Brief Summary

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Report Summary


This report is an account of an 18-month Pollution Prevention Incentives for States project undertaken in Santa Clara County, California. The report describes both how the team performed its work and the results that it obtained. Additional information about janitorial pollution prevention appears in the accompanying volume of Appendices, on the project website, and in the completion report prepared for the related outreach effort for small janitorial organizations in Richmond, California.


Needs Assessment – Workers’ compensation data adapted from Washington State show that janitors are injured fairly frequently by the chemicals that they use:

  • Six out of every hundred janitors in Santa Clara County injure themselves with chemicals every year;
  • 27,000 janitors working in the county experience a total of about 1,200 injuries each year;
  • 20% of these injuries are serious burns to the eyes or skin; and
  • Medical treatment and lost job time for these chemical injuries in Santa Clara County is about $750,000 per year.


Making a rough extrapolation of these estimates to the national level, the team believes that medical expenses and lost time for chemical injuries to janitors throughout the United States total about $75 million per year.

The Santa Clara team identified pollution prevention information that janitors working in large organizations do not have, and found out that assistance could best be delivered via fact sheets, training workshops, and on-site product reviews and assistance.

Because safety is a key issue for janitors, the team emphasized hazards associated with specific high-risk cleaning work, techniques for safe storage and mixing, and methods for janitors to learn on their own the health consequences of specific chemical ingredients.


Janitorial Product Use – The average janitor uses an estimated 28 gallons of chemicals per year, weighing 234 pounds. Hazardous ingredients comprise about 25% of the total, or 58 pounds. The Santa Clara team focused its efforts upon chemicals appearing in 19 key products that are used for care of hard floors, carpets, restrooms, windows, and miscellaneous tasks. The cost for these products is estimated as $250 per worker, which is only about 1% of the annual salary of $20,000 typically earned by that same worker.

The project team worked with 47 organizations, two-thirds of which were janitorial contractors. These organizations employ about 6,800 people, representing about 25% of the janitors working in Santa Clara County. Each year the employees of the 47 firms use a combined total of 1,140 chemical products that contain an estimated 400,000 lbs. of hazardous materials.


Pollution Prevention – Safety and environmental improvement are both accomplished by changing from products with highly-toxic ingredients to ones that are less hazardous. Some cleaning tasks must use hazardous products because there are no effective substitutes. In these instances the best pollution prevention strategy is to have the janitor dilute each product as much as possible, and to use it only when absolutely necessary.

Managing the entry of dirt into the building is another way of accomplishing source reduction. Less soil in the building means less frequent cleaning, which in turn requires less chemical usage. Daily vacuuming also helps accomplish this goal.

Other, longer-term pollution prevention strategies include designing buildings with easy-to-clean architectural features (e.g., keep carpets out of locker rooms), taking care that features with incompatible cleaning needs are kept apart from each other (e.g., not situating carpets and vinyl tiles together), and operating air conditioning systems so as to minimize the movement of dust.


Forecast Results – Exhibit A shows that use of hazardous janitorial chemicals at the 47 participating organizations could decrease by 131,306 lbs. per year if all of the recommendations the team made during site visits, workshops, and other local outreach efforts were to be followed. About 25%, or 29,260 lbs. of this potential annual reduction are actually expected to occur.

Exhibit A

Forecast Reduction In Use Of Hazardous Materials (Santa Clara County)

    Hazardous Materials (lbs per year)
    Amounts Forecast Reductions
  Janitors Used Before Potential Expected
Assisted Sites 4,629 221,593 88,637 16,606
Others 3,324 159,122 63,649 5,962
Total 7,953 380,714 152,286 22,568

Site Employees

Assisted Sites















Combined Totals

Assisted Sites















Already Reduced:

About 15,000 lbs/yr

If the other contractors and individuals doing janitorial work in Santa Clara County were to make similar changes, the total use of hazardous janitorial chemicals throughout the county could decrease by 513,765 lbs. per year. Motivated by a continuing outreach effort, 82,497 lbs. of this potential reduction might actually occur.