February 08, 2018

Happy New Year and a warm welcome to the first blog of 2018.  I hope you all survived the festive period, had an enjoyable break and happy to be back in the swing. This blog deals with the dangers of bleach.

A recent study showed that passive exposure to bleach at home and schools is linked to higher rates of childhood respiratory and other infections.  Published online in Occupational & Environmental Medicine, the results are of concern to public health in light of the widespread use of bleach at home.  Children’s exposure is then compounded when they are exposed to bleach at schools and other indoor spaces.

The researchers looked at the potential impact of exposure to bleach at home among more than 9000 children between the ages of 6 and 12 attending 19 schools in Utrecht in The Netherlands, 17 schools in Eastern and Central Finland and 18 schools in Barcelona in Spain.

"The high frequency of use of disinfecting cleaning products that contain bleach, caused by the erroneous traditional beliefs, reinforced by advertising, makes the modest effects reported in our study, a serious public health concern" according to the researchers.

Parents were asked to complete a questionnaire on the number and frequency of flu, tonsillitis, sinusitis, bronchitis and pneumonia infections their children experienced in the preceding 12 months.

Parents use of bleach was common (at least once a week) in Spain (72% of respondents) and rare (7%) in Finland.  All Spanish schools were cleaned with bleach, while Finnish schools were not. 

The findings indicated that the number and frequency of infections were higher among children whose parents regularly used bleach to clean the home in all three countries.  These differences were statistically significant for flu, tonsillitis and any infection.

 Broader scope:

Beyond infections, bleach and other chlorinated cleaning products are known asthma triggers further compounding young respiratory systems.  Homes and buildings today are weatherised to almost air-tight envelopes.  Closed heating, venting and air conditioning systems drawing interior air can circulate hypochlorite vapours among other volatile organic compounds and allergens to all corners of a home or a school.  Schools in almost every state in the U.S. (for example) mandate bleach be on hand for use against flu outbreaks despite the preponderance of evidence indicating that it has grown increasingly ineffectual in handling newer strains of disease.  Bleach and its residues and derivatives are in everything we touch - homes, offices, our swimming pools and drinking water.

With the rising rate of respiratory ailments in first world nations, the ubiquitous nature of bleach continues to be one of the chief contributing factors.  So why is it still used?  Habit.  It's what we've been taught and grown up with. Mum and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa used bleach.  It is readily available and inexpensive and we think, "so what could it hurt?"  The new study shows otherwise.

How do we break the bleach habit?

By opening our minds to the fact that living in the 21st century means that there have been monumental changes following scientific breakthroughs in all forms of technology including antimicrobial technology. There are many safer, healthier and environmentally friendly options available today.  Given those advances, why are we still relying on bleach - invented in 1785, four years before the guillotine! Why don’t you give bleach products the chop?

Thanks for reading.

Tom Lowther