Heavy carpet cleaning chemical exposure in pregnancy
April 5, 2011 8:05 PM   Subscribe

Pregnant, first trimester. My office is having all the carpets, chairs, and upholstery cleaned. I was able to verify with the cleaners that they use a perc "dry cleaning" solution, among several other strong industrial chemicals. Should I be concerned in terms of anything teratogenic/dangerous to my embryo?

Being that I am one of many employees, I don't have any leverage to ask for a greener/healthier solution, especially at this stage with the cleaning already scheduled. I also can't find a whole lot online in terms of perc/carpet cleaning solution exposure in pregnancy... what I do find is that it is a class 2A carcinogen.

As a full-time employee, I spend a great deal of time in this office. I also know that I may have some pregnancy paranoia clouding my vision. Some thoughts as to whether this is worth worrying about would be appreciated.

Anonymous due to the pregnancy, which has not been announced yet!
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Can you take a day or two off? That's usually enough time for things to off-gas.
posted by small_ruminant at 8:25 PM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

IANAD but I likes me some googles:

There does seem to be evidence that perchloroethylene exposure reduces fertility or causes miscarriages. These studies are of people with chronic exposure, not one-time exposure, and the effect doesn't look large, so your actual risk is probably minuscule. Still, I don't think it would be totally unreasonable to look for a way to not be in the office for a few days after the cleaning.
posted by hattifattener at 8:26 PM on April 5, 2011

I agree with the suggestions to take a few days off. IANAD (or scientist) but we are constantly exposed to things that are potentially harmful -- smog & pollution, UV rays, airborne chemical irritants, additives in our food, etc etc -- but it's only when they are in concentrated amounts that they are *actually* threatening. So, take a few days off, let things air out, and I think you will be okay.
posted by joyeuxamelie at 9:35 PM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Sounds like a unwanted PERCquisite of the job, eh?

I'm sorry. Terrible puns are a weakness.

I'm n'thing the "low likelihood of harm, but why not take time off while the chemicals do most of their off-gassing?" approach.
posted by alexandermatheson at 1:34 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Perc? Seriously? Wow. That's not just bad for you -- that's bad for everyone who works there. And for the cleaners. They seriously should not be using that, and especially not in that type of application. (Perc can be safely managed, mostly, in a closed-loop dry cleaning machine, where it's all recaptured and reused. Applying it to carpets and chairs and letting it evaporate? No. TBH, I didn't know anyone still used it in that type of application!)

I'm not pregnant, and I'd be taking some time off in your situation.

Also, depending on what state you're in, you could call the state environmental folks (or the County Environmental Health Department if you're in California) and see if they have any suggestions for you for talking to your management. Some states have indoor air guidelines for perc. They're designed with vapor intrusion coming from off-site dry cleaners in mind, but there are standards.
posted by pie ninja at 3:46 AM on April 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

IAP (I am pregnant) and IAAES (I am an exposure scientist), and I'd be worried. I have not studied perchloroethylene per say, but I do study similar, nasty chemicals. From my quick googles, it looks like perc out-gasses fairly quickly into the air, and so I'd ask, what kind of ventilation do you have in the office? Can you leave doors or windows open for a few days? Since it will rapidly diffuse to the air, maximizing your air exchange rate will quickly reduce the concentration in your office.
posted by Tooty McTootsalot at 6:16 AM on April 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm an environmental engineer, and I am adding +1 to the "take a day or two off" suggestion.

If that isn't an option, try to ventilate your area as much as possible (i.e., open every door and window you can find). Even sitting near an open window or frequent walks to an unaffected area will significantly reduce your exposure. While perc (PCE, tetrachloroethylene,) is very volatile, and will off-gas quickly, you don't want to be exposed to it more than you absolutely have to be.

The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygenists sets the time-weighted average exposure limit at 25ppm, and the short-term exposure limit at 100ppm. OSHA sets the TWA at 100ppm, and NIOSH higher than that. I'd imagine that being pregnant, you want to stay well below those levels.
posted by LouMac at 7:31 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would take a few days off as well. You might indicate that you are worried you are contagious and see if you could work from home for a few days, if you are worried about missing pay.
posted by misha at 7:58 AM on April 6, 2011

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