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A Study of Cleaning Materials at RPI, 1996
By Michelle Barhagi and Peg Priest

Objective: To work with the current Greening Coordinator, Stephen Trowbridge, to choose an enviromentally safe supplier of cleaning products for RPI

With that in mind, we began our search...

At first, we started out with the impression that we would be able to choose the supplier on our own based on our own judgement of what was important in choosing cleaning supplies. For us, the number one requirement was how the products would affect the enviroment, so we began searching the internet for enviromentally safe, "green" companies. Through this search, we came up with a number of companies that claimed to be "green." Attempted to contact these companies via e-mail and some replied...but there was a change in plan.

After about a week into our research, we had a meeting with Bill Beauregard, Director, Auxiliary Support Services who basically gave us a list of seven companies, and told us to choose one of the four cheapest companies. So our search was narrowed down to four companies and our job really was to choose the "best of the worst." Well, we figured that at least we had some say in what went on, even though it wasn't much.

Our first step was to go to Purchasing and see what lists of cleaners they could give us for the four companies, but they really didn't know anything about what was going on. Our next step was to go to the stockroom and make our own list of the cleaners that were being used...after spending a couple hours in the stockroom some kind soul told us that there existed MSDS sheets (Material Safety Data Sheets) for every cleaner used on campus and every chemical ever created.

Once we had obtained the lists of all cleaners that would be used from each company, we moved to the task of getting the MSDS sheets for all the cleaners. Our goal was to obtain all the MSDS sheets for each company and sum up the hazards and from there, determine which of the four was least hazardous-- for health and overall. This task was much harder than it seemed. Peg met with Ron from Purchasing who did have a copy of some of the MSDS sheets, so we began our search for the missing MSDS sheets. Peg went on to analyze the MSDS sheets. MSDS give ratings for hazards, of which these hazards are health, flammability, reactivity, and contact (or special hazard), and are rated from zero to four-- four being most hazardous. She summed these, one total being the sum of health hazards, and the second total was the total of all hazards. However these totals were useless since we couldnít compare them to all the candidates, considering we didnít have the complete list of MSD sheets. So I tracked down Kip Score and gave him a list of the missing MSDS sheets and he said he would give it to us within the week, till this day we still haven't heard from him (months later...) After waiting around for other people, we decided to take matters in our own hands and we asked Steve if we could contact companies on our own. Because of some sort of political reason, steve said we shouldn't contact companies and he said that he would have Ron from purchasing call them up...nothing ever came of that either. So we attempted to call companies ourselves, very discretely...the companies didn't take us seriously, so that didn't get us anywhere either. We attempted one last internet search for the missing MSDS sheets, as usual, it got us nowhere.

At this point, we decided to move on to a different path and we started to research the individual chemicals in each cleaning product. We found a bunch of MSDS sheets for the chemicalson the Internet, but once again many couldn't be found. So we looked them up in Chemical indexes (Merck's index and CRC) once again, we still had some that couldn't be found. So we decided to see Professor Clesceri (toxicologist) with the idea that she may be able to tell us something about the missing chemicals. She helped us out some and told us more common names for some of the chemicals. She referred us to some chemical companies (VWR Scientific, SIGMA, Aldrich) who might have information on some of the missing chemicals. We spent several hours searching their chemical catalogs, recording the individual identification numbers. With these numbers we attempted to get MSD sheets over the phone system, but we never got that far. There was a glich in the phone system--we couldn't access any information about their chemicals. So Professor Clesceri suggested we look up OSHA (federal regulated guidelines), so we checked in out on the internet and the library's OSHA manual, but unfortunately neither was of help.

(lost paragraph)

Based on the AVAILABLE information, we concluded that none of the four candidates were, by our standards, environmentally friendly. One of the major concerns and objectives for us was to also make sure these products were user friendly, meaning they were easy for the cleaning staff to use. This meant the chemicals were not so harsh they would eat through their hands if they decide not to wear gloves, but at the same time were effective. Or if these chemicals were hazardous, the dilution rate was small enough so the products are easy to use effectively and cause no confusion. So we had Steve request some samples and we met with the staff one night around 11:00 pm and tested the window cleaner. It turned two out of three liked American Chemical Products, and the third liked neither and preferred to keep what he was currently using.

Finally, we were able to obtain almost all the missing MSD sheets except for those for Sofco. American Chemical is the highest in health hazard ratings than competitors, even though two MSD sheets for carpet shampoo and carpet spot remover are missing. Considering the average of total hazards from both available product ratings is two, Amercian Chemical total hazards is expected to raise and not remain the same if the data for American Chemical were obtained. The same results are obtained with the health hazard ratings. So it is concluded that American Chemical is the most enviromentally UNfriendly of the three choices, Rest Rooms of Albany, Lusco and American Chemical. Restrooms of Albany was determined to be the least hazardous of the three.

Basically, it was found that American Chemical was the most hazardous, but the staff preferred it over the rest, this was most likely due to the fact that American Chemical had the stronger chemicals which cleaned better. Unfortunately, using the stronger chemical is sacrificing the health of the user and the enviroment. Comparing the prices of the three, Restrooms of Albany came out to be the cheapest, and American was the most expensive of the three. Based on these facts, we feel that Rest Rooms of Albany would be the best choice because it is the most enviromentally safe of the three and it is the most cost effective.

Steve Davis daviss@rpi.edu
(Greening Coordinator)
Webmaster: devrid@rpi.edu

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