New York City's new "Greening Our Cleaning Act" is an important first step for improving indoor air in city buildings, and the city now has an opportunity to forge higher standards on cleaning products for the health of New Yorkers, and especially children, says national environmental leader Deirdre Imus. 

"I applaud the City Council and Mayor Bloomberg for bringing the impact of toxic cleaning products into focus - and now it's time to raise the bar," she says. "The Act focuses on an existing industry standard that unfortunately has not kept pace with the latest advances in commercial cleaning products. If New York City is serious about controlling costs while improving the health of its workers and the public, it must shift toward the goal of non-toxic or least-toxic alternatives." 

Imus is the founder and President of The Deirdre Imus Environmental Center for Pediatric Oncology - part of Hackensack University Medical Center (HUMC), a not-for-profit corporation in Hackensack, N.J. The Environmental Center represents one of the first hospital-based programs whose specific mission is to identify, control and ultimately prevent exposures to environmental factors that may cause adult, and especially pediatric cancer, as well as other health problems with our children. 

The Environmental Center operates the Greening the Cleaning program, one of the center's most successful educational and outreach programs to date. More than 60 healthcare facilities, businesses and schools have implemented the program since 2001, all with direct savings in cleaning costs. In New York, this includes hospitals, schools, government authorities and corporations.  

Greening the Cleaning means eliminating to the greatest extent possible all cleaning agents containing hazardous ingredients and replacing them with environmentally responsible products that utilize natural or naturally-derived ingredients, and ingredients from renewable resources whenever possible.

"Least level of toxicity means you start at the top using cleaning products derived from all natural or naturally derived ingredients, whenever possible. When that's not possible, as is the case for disinfectants and some floor care products, you step down to the next tier. That's what we mean by using least-toxic alternatives," Imus says.

She points out that green cleaning goals should be consistent with both efficacy and cost effectiveness. "Environmentally responsible products that work are already on the market," she says. Eliminating or reducing toxic ingredients to "the least level of toxicity" was an emphasis of Imus‚ testimony to the City Council's Environmental Committee last year.

The Act, which became law in late December, establishes a committee to launch a pilot program to evaluate green cleaning products, with a final report due in 2009. 

"Decision makers responsible for cleaning products in city buildings don't have to wait three years for the results of a city pilot program," she says. "They should know they have the green light to take the initiative now."

Imus noted that the city would support greater competitiveness if it allows independent laboratories to certify new cleaning products, and avoid annual recertification unless a formulation changes.

Under a New York state law passed last August, all schools in the state will begin using "green cleaning" alternatives beginning in the 2006-2007 fall school term as soon as existing inventories are depleted.