3M and U to test chemicals

Dylan Thomas

University Facilities Management and 3M have partnered to develop and test cleaning products that are safer for both custodians and the environment.

3M scientists will create new cleaning chemicals for the program, which will be tested and evaluated by University custodians.

Goals for the program, which began Sept. 18, include eliminating all cleaning chemicals that pose a health risk – like some floor strippers and high-acid bathroom cleaners – and using safe and environmentally responsible products by 2005, Marshall Skule, University facilities manager said.

Skule said the approximately 10 guidelines for developing the new chemicals will take into account safety and utility concerns.

The criteria address labeling, portability and odor, and safety and environmental responsibility.

Skule said a test group of approximately 12 custodians will use the new chemicals and then evaluate their effectiveness, using forms produced in cooperation with 3M. Based on the custodians’ responses, the chemicals will be “retooled” until they come as close as possible to the criteria for the chemicals.

“3M will be coming out and visiting us a lot, and the scientists will be talking to our custodians and getting a little more input,” Skule said.

John Marmar, spokesman for 3M’s Commercial Care Division, said 3M scientists will balance safety concerns with the effectiveness of the products.

“Part of this is taking a look at Ö what is necessary to do the job, and if it’s not necessary to have harmful chemicals, then to eliminate those harmful chemicals,” Marmar said.

He was hesitant to talk about the specifics of the program, noting that new products developed could give 3M a competitive advantage in the marketplace in addition to improving employee safety at the University.

Accident spurs review

skule said Facilities Management began evaluating its use of chemicals after an accident about five years ago.

At the time, he said, the number of cleaning chemicals on campus had reached about 535.

“We were out of control with 535 products. Our safety department wasn’t able to monitor it,” Skule said.

He said employees were bringing in off-campus products without Material Safety Data Sheets, which contain information on the specific chemicals in the cleaning product – including what to do in case of an emergency.

During that time, an employee using a product without a data sheet accidentally splashed the product in his eye. The employee wasn’t severely injured, but the incident was a wake-up call to Facilities Management, Skule said.

“We all realized at that time that something serious could happen,” Skule said.

After the accident, Facilities Management’s Material Review Board took steps to reduce the number of chemicals in use and ensure there were data sheets for every product on campus. They also developed product safety standards and eliminated the use of cleaners not meeting those standards.

The number of chemicals in use right now is near 100, Skule said.

Marmar said at that point, 3M officials read about Facilities Management’s new safety process in a trade publication and proposed the partnership between the two.

University custodians will test the first new 3M product, a floor finish, in coming weeks.


Dylan Thomas welcomes comments at [email protected]