When I was asked to write this blog post in honor of Mother’s Day and International Nurses Day, the world was a different place. The pandemic wasn’t yet turning our lives upside down and radically changing our day-to day lives.
It seems fitting that this year International Nurses Day falls on the 200th Anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birthday, May 12. She is the mother of modern nursing and over 150 years ago recognized that clean air, clean water, and a clean environment improved health. As we acknowledge the amazing work of nurses around the world on the 12th, lets also think about how we can play our part in supporting healthier environments for all.
As the executive director of the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, I’ve been connecting with nurses, moms, and moms-to-be around the country in support of one another during these uncertain times. It’s been so inspiring to hear about their dedication to their patients and communities AND how they’re juggling work and homeschooling.
As more of us are staying close to home, it’s an opportunity to look at the products we’re using, or considering buying, and switch to safer alternatives. For this post I’m going to focus on cleaning products as I’ve been receiving so many questions about what products to use.
This may be a time to experiment with making your own DIY cleaning products – these can be less toxic and more inexpensive than many of those you can buy in the store – and the ingredients can be easy to find (unlike some of the name brand products that have been flying off the shelves. Women’s Voices for the Earth has a great set of recipes for DIY cleaners with ingredients like white vinegar and baking soda. I’ve used the all-purpose cleaner and the drain opener with great success!
For washing your hands, plain soap and water is the way to go. Washing for at least 20 seconds is most effective. SafetyNest (SafetyNEST Science's sister organization) has excellent recommendations on what to avoid in your hand soaps.
When cleaning your house, it’s important to clean before disinfecting. It’s also important to evaluate if you even need to disinfect. For many of us, cleaning is all that is needed. You can see a short video here that goes through the steps of determining what type of cleaning you should do and how to clean most effectively in the time of COVID-19. Cleaning with microfiber clothes is recommended.
If you do need to disinfect, choose the least toxic disinfectant. Disinfectants with bleach or quaternary ammonia, can cause respiratory irritation and should be avoided if possible. The Western States Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU) created a fantastic how-to guide with recommendations for less toxic disinfectants, such as those containing hydrogen peroxide and citric acid. It has links to EPA guides where you can research different products.
No matter what area of the country you live in, there is a PEHSU near you. If you have any questions about which products are safe to use while pregnant or with children in the household, they are a free resource and provide you with access to environmental health experts. You can find out more at https://www.pehsu.net/.
I hope you are all staying safe and well. Remember you are not alone – there are so many resources out there for information and support. We will get through this together and I hope that our new normal will be one in which less-toxic products is the norm.
Katie Huffling is a Certified Nurse-Midwife and the Executive Director of the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments. Ms. Huffling works with nurses and nursing organizations to elevate environmental health issues, such as climate change, toxic chemicals, and sustainability in healthcare, amongst the nursing profession. Ms. Huffling was an editor of the environmental health e-textbook “Environmental Health in Nursing” that won the 2017 AJN Book of the Year in Environmental Health. She was also the recipient of the 2018 Charlotte Brody Award which recognizes nurses who go beyond everyday nursing endeavors to proactively promote and protect environmental health.