School and university buildings in the United States cover several billion square feet. Students and staff spend six or more hours a day inside classrooms, libraries, study halls and other spaces. The quality of maintenance for these buildings correlates to the quality of their educational and environmental output.
In 2005, New York was the first state to mandate green cleaning in K-12 schools. Hawaii, Maryland, Connecticut, Maine and Missouri followed, and green cleaning legislation is being considered in several other states. The regulations vary from state to state, but non-toxicity in product selection often is key, as is the use of high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) vacuums to improve indoor air quality (IAQ).
Poor IAQ in schools and universities contributes to absenteeism and reduced performance. The American Lung Association estimates that U.S. students miss more than 14 million school days a year because of asthma, allergies and other respiratory problems exacerbated by poor IAQ. Fortunately, maintenance departments in education institutions are finding ways to improve IAQ, reduce costs, boost productivity, and extend the life and look of flooring. To do this, many are redefining their approach to cleaning, especially floor care.
Health effects of cleaning
An asthma sufferer often acts as a human detector for poor IAQ, which can be up to 10 times more polluted than outdoor air, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. An asthmatic maintenance worker is especially susceptible.
"I am a severe asthmatic, and dust is the biggest factor that can trigger an asthma attack for me," says Tina Enos, a custodian at the University of Michigan (UM) in Ann Arbor. Enos regularly suffered attacks from the dust and allergens that became agitated and airborne during and after cleaning.
Then, Enos volunteered for a pilot program at the university that focused on team cleaning. It designates specific processes and materials to improve standards, health and productivity.
UM’s new cleaning regimen eliminated the Kentucky mops, upright vacuums and dust mops then in use, and replaced them with microfiber cloth and HEPA backpack vacuums. Multi-level and HEPA filtration eliminates up to 99.97 percent of particulates down to 0.3 microns in size. A 2006 Carnegie Mellon review of five studies evaluating the effect of IAQ on asthma found an average asthma reduction of 38.5 percent in buildings with improved IAQ.
Enos certainly noticed the change. "Asthma attacks from dust in the air have become almost nonexistent," she says.
The science behind cleaning
In 2006, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill conducted a cleaning research study in two campus buildings over four months. Led by technical adviser Michael Berry, the study evaluated the measurable, microscopic differences between traditional and team cleaning. In fungal spore, bacterial and dust counts, as well as vacuum exhaust tests, team cleaning demonstrated an improvement in indoor environmental quality and building health.
The study used a committee of housekeepers, students, faculty, environmental, human resources, purchasing, facilities and safety experts to conduct tests in one zone-cleaned building and one team-cleaned building. Carroll Hall, the team-cleaned building, had a built-in disadvantage. Throughout the pilot study, an adjacent building was under construction, adding to housekeeping requirements and affecting indoor air quality.
"Over the course of the pilot study, the team cleaning reduced dust concentration in Carroll Hall by a factor of two—that’s 40 to 50 percent better," says Berry, author of Protecting the Built Environment: Cleaning for Health.
The study also suggests that team cleaning better manages fungal spores and reduces the risk of allergic reaction of occupants. The two highest fungal levels were found in zone-cleaned processes, Berry says.
Berry pinpointed a reason for the improvements resulting from the switch: the vacuums used in each method. Team cleaning programs use CRI-certified Green Label backpack vacuums. Most zone cleaning programs use an upright.
"There was virtually no detectable emission from the Green Label vacuum, compared (with) a very high emission from the upright, which came in at 240 parts per unit," the study says. "A level greater than 100 is considered unsanitary and potentially harmful to a large segment of the population."
Similar measurements were collected using a dust-tracking aerosol monitor. During the initial minutes of operation, peak readings at the vacuums’ exhaust were taken. Additional area measurements were conducted around head height—5 to 6 feet—during vacuuming of the carpet.
How to clean green
Developing goals and standards can be crucial in establishing an effective green cleaning program. Team cleaning uses job cards, built-in quality checks, rotations, and precise selection of equipment, chemicals and cleaning supplies to regulate health factors.
In schools, especially during cold and flu season, light fixtures, desktops and frequently walked-on floor surfaces should be systematically addressed.
Mike Zureich, the director of maintenance in the Dublin (Calif.) Unified School District, adapted the team cleaning system to work for the variances of schools. He calls it the "Weekly Five." In addition to their daily tasks, on Monday, his specialists dust. On Tuesday, they clean door glass and walls. On Wednesday, they clean student desktops. On Thursday, they spot-clean floors and carpets. And on Friday, they wipe down whiteboard trays.
"Our program is preventative, rather than crisis-oriented. It’s not as costly," says Zureich.
High is marketing manager for ProTeam, Boise, Idaho. She can be reached at [email protected].