Green Business Nightmares

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Green Business Nightmares

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Thursday, January 14, 2010 - 10:05am

Scared GirlOne would think that a business claiming to be environmentally friendly and making strides to protect workers and the planet wouldn’t be a scary place, but many workers and visitors have been caught by situations that have caused a chilling shudder to run up their spines.  When we think of a Green workplace, the implied message is that this facility is not hazardous to our health, and there are no latent threats that will one day rise up to threaten all that we believe.

The most common Green business nightmare is the accidental visit to the place called the janitor’s closet.  What seems to be a relatively clean building with a nightly crew of unknown people who quietly visit every room of your facility, may not be what you think.  Far more sinister revelations lurk behind the door of the janitor’s closet that will tell us more than we really want to know.  But, there is always that curiosity that drives the unsatisfied few to find out what really lies beyond the obvious.  Certainly, the place that holds all the cleaning products must be he safest place of all, right?

Opening the door to this scarcely-visited place reveals a less-than-happy depository of oddities.  If you dare to enter, those with environmental sensitivities immediately feel a hauntingly-odd feeling that this is someplace that the day people are not suppose to see.  There are the things you will expect to see.  There are brooms, mops, and buckets in less than pristine condition.  There is also a set of shelves that are crammed full of an amazing array of bottles.  Some are used to clean the toilet bowl, and these are found to contain acids that can’t be good for people.  There is the white bottle of bleach that everyone knows is a dangerous chemical.  The bleach bottle is right next to the ammonia bottle that is a product mixed with water to clean windows.  You never want to know what will happen when you mix ammonia and bleach in a common container.  The gas is produced by this unfortunate combination can destroy your lungs and could kill a person in a matter of minutes.

On the floor one can see large containers of floor stripper.  This common product is so caustic that it will blister your skin or cause blindness if not immediately washed out with water.  Next to the stripper is the floor finish that is a combination of acrylics and a zinc compound.  It isn’t nearly as caustic as the stripper, but it too emits something called volatile organic compounds that the EPA warns that  consumers can have acute and chronic consequences.  At this point, the worried visitor is tempted to hold his breath because he suddenly realizes that he is breathing a massive combination of potentially hazardous airborne poisons.

Also, in this room is an odd looking machine called a buffer.  This is used to buff the stripped and newly-finished hard floors to a glossy shine.  If you were around when the stripper product was applied at night, you would feel a choking impulse in your throat, and your eyes would smart and ache.  When the floor finish is put down, these fumes seem less intense, but every product that dries emits a different kind of volatile organic compounds.  So don’t be fooled by the milder smell.  When the workers turn on the buffer, you might notice that they wear masks because the buffer throws billions of small particles into the air that contain zinc and other compounds.  Of course, since this is done at night, all the workers will detect in the morning are the shiny floors and a residual chemical smell.

Looking further on the shelves are aerosol sprays that can’t be good for the atmosphere.  Some contain ozone depleting chemicals.  Others have compressed gases that are released into the closed air moving system of the building.  There are also a variety spray bottles with cleaning solutions in them.  Of course, the required Material Safety Data Sheets that the law requires to be posted in these areas are missing.  That is reason for further concerns.  Some cleaning products foam and fizzle, which means that there is a chemical reaction causing a gas release of some kind.    There are cans of Comet-like scouring powers, old rags and mops, and other bottles than have an unknown purpose.  No wonder there is a feeling of deja vu that makes the visit something that we are anxious to end.

One thing anyone might recognize is the idle vacuum cleaner.  We should be somewhat reassured that this is evidence of the competency of the service until you dare to feel the bag only to find that it probably hasn’t been emptied for more than week or more.  The old festering dirt inside is routinely stirred up each evening.  Making things worse, these machines are not even the well-known HEPA vacuums that will remove more of the dirt from the air.  These are the cheaper models that blow microscopic particles though each and every room that is vacuumed.  Perhaps, it would have been wise to use a Green certified janitorial service instead of the lowest bidder.

Another rare discovery is made when one that happens to be in the office after-hours.  Buildings are often lonely places when the day crew has gone.  This time the nightly visitation is not from a group of workers who speak an odd language, but from a crew of workers clad in Ghostbuster-type outfits carrying tanks and hoses.  This are the pest killers who arrive every month or so to spray chemicals that are intended to destroy pests and vermin.  Our visitor might be mildly assured that “This stuff is safe for humans,” but it will kill everything else!  Few people ever know what products are being sprayed about, but these ingredients add yet another layer of potentially dangerous chemicals injected into the air that is recycled throughout the building day after day.

During this daring visit of the most unlikely places in the building, a brave soul might hazard a visit to the basement or some storage area.  Here he will find all the things that the business once thought were necessary, but now reside in the limbo area of the building waiting to be eventually sent out to the trash.  As he enters, his nose detects the familiar but pungently unlikable smell of mold and mildew.  This happens all the time in dark and dank places.   Cardboard boxes, old paper, and moisture from condensation or a slow leak are the perfect environment for mold.  Mold produce yet another danger to your health known a microbial volatile organic compounds.  The air exchange system faithfully moves air through this area as well as the rest of the building.

Perhaps, the workers in this company will recall the new paint in various areas, the new carpeting, or even the new furniture brought into the building over the last year.  Each of these additional improvements actually brought even more fumes, smells, and outgassing opportunities that also befoul the air.  Most would have thought that these improvements were positive additions to the office, but they added even more to the increasingly toxic cloud of air that workers breathe every day.  Fragrances that have a chemical composition also should be considered air pollution.

Workers bring in even more problems by sneezing germs into the air, introducing bacteria to the facility, and preparing food with attendant smells.  The greatest shock of all is that this company is promoted as a Green business.  Well, they did change some of the lights over to CFLs and made a corporate decision to buy recycled paper for all copiers.  Oh yes, they even bought a Green logo off the Internet.  But, the facts are clear that this is a nightmare as a Green business.  The indoor air quality impacts the health of each and every worker.  They breathe this accumulation of toxic substances 365 days a year for what could be a twenty year employment term.

The reality is that a truly Green company must address the indoor air quality as a fundamental of all other environmental improvements.   Recycling, energy savings, and source reduction are the other parts of a Green or sustainable business.  Unless a company addresses the Green certification in a proper way, the results are going to be a nightmare rather than a dream.  To do the job right, contact the Green Business League for serious guidance and certification.  A Certified Green Consultant is the proven solution to a healthy and an environmentally friendly business.  Everything else is an illusion of Green and a may have scary consequences.

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