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The vulnerability of people exposed to cleaning chemicals is a critical consideration. It’s important for facility executives to consider how to create a productive building not just for average healthy occupants, but also for those with vulnerabilities, such as children, pregnant women, occupants with compromised immune systems, the elderly and those with other pre-existing health conditions or sensitivities.
These “host factors” (age, sex, genetic predisposition) are extremely important when considering the risk of exposures to cleaning personnel due to their potentially high level of exposure and the fact that far too many cleaning people do not use the appropriate personal protective equipment and may not be provided with adequate ventilation.
Two emerging concepts related to occupant health facility executives should be aware of include response-threshold and accumulation. Response-threshold suggests that anything above a certain dose of a toxin is dangerous, and anything below it safe. When the dose is below the response-threshold it is typically thought that the organism resets.
This leads to the issues of accumulation and cumulative affects. Scientists are now learning that some compounds don’t go away. Metals such as lead and mercury, and organic compounds such as some chlorinated compounds found in pesticides, don’t seem to go away. Rather, they accumulate. A single exposure or dose of these compounds may not elicit a harmful response, but because they accumulate over time, they may surpass the response-threshold. That’s when there will be negative health effects.
Today, most scientific research is based on the analysis of individual ingredients in a single exposure and not the combined effect of multiple compounds that the host may be exposed to in a single day or throughout a lifetime. Thus, the research may lead to decisions that are not in the hosts’ best interests because they don’t consider cumulative effects.
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