Chemically sensitive individuals are a group of people who experience undesirable symptoms and ills after being exposed, even to low levels, of a particular chemical in their environment.
These chemicals can be natural or synthetic and can pose serious problems for the sufferer that differ from person-to-person.
Scientifically, this group of individuals are often referred to as having CI, or chemical intolerance, or MCS, which is multiple chemical sensitivity. As time goes on, these groups are growing larger and are more prevalent than in the past, meaning special attention has to be given to the issue of using chemicals in cleaning and remediation projects on behalf of chemically-sensitive clients.
The Causes of Chemical Sensitization
It is estimated that 15-30% of individuals can potentially be triggered by chemicals. But what causes chemical sensitization in each person varies greatly.
Much of chemical sensitization can be psychological, but that doesn’t mean individuals are making these claims up. Studies show that chemically sensitive individuals do indeed have physical responses when exposed to their triggers.
The amount of people who are sensitive to chemicals are higher in number depending on gender, family history and even situational life events.
For example, it is estimated that nearly 2/3 of chemically-sensitive people are female and only 1/3 are male. Moreover, studies show that many sensitized individuals have come from alcohol abuse family dynamics, forming an interesting connection between alcohol and chemically-sensitive individuals.
Another way in which males and females become vulnerable to sensitization of low levels of chemicals is through either prolonged or acute exposure to their triggers. For instance, if a person is cleaning their home and they use too much of a chemical-containing cleaning solution, they may find that they are sensitive to that particular chemical, even at low-levels, from then on. This is known as acute exposure.
On the other hand, individuals may be exposed to low levels of chemicals on a long-term basis causing the sensitivity only after weeks, months or even years have gone by without any adverse reactions.
Sometimes, chemicals that weren’t cured properly during the construction of a home can cause these types of sensitives. As the building occupants are exposed long term to hazardous emissions, some may find that they eventually develop symptoms and become sensitive, without knowing why. This is referred to as chronic exposure.
Another more obvious way in which one might become sensitized to chemicals is through the use of the chemicals, themselves. In modern times we are seeing more chemicals being introduced in our environment and homes. As we spend more time indoors than we have in the past, more opportunities are created for us to breathe in potentially hazardous fumes and compounds that wreak havoc on your bodily systems.
Cleaning Techniques for Chemically-Sensitive Clients
There are four ways in which cleaning crews and remediation teams can go about tackling a project in a way that keeps the chemically-sensitive client in mind. They are source removal, neutralization, off-gassing and oxidation.
Larger particles are often taken care of by HVAC systems, but smaller particles are by far the biggest problem when it comes to triggers for chemically-sensitive individuals.
Since smaller chemicals attach themselves to dust, they are small enough to enter the human body multiple ways, causing unsavory symptoms, and sometimes, long-term complications.
To help with the management of smaller particles, HEPA vacuums are very effective.
Microfiber cloths are preferred over traditional cloths made from cotton or other materials, because they are better at trapping small particles than clothes made of other components. They are also particularly good at removing mold spores, particularly on plastic.
Nevertheless, microfiber cloths should only be used on cleaner surfaces, as largely soiled areas will only clog up the cloth rendering it ineffective. Thus, they should be used mainly as finalizing finish on surfaces, and not for heavy-duty use.
To add to that, it is preferred that microfiber cloths be disposable because, over time, they build with contamination from the prior use. To prevent contamination, users of the microfiber cloth would have to follow a very specific protocol, and even then, the microfiber cloth would eventually become less effective with more washes.
To avoid this, microfiber cloths are best utilized for single-use purposes when cleaning.
Cleaning the Air
Air scrubbing, air washing and air fogging are all methods of removing the source of chemicals from the air that chemically-sensitive clients are breathing in. All types of air cleaning equipment move the air in particular ways so that more particles are driven towards designated “capture zones” through the use of negative air machines.
While some may doubt the effectiveness of air foggers when it comes to cleansing the air, the truth is that it can help immensely by decreasing particle levels, enhancing air washing effectiveness and increasing HEPA capture efficiency.
Common products used in fogging machines include water, disinfectants, surfactants, salt, borax and glycerin solutions, all of which help the chemically sensitized individual rather than harm them.
Sometimes, chemically-sensitive occupants of a home or building are exposed to surfaces and materials that are either slightly acidic or slightly basic. This is often due to the type of dust that is affecting the air and the types of chemical particulate attached to them.
With the pH scale in mind, it then makes sense for cleaners and remediators to apply treatments to the surface that are the opposite of what the offending contaminate is. For example, if it is found that a surface is slightly acidic, professional teams will likely choose products that are more basic, such as ammonia-based cleaners, to help neutralize the surface.
It has also been found that vaporizing hydrogen peroxide helps neutralize the air in an environment, as well.
These approaches in and of themselves are not replacements for removal of the offending chemical substances, however, they certainly help.
Chemical off-gassing is a reference to chemicals released by building products including insulation, paints, finishes and even outdoor components, like decking and engineered lumber, that can cause serious issues for chemically-sensitive clients. These gasses are often referred to as VOCs, which stands for Volatile Organic Compounds.
A popular option for dealing with off-gassing in homes is a professional bake-out. This occurs when a home is first thoroughly cleaned, then heated to a desired temperature before then being properly ventilated. This method serves the purpose of clearing out toxins and chemicals, even at lower temperatures of 90-95 degrees Fahrenheit.
In addition, popular and high-tech air filters are available that feature highly porous surfaces to trap even the smallest particles in the air through the use of unsaturated ions and atoms and a woven lattice crystallized surface.
Oxidation refers to the breakdown of chemicals, rather than their complete removal. This works at optimal levels in environments that are already fairly clean.
The oxidation process works, generally by a process referenced as PCO, or photocatalytic oxidation. This process can eliminate off-gassing elements, and come in active and passive components.
Active PCO refers to the oxidation process that is induced by electronic devices, while passive oxidation refers to that which happens naturally, or without the use of any equipment.
Passive PCO comes in many forms, some of which include light-sensitive paints, fabric protectants and more. With the use of these products, emissions from off-gassing can be significantly reduced.
Active PCO equipment comes in varying types, including ozone generators and hydroxyl radical generators, although hydroxyl radical generators will be preferred, as ozone itself may cause issues for clients that are chemically-sensitive.
UV light systems are also available, but are not traditionally used in homes. Nevertheless, over time, it may be that these systems grow in popularity and become viable options for residential structures of clients that are chemically-sensitive.
Professional Teams Strive to Keep Client Comfort in Mind
All in all, most professional remediation teams and cleaning crews will go to great lengths to ensure that they keep chemically-sensitive individuals in mind during the course of a rehabilitation or cleaning project.
During the process, removal of dust and offending particles and contaminants are key, along with detailed cleaning and additional measures that may be needed depending on the situation and findings from testing and inspection.
With options like oxidation, off-gassing and neutralization, dust, particle and chemical removal is possible, making the chemically-sensitive occupant’s home that much more of a comfortable space to dwell.