Maintaining a healthy home is about more than just you and your family, it’s also about the people who work in your home as well. Both housekeepers and house-painters are affected by the chemicals in the products used on our homes – and they usually suffer the worst of it. While we may never have to smell the strong toxic chemicals or suffer from the dizziness and headaches associated with conventional paints and cleaning products, the people who work on our homes certainly do, and it’s affecting their health and their livelihood. Joseph Avelar, owner of Avelar Quality Painting who uses New Living’s NO VOC paints for his jobs, says that “Just because we are painters and we’re around paint all day doesn’t mean we like the smell or the health hazards that come with it.”

Since 1989 the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has found that for painters there is “sufficient evidence for the carcinogenicity of occupational exposure…” The occupation of painter is one of the few jobs that is listed by the IARC as having an occupational risk for cancer. Painters are also at a high risk for skin irritations, headaches,  and can develop problems with their nervous system. The chemicals in paint can cause respiratory illnesses that lead to a build up of fluid in the lungs and chronic bronchitis. Further, VOCs in paints (and related paint products such as thinners) can cause liver and stomach damage to painters. The effect that doing their job and making money to support themselves and their families has on their health is a travesty, particularly because it doesn’t have to be that way.

For housekeepers, house cleaners, and maids, there are high rates of illness among them and their children. House cleaners typically suffer from high rates of asthma and other respiratory problems because of the toxic chemicals in the cleaning products they use. Cleaning workers suffer from more heart attacks and early death due to motor neuron diseases than any other profession. They’re also at risk for cancer and frequently experience chemical burns and skin irritations associated with cleaning products. The chemicals involved in the work housekeeper’s do also affects the health of their children. Woman cleaning workers are twice as likely as other female workers to suffer from pre-term delivery and stillbirths while male workers have an increased risk of children who are born with birth defects and down syndrome. Although we may not have to smell or deal with the chemicals that are used to clean our homes directly, those who do face imposing and  irreversible problems when it comes to their health.

We should always strive to provide a safe environment for everyone in our lives, including those who work for us. For our painters, we can always make sure we buy paints  that have no VOCs – they’re non-toxic, have a low odor, and don’t contain harmful chemicals. For those who clean our homes and spend their days directly inhaling toxic chemical fumes, we should purchase green cleaning products made from natural ingredients and that either have a natural scent or no scent at all. All of these products are provisions we can take now – allowing us to be healthy and caring employers that provide a safe and ultimately happy environment for those who help us out so much in our daily lives.

More Information:

IARC (part of the World Health Organization) on the Occupational Hazards of the Paint Profession

IARC on the Occupational Risk of Cancer for Painters and Firefighters

Journal of Occupational Medicine – Occupational Risk Factors and Reproductive Health of Women

California Department of Health Services – If I’m Pregnant Can the Chemicals I Work With Harm My Baby?

Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Health and Safety on the Health of Cleaning Workers


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