In 2013, a report published by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) estimated that more than 974,000 adults have asthma caused or aggravated by substances they use or are exposed to at work. This number represents about 40% of all adult asthma sufferers in California.

This condition is referred to as “Work Related Asthma” (WRA). WRA can trigger an asthmatic response in workers who already have asthma or even be the cause of new-onset asthma. The asthma is caused or triggered by substances called asthmagens or sensitizers. The more the body is exposed to an asthmagen/sensitizer it becomes more sensitive to it and over time asthma symptoms develop whenever exposure occurs.

How WRA develops

There are currently about 300 documented asthmagens, with many found in both industrial and household cleaning products. The only way to treat WRA is to remove the substance, or the worker from the workplace.

The CDPH report also says that 975,000 adults with WRA, 56% were unable to return to their usual work. Some respiratory allergies may be set off by fragrances, which are complex chemical mixtures commonly used to scent air fresheners, cleaners, personal care products and other consumer goods. WRA is also a concern in janitorial work, according to a 2010 study by the New York State Department of Health, children born to women who held cleaning jobs while pregnant have an elevated risk of birth defects.

What can you do?

The American Lung Association recommends that if you find a product that is causing a reaction, to dispose of it immediately. Many of the cleaners we use today that kill molds and bacteria contain pesticides, so read the labels. Know what is in the products you are using and follow the safety instructions. All businesses should have and read the Safety Data Sheets (SDS) on every commercial product that is in use, and use the proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Some simple guidelines are to:

  • Wear gloves and goggles to protect your skin and eyes.
  • Never mix cleaning products.
  • Never use a cleaner at full strength when the instructions say to dilute it.
  • Be careful in small rooms or rooms with poor ventilation. Leave windows open and bring in fans to keep the air circulating.
  • Use less toxic cleaners whenever possible.

Keep in mind that using dust masks will not prevent you from breathing fumes from cleaners. Treat cleaners like the chemicals they are, follow all instructions and use the proper precautions to stay safe when cleaning.


California Department of Public Health Asthma Page

Work-Related Asthma Prevention Program

The Environmental Working Group (a guide that rates popular cleaning products)

Safety training sign-in sheet

Questions, Comments or Suggestions?

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The above evaluations and/or recommendations are for general guidance only and should not be relied upon for medical advice or legal compliance purposes. They are based solely on the information provided to us and relate only to those conditions specifically discussed. We do not make any warranty, expressed or implied, that your workplace is safe or healthful or that it complies with all laws, regulations or standards.

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