachers, from the CA Public Health Department
- Provide safer alternatives. Teachers, administrators and caregivers share your interest in keeping kids healthy and in the classroom. So make it as easy as possible to find safer options to keep classrooms clean and kids healthy. I provided a few examples above.
- Be a good listener. By being a good listener you can find out exactly what hurdles are standing in the way. For example, are schools required to buy certain products? Are teachers worried about dirty classrooms? Are alternatives more expensive? Are other schools making the switch…? Listening to concerns will help you offer the right solutions. And if you don’t know an answer, that’s ok. Take good notes, contact information and provide additional feedback at a later time.
- Be strategic. Know your school and district administration. Figure out the key decision makers and who has authority to make change and go directly to them with the facts and safer alternatives. Also be on the lookout for news articles or studies talking about quats, disinfectants, cleaning products, or children’s health; share them with your school’s administrators.
Need more ideas? Join PAQ to keep updated on what other people are doing to quit quats in their communities. With the efforts of Women’s Voices for the Earth Quit the Quats campaign, the FDA will hopefully ban quats in the not too distant future, just as it did with triclosan in 2016. Until then, it’s going to require the concerted effort of parents and teachers to encourage schools and other children’s learning environments to quit the quats.