Recent research has documented the health impacts of common cleaning chemicals, including skin and respiratory irritation and asthma, as well as potential reproductive effects and breast cancer. Nonetheless, the production and distribution of these products continues to expand. In response public health actions have aimed to reduce exposures through substituting use of environmentally safer products in public buildings and schools and encouraging development of certified environmentally safer product labels. While these initiatives have been successful at reaching certain groups of workers and consumers, low wage domestic and other cleaning workers, who are disproportionately immigrant and Latino, have been largely left out due to factors including knowledge, awareness, cost and accessibility. The Safe and Just Cleaners Project aims to address this environmental health disparity by documenting and reducing exposures to cleaning agents among domestic cleaning workers in the Latino immigrant worker community in NYC, as part of a University- Community partnership. The rationale for this project is that once domestic cleaners, as part of a large and influential community-based organization, gain capacity and knowledge to recognize their exposures and potential risks as workers, this will lay the basis for building a joint worker-community effort that will simultaneously a) improve conditions for themselves as cleaning workers, and b) reduce exposure to hazardous cleaning agents in the larger community of which the workers are a part. Working collaboratively with the largest Latino immigrant community-based organization in NYC, with 30,000 members, the project will survey Latino domestic workers about their use, work practices, values, knowledge and attitudes about potential hazards and self-reported health problems associated with consumer cleaning product use. The project will then identify and quantitatively evaluate the exposure levels and conditions that result in inhalation and dermal exposures to volatile organic and quaternary ammonium compounds, two major and potentially toxic components of commercial cleaning agents, among Latino immigrant domestic cleaning workers. The project will measure exposures both at the time of cleaning as well as residual exposures that might continue to contaminate home environments even after cleaning tasks are complete. These findings will be used to develop and implement a multilevel strategic campaign to reduce exposures among immigrant communities through local and national partnerships. Embedding this campaign within a workers? rights and social justice perspective provides an approach that educates people about safer alternatives while simultaneously pursuing broader programmatic and policy initiatives to reduce exposures.

Public Health Relevance

Although recent research has documented the health impacts of common cleaning chemicals, important populations of users of the agents - low wage domestic cleaning workers who are mainly immigrant and Latino - have inadequate knowledge and limited access to safer alternatives, whether using these products at work or at home. The Safe and Just Cleaners/Limpieza Sana y Justa Project will document exposures to cleaning agents among the Latino immigrant domestic cleaners in NYC. Using a workers? rights and social justice perspective, the project?s public health campaign will inform Latino domestic cleaners and their communities about safer alternatives while simultaneously pursuing broader programmatic and policy initiatives to reduce exposures.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)
Research Project (R01)
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O'Fallon, Liam
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Queens College
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