Ask the Building Maintenance Experts
Solutions for Your Toughest Problems

ICAN  Q & A  Home

Thursday, August 27, 2015


Two weeks ago my project team cleaned the carpets in the state senate staff offices using the bonnet system. This was done in the evening, when the facility was unoccupied. The following day we received reports the staff nurse complaining of skin and eye irritation saw that 20-30 people. One occupant visited her personal doctor, whom said she appeared to have suffered some kind of chemical burn. Two week later we are still looking for the source of the mysterious irritant. The day following the incident, I called in a out side carpet cleaning company to extract the carpet using clear water, in hopes to dilute any remaining chemicals. Upon inspection of their work we discovered the carpet splitting at the seams throughout the facility. We've called in an industrial hygienist to hopefully find the problem. History of the cleaning process: The carpet cleaning crew has for at least six months, been using a water base carpet cleaning chemical, and water base odor eliminator, to add a fragrance, in all of the 40 facilities we maintain, with no adverse effect. All of the investigation in the problem area is focused on the cleaning process. The HVAC team checked the air handling systems, and all was in the normal range. The hygienist consultant has requested MSDS on both chemicals used in the cleaning process as a starting point for his investigation. At this point I am mystified. Id like some feedback from anyone out there having similar experiences, or theories of what the problem maybe, and possible solutions?


Answer # 2.
While the established practice called for using two approved
chemicals, does anyone know for a certainty that these were indeed used, and were they the only ones used? What management thinks is going on may not be, in fact, what is really happening. Recent case-in-point: a large university, well-known for its leadership in Green Cleaning, complained that the carpet looked bad. Investigation showed that the janitorial staff found that the "green" stuff failed to clean very well, so they made their own - using sulfuric acid drain cleaner ! Not only did they cause some major environmental problems, they destroyed some nice carpet. Throughout the episode, management maintained that every instruction was followed to the letter - but they never talked to the people who did the work.
Carey Mitchell
Shaw Industries Group, Inc.
Dir. of Technical Serv

Answer # 1.
It can be difficult to track down the exact cause of a skin irritation or odor complaint as individuals have varying tolerance levels for exposure to different chemicals, products and odors. It may not have anything to do with the carpet cleaning except that this was the last service provided to the area (any pest control or other service to the area recently). It's possible that someone could have improperly mixed one or more of the products or that the manufacturer changed the product formulation. I normally recommend carpet cleaning be done on Friday nights or over a 3 day holiday which allows the carpet adequate time to dry and for odors to dissipate. If drying time is an issue, add fans and dehumidifiers to speed up the process. I recommend avoiding the use of products that have or leave a lingering odor, as some people are sensitive to fragrances and noticeable odors can cause people to think that they have been exposed to something harmful.
It sounds like you have done the right things now that you a problem. Sometimes, it's a matter of one highly sensitive person being more affected than others and then mass hysteria for the others. As for the seam splitting, sounds like over wetting to me. I'd try a different cleaner or a drier process. Let us know if you are able to isolate an exact cause so we can advise others.
Bill Griffin, President