How regular use of bleaching products triggers the onset of fatal lung diseases

fatal lung disease

Researchers have found that regular usage of bleaching products even once in a week can raise the risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD) by 32%. Bleaching products find ubiquitous use for disinfecting house, workplace, hospitals, clinics and even eateries but the users are hardly aware of the potential health threats.


COPD is an umbrella term for all sorts of pulmonary ailments affecting lungs which include the most common chronic bronchitis, chronic asthma and emphysema.  This condition affects about 1.2 million people in the UK of which 30,000 die every year in England making it one of the leading killer diseases in Europe.

Findings of the survey:

It was a long 30 year survey carried out by Harvard University and the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm) that led to this conclusion. Data was gathered for this study from more than 55,000 nurses regularly exposed to commonly used disinfectants like bleach, hydrogen peroxide, alcohol and quaternary ammonium compounds (termed as quarts).

It was found that all of them stand a 24-32% higher risk of developing COPD. In this study group, 37% of nurses used disinfectants to clean surfaces every week and 19% of them used them for cleaning medical instruments every week.

The study began in 1989 when the registered nurses included in the group had no previous history of COPD. The researchers examined those nurses in 2009 who were continuing the job and again a follow-up was conducted in May 2017 where 663 nurses were diagnosed with COPD.

Earlier findings failed to generate the desired attention:

Human respiratory system

Earlier research studies also hinted an association between increased respiratory problems with the use of disinfectants but this extensive study involving a larger group has clearly established the link between the two calling for an immediate action. A researcher at Inserm reported that previous reports did not receive that much attention though it showed that a cleaner in Europe carried a higher risk of COPD.

Previous researchers highlighted that fumes emitted by bleaching products worsened asthma. But this recent finding is more serious which highlighted that prolonged exposure to these chemicals can cause irreversible lung destruction, which may turn out to be fatal in future.

The job doesn’t end here. The recent findings are to be presented at the European Respiratory Society International Congress in Milan persuading for an in-depth research regarding the impact of lifelong exposure to specific bleach chemicals at home and hospitals.

Effect of bleaching products:

The harmful effect of bleaching products can be felt by the strong smell emitted. The toxic fumes of these products have a corrosive effect on the skin, eyes and lungs prolonged exposure to which can be deadly. The bleach when mixed with ammonia, vinegar or any acidic chemicals, creates the most dangerous health hazards. These products available in dense liquids or gels are the worst.

Is it an occupational health hazard?


Considering the safety aspect of the nurse and cleaner population, this recent study is of immense significance. Till date, there are no specific guidelines regarding the daily use of bleaching products but this would prompt an investigation whether to seriously consider this as occupational health hazard.

Special instructions limiting the use of bleaching products in hospitals and clinics should be included in the occupational health guidelines to prevent nurses and cleaners from fatal lung conditions.

Precautionary measures:

Covering mouth and nose while using bleaching products is one way to prevent the toxic chemicals enter the respiratory passage. Next step is limiting the handling of these chemicals and prevent overuse. Special awareness training can be given to the cleaners and nurses using these materials in bulk. Domestic application of these bleaching chemicals should be bare minimum.

This recent research report is truly an eye opener forcing everybody to think of alternative cleaning agents and disinfectants to protect the cleaners and nurse population from fatal lung diseases.

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