We know that cleanliness is important, but at what price? It’s bad enough that antibacterial soap is contributing to the growing drug-resistant bacteria dilemma, but now new research suggests that using too much bleach may increase the risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a serious and often deadly lung condition.
A recent study found that nurses who used disinfectants to clean surfaces at least once a week had a 24-percent to 32-percent increased risk of developing COPD over the course of eight years compared to nurses who used these products less frequently. This link remained even after researchers made adjustments for other COPD risk factors such as age, smoking status, body mass index, and ethnicity.
"Our findings provide further evidence of the effects of exposure to disinfectants on respiratory problems, and highlight the urgency of integrating occupational health considerations into guidelines for cleaning and disinfection in healthcare settings such as hospitals,” explained study author Orianne Dumas, a pulmonologist at the French Institute of Health and Medical Research, in a statement.
Results were presented Monday at the European Respiratory Society International Congress. They are based on data from 55,185 registered nurses with no history of COPD prior to the study start. The women were followed for about eight years, with the study ending this past May.
During these eight years, 663 of the nurses were diagnosed with COPD. Of the original group, more than one-third used disinfectants to clean surfaces on a weekly basis, and those in this group were most likely to develop COPD by the end of the study period. The study identified glutaraldehyde, bleach, hydrogen peroxide, alcohol and quaternary ammonium compounds (also known as "quats"), as the main chemicals linked to COPD risk.
“Whether wearing gloves or using a face mask would reduce the risk has not been formally investigated yet,” Dumas told Newsweek. “Avoiding the use of product in spray form may be helpful to reduce inhalation exposure.”
COPD is an umbrella term to describe a number of progressive lung diseases including emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and some forms of asthma, The COPD Foundation reports.
According to the American Lung Association (ALA), some chemicals in cleaning products, such as ammonia and bleach, are already known to contribute to respiratory problems. In addition, accidentally mixing a product containing ammonia with one that contains bleach can produce a dangerous gas that can be deadly if inhaled. For this reason, the ALA, as well as other health organizations, recommends minimal exposure to these products. However, this new study is the first to show a link between cleaning products, and specifically COPD, among healthcare workers.