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IV The use of micro-organisms in cleaning products

Microbial-based cleaning products in use and the potential role of transgenic micro-organisms

George Arvanitakis

New Substances Assessment and Control Bureau, Health Canada, Canada

This chapter provides a survey of the currently known uses of micro-organisms in different types of cleaning products based on searches conducted of publicly available information sources such as the scientific literature, patent databases and commercial websites. Examples of microbial species known to be used in different types of cleaning applications will also be given as well as potential human health and environmental issues associated with their use. A brief summary of Canadian regulatory experiences with these products, in particular those of the New Substances Program of Health Canada and Environment Canada, will be provided as well.

Introduction

Cleaning products are familiar to virtually everyone who lives or works in any kind of domestic residential setting, commercial place of business or institutional setting such as hospitals or daycare centres. Because of their widespread use, they are a large industry in many countries, including the United Kingdom (>GBP 3 billion in 2011) and the United States (USD 30 billion in 2010) (UK Cleaning Products Industry Association, 2011; American Cleaning Institute, 2012). Exact figures for sales of cleaning products in Canada could not be found, but it appears that a significant portion of the CAD 20 billion industry on consumer specialty products consists of soaps, detergents, disinfectants, sanitizers and air care products (i.e. deodorisers) (Canadian Consumer Specialty Products Association, 2012a; 2012b).

Cleaning products are mostly liquid formulations (although many come in powder form) used by consumers, typically in domestic settings, or by cleaning professionals in larger business or institutional settings. Any visit to a local supermarket, hardware or home renovation store indicates that the vast majority of cleaning products currently on the market in North America and Europe continue to contain chemical substances that tend to be reactive or corrosive in nature. Examples of these include solutions of sodium hypochlorite (household bleach), sodium hydroxide (found in many detergents and drain cleaners) and ammonium hydroxide (used in hard surface cleaners). Because of their reactive nature and their widespread use, these substances are very often a concern for human health effects as well as environmental impacts. In some cases, inappropriate mixing of some of these products have produced toxic chlorine and ammonia gases leading to acute poisoning and illness as well as more chronic effects (Nazaroff and Weschler, 2004).

In recent years, cleaning products containing various strains of micro-organisms as active ingredients have become increasingly prevalent in many countries as an alternative to chemically based cleaning products. These products appear to be increasingly sold for use in many of the domestic, commercial and institutional settings mentioned above, as well as for a variety of cleaning activities (hard surface cleaning, odour control, degreasing, septic tank treatments, etc.) where chemically based cleaning products have traditionally been used. Many of these products are very often advertised and described as “environmentally friendly”, “biodegradable” and “non-toxic”. These products are part of the larger category of “green cleaning products” that are available in supermarkets and hardware stores, and are very often advertised and sold online (an Internet search using a few relevant key words such as “bacteria” + “cleaning” + “green” + “enzyme”, etc. produces many examples of these). Although microbial-based cleaning products are likely a relatively small portion of this market, it has been projected that the overall global market for green cleaning products may reach USD 9.32 billion by 2017 (PR Web, 2011).

The purpose of this chapter is to provide a survey of the currently known uses of micro-organisms in different types of cleaning products based on searches conducted of publicly available information sources such as the scientific literature, patent databases and commercial websites. Examples of microbial species known to be used in different types of cleaning applications will also be given as well as potential human health and environmental issues associated with their use. A brief summary of Canadian regulatory experiences with these products, in particular those of the New Substances Program of Health Canada and Environment Canada, will be provided as well as a proposal for a workshop to be hosted in Canada to further examine and discuss these and other issues.

 
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