Bleach Everywhere; Worried About Fetus, Cat, Plants
April 2, 2015 10:30 AM   Subscribe

Help! Own a condo; HOA told us the wood porches would be painted this week after a spray wash. Workers just began to spray bleach everywhere on the wood to kill black mildew (wood was untreated after porches built 4 years ago). Concerns: 8 months pregnant asthmatic (me), our partly-tamed feral cat who spends much time on the porch, and a host of plants. I just watched as bleach misted down from the above porch coating everything on my porch. Help!

Extra info: they didn't mention they might spray bleach, and I was told that ground floor occupants like myself could leave things out there so long as they were away from the fence part. The cat is a feral I had snip-and-tipped and is not tame enough for adoption. The best I have been able to do is feed her and give her regular healthcare, and she sleeps on this porch when she's not out making her rounds. She sniffs everything, sleeps in the small soil patch inside the fence, has her own little doghouse we built out there for shelter. The plants are all dormant and haven't started to grow yet. I'm also super pregnant and sick with a respiratory infection from a cold. What can I do to protect me/my fetus, the cat, and the stuff left out (doghouse, plants/planters, soil)? Thanks for any and all info you can provide.
posted by Locative to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Yikes, sorry to hear that. My understanding was that bleach actually releases toxic mold into the air as the mold dies, though I don't know for sure. Personally I would get out of there, temporarily, if you have the option. Or at least wear a high-quality mask.
posted by three_red_balloons at 10:35 AM on April 2, 2015

The cat is not going to walk or sleep where she smells bleach so I think you're okay on that front if she wasn't actually there when the misting was happening. Is there somewhere else you can leave food for her?
posted by desjardins at 10:36 AM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Do you know what kind of bleach? I believe the bad-news stuff in chlorine bleach should mostly evaporate pretty quickly, so don't breathe it right now, but also don't panic.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:37 AM on April 2, 2015

Also 8mos pregnant here. I would be making arrangements to spend the weekend elsewhere.

I can't speak about dealing with an HOA or what legal remedies you may have, but I think you should put your concerns in writing, particularly with the overspray drifting into your living space. I would want to make sure that the painting company will be minimizing any overspray of the paint, especially if they will be coming back several days hence, since you don't want to have to vacate your place again.
posted by vignettist at 10:43 AM on April 2, 2015

You'll likely have problems with those plants watering to dilute the bleach would probably help. House-washing companies' websites usually have pretty helpful guides for what's harmful and what's not, and best measures to minimize damage to shrubs, plants, etc. It's generally harmless for human health though--it's just bleach.
posted by resurrexit at 10:49 AM on April 2, 2015

Bleach breaks down very quickly, especially in sunlight. Bleach is probably the safest thing they could have used in this instance. I wouldn't give it a second thought. Some light reading.
posted by fiercecupcake at 10:52 AM on April 2, 2015 [14 favorites]

Seconding that bleach itself is relatively benign and degrades quickly when dispersed into the environment. Most concerns about bleach/things that are bleached is bleach's potential to react with other compounds to create toxic byproducts, which tends to happen when bleach is combined with other cleaning products (like surfactants and fragrances) or is thickened (in "splashproof" bleach). And even these byproducts are volatile, so they will soon disperse into quantities below what you need to worry about if the area is well-ventilated (e.g. outside).

I would personally clear out of there for the duration of the cleaning, but you probably don't need to worry about anything toxic persisting past the immediate application.

Also, I'd be a little snoopy about whether they are planning to treat the wood in any other way. As fiercecupcake noted, bleach might be the safest and least environmentally persistent way to treat mildewy wood, and I'd be concerned that they'll be dumping some less obvious but more persistent antifungal all over it after bleaching.
posted by pullayup at 11:16 AM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for everyone's input. I am about to leave until late this evening. Appreciate the details about bleach, I don't usually clean with anything stronger than vinegar & baking soda so thank you all for educating me about it. I'll definitely continue to snoop, though they won't be treating any more wood today as a thunderstorm just started. Also was finally able to get ahold of my doctor and they said just avoid the fumes. Thanks again, everyone!
posted by Locative at 11:24 AM on April 2, 2015

I would personally clear out of there for the duration of the cleaning, but you probably don't need to worry about anything toxic persisting past the immediate application.

This is excellent advice, and exactly what I tell people in very similar situations to yours.
posted by bonehead at 11:26 AM on April 2, 2015

This doesn't say anything about the particular concentration and additives used on your deck, but in case you weren't aware: bleach is used to sanitize surfaces in food processing and is used for sanitizing drinking water. Here's a product containing bleach that is marketed for cleaning baby bottles, for example.
posted by XMLicious at 11:26 AM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: The worker left before I could ask about the type of bleach. I got a whiff of it later when I stepped out my front door, it smelled like chlorine bleach but I'm no expert. The container he was spraying with said CD-2 on the side, but googling gave me no input on that aside from a lot of references to the Nirvana album. I have been extra cautious pregnant because so many things innocuous to my non-pregnant self are considered risky now: Advil, Prilosec, sushi, cat litter, etc. Plus, having severe asthma makes my respiratory situation a lot more fragile as well. I hope that explains the alarmed tone.
posted by Locative at 11:49 AM on April 2, 2015

Let's be clear, first off, that any actual "bleach" is chlorine bleach. The "nonchlorine bleaches" are Hydrogen Peroxide, "bleach" being hydrochloric acid. It just so happens that peroxide will oxidize stuff and rupture walls to kill stuff too, but calling it "bleach" is a misleading tactic.

First off, the concentration of what they're spraying is almost certainly NOT on the order of consumer-grade stuff, and probably much closer to pool-supply grade, so from ~2-3% to ~10%. It's incredibly bad to come into contact with and is absolutely a respiratory inhibitor and will ABSOLUTELY trigger a bad response in your lungs, especially if you're asthmatic or have some other copd. If the dudes spraying it are wearing respirators, you shouldn't be around it. There are PLENTY of fungicides that aren't bleach that they could be spraying instead. They SHOULD be pressure washing it, especially if it's a few years behind where it should be treatment wise.

Sure it'll dissipate quickly, but if you're like me and you have a chemical sensitivity to aerosolized perfumes/sprays/etc, it'll put you down like a zebra with a dart in its butt. I would take off for the rest of the day, now, and check back later tonight. The cat will fend for itself. The don't need to handle the plants right now.

I'd also submit a formal complaint to my HOA.

edit: also, letting commercial bleach drain into public rain sewers is likely not legal. It's certainly bad.
posted by TomMelee at 12:16 PM on April 2, 2015

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