Researchers Work to Make Cleaning Products Safer

In a lab in Lowell, Massachusetts, there is a belief in a better way to clean without using potentially dangerous chemicals.

"There is still a perception that the stronger it smells, the better it works, the stronger the bleach, the more it will kill the germs," Liz Harriman, deputy director of UMass Lowell's Toxics Use Reduction Institute, said Thursday.

The work done in TURI's labs taking on renewed urgency in recent weeks after two chemical reaction incidents in the Boston area.

On Nov. 7, Ryan Baldera, 32, died after he was exposed to a dangerous chemical reaction at the Burlington Buffalo Wild Wings, where he worked as general manager.

Then, earlier this week, three were taken to the hospital as a precaution after a chemical reaction forced the evacuation of a Red Robin in Woburn.

"Very sad, there is no reason that sort of thing should happen today," Harriman said. "It certainly wakes up everyone that there is something that needs to be done."

Inside the TURI lab, researchers and students work to create and test less dangerous cleaning solutions.

"What we have been doing over the years is validating those products that come out on the market now are as effective, if not more effective, than more traditional hazardous solvents," said Dr. Jason Marshall, TURI's lab director. "We have helped, on the industrial side, we have helped companies replace thousands of pounds of hazardous materials. On the consumer side, the households side, we have educated a lot of people on finding safer alternatives."

The goal here is to show, not tell, those who need cleaning supplies that there are alternatives that don't sacrifice quality or effectiveness.

"The alternatives that are out there are safer to the people who have to handle them everyday," Marshall said. "They are safer for the environment when they get disposed of."

Through the years, the lab has found traction. But there is still work to be done.

"There is clearly a need for better training, and better education, and hopefully, we can save lives down the road," Harriman said.

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