‘………..Bleach is supposed to kill germs, but taking away microbes could make it easier to fall ill.
April 07, 2015 By Liz Dwyer
Staff Writer Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.
It’s used to wipe down the kitchen countertop and sanitize the bathroom sink and toilet—and go on and ask any parents you know what they cleaned with after Junior took off his diaper and wiped the contents all over his crib. But moms and dads who use bleach to kill germs might be doing more harm than good. A new study indicates that the bacteria-eliminating liquid could be making their kids more likely to get sick.
That’s the startling finding of a study from researchers at the Centre for Environment and Health in Belgium that has been published in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine. The researchers followed the bleach exposure of 9,100 kids between the ages of 6 and 12 in the Netherlands, Finland, and Spain who were exposed to the cleaning agent at least once a week—like when their parent was cleaning or when a school custodian was using it. The parents were then asked to respond to a survey indicating how often their child had been sick, and with what kind of illnesses, over the previous 12 months.
According to the survey’s results, the researchers found that a kid exposed to bleach was 20 percent more likely to come down with the flu and 35 percent more likely to be sick with tonsillitis than a child who didn’t have regular exposure to the chemical cleaner. Kids living in homes or attending schools where bleach was used were 18 percent more likely to have recurring infections than those who weren’t.
Because modern households are chock-full of chemical cleaners, the study’s authors wrote that they couldn’t create a direct cause-and-effect link between bleach use and illness. They believe, however, that the irritant properties of bleach may harm the lining of the lungs, making children—whose lungs are still developing—more likely to get sick. They also warn that a habit of sanitizing every surface with the substance could be dangerous.
“The high frequency of use of disinfecting cleaning products, caused by the erroneous belief, reinforced by advertising, that our homes should be free of microbes, makes the modest effects reported in our study of public health concern,” wrote the study’s authors in a statement.
So should you stop bleaching your kitchen countertop after you prepare that chicken dinner? The folks who make bleach say there’s nothing to worry about. “The authors [of the study] completely fail to acknowledge the benefits of household bleach when it is properly used for cleaning, disinfecting, and laundering,” the American Cleaning Institute, a cleaning product trade group, said in a statement. “Consumers can continue to rely on bleach products as they have for decades. The key, as always, is to use them safely, properly, and as directed.”