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Cleaning Products and Work-Related Asthma

Rosenman, Kenneth D. MD; Reilly, Mary Jo MS; Schill, Donald P. MS, CIH; Valiante, David CIH; Flattery, Jennifer MPH; Harrison, Robert MD, MPH; Reinisch, Florence MPH; Pechter, Elise MPH, CIH; Davis, Letitia ScD; Tumpowsky, Catharine M. MPH; Filios, Margaret RN, ScM

Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine: May 2003 - Volume 45 - Issue 5 - p 556-563
doi: 10.1097/01.jom.0000058347.05741.f9

To describe the characteristics of individuals with work-related asthma associated with exposure to cleaning products, data from the California-, Massachusetts-, Michigan-, and New Jersey state-based surveillance systems of work-related asthma were used to identify cases of asthma associated with exposure to cleaning products at work. From 1993 to 1997, 236 (12%) of the 1915 confirmed cases of work-related asthma identified by the four states were associated with exposure to cleaning products. Eighty percent of the reports were of new-onset asthma and 20% were work-aggravated asthma. Among the new-onset cases, 22% were consistent with reactive airways dysfunction syndrome. Individuals identified were generally women (75%), white non-Hispanic (68%), and 45 years or older (64%). Their most likely exposure had been in medical settings (39%), schools (13%), or hotels (6%), and they were most likely to work as janitor/cleaners (22%), nurse/nurses’ aides (20%), or clerical staff (13%). However, cases were reported with exposure to cleaning products across a wide range of job titles. Cleaning products contain a diverse group of chemicals that are used in a wide range of industries and occupations as well as in the home. Their potential to cause or aggravate asthma has recently been recognized. Further work to characterize the specific agents and the circumstances of their use associated with asthma is needed. Additional research to investigate the frequency of adverse respiratory effects among regular users, such as housekeeping staff, is also needed. In the interim, we recommend attention to adequate ventilation, improved warning labels and Material Safety Data Sheets, and workplace training and education.

From Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan (Dr Rosenman, Ms Reilly); New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, Trenton, New Jersey (Mr Schill, Mr Valiante); California Department of Health Services, Oakland, California (Ms Flattery, Dr Harrison, Ms Reinisch); Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts (Ms Pechter, Dr Davis, Ms Tumpowsky); and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Morgantown, West Virginia (Ms Filios).

Address correspondence to: Kenneth D. Rosenman, MD, Michigan State University, 117 West Fee Hall, East Lansing, MI 48824; e-mail:

This article was written by an officer or employee of the US Government as part of his/her official duties and is therefore not subject to US copyright.

©2003The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine