|Company||Touch of Green Clean|
|Type||Residential Carpet Cleaning Service|
|Bottom Line||Touch of Green Clean routinely uses Benefect Botanical Disinfectant, a leave-in spray containing Thymol. It is highly inappropriate, even toxic, for carpets.|
According to the Benefect DIN Label, this disinfectant has a single active ingredient named Thymol. That label is incomplete. When I wrote to the manufacturer, I received a more detailed ingredient list which says Benefect contains: Thyme, Oregano Oil, Lemongrass, Bio-Surfactant (for miscibility of oils in water), Water, and Water Ionizer (the company claims these ions ‘accelerate the essential oils’).
Active ingredient Thymol: The common thyme plant, Thymus vulgaris, yields Oil of Thyme, a volatile oil which contains between 20% - 55% Thymol. The dissipation half-life of Thymol is 16 days in water, and 5 days in soil. The FDA links Thymol to numerous adverse effects, the most common symptoms being neurological, gastrointestinal, and dermal.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies Thymol as a pesticide. More than that, it classifies the consumer product Benefect as a pesticide with EPA Registration Number 84683-1.
Medical sources list many precautions and medication interactions for Thyme (and its main constituent Thymol), saying: “Keep in mind that natural products are not always necessarily safe.”
Bottom line: Benefect is not suitable for any porous surface. Thymol does not bind to carpet fibers; this oil miscible in water gets absorbed by fibers and slowly sublimates back into the air. About 10 half-lives (160 days) are required before the ambient air is clear and no longer toxic to humans.
In my suite, I noticed two small damp patches on my carpet to the left and right of my bookshelf, which stood against the short wall housing the thermostat.
I moved the bookshelf and inspected the wall. It was dry at this point, but an hour later water began trickling out of the light cover-plate halfway up the wall. Because the water was near the electrical system, I phoned my landlord's maintenance number.
Night-worker Bianca visited my suite, saw the water, heard the history – but took no action. She instructed “wait until morning.” Later Bianca submitted an audacious bill to the landlord for $25 for an “emergency maintenance call.” (Doubt if she got paid.)
First thing in the morning the maintenance day-worker, Rafael, traced the water leak to kitchen pipes in the suite above me. By now, 40 square feet of my carpet plus a corner of my kitchen ceiling were wet. On the wall, water steadily dripped from the light plate and from the ceiling edge.
An hour later, Gary O’Donnell from Touch of Green Clean arrived. With a wet-vac he drew the water up from the carpet. Gary then heavily sprayed this carpet area with a ‘leave-in’ disinfectant called Benefect Botanical Disinfectant.
Ever since Benefect Disinfectant was applied to my carpet, I got headaches when I stayed in my living room for an hour or more. This continued even after the atrocious smell eased up.
I had to open my living room window, and rely on the positive pressure under the suite door for cross-ventilation which bypassed the bedroom. I had to ventilate constantly, and lived entirely in my bedroom with my door firmly shut (ate, worked, slept).
I so advised the landlord's secretary Barbara Robinson, who contacted the Touch of Green owner and sole employee, Gary O’Donnell. Barbara reported back to me the content of their conversation:
Concerned, I telephoned Gary O’Donnell myself to ask what he would use next week to redo the carpet. Gary said he “plans to use vinegar.” This made no sense because Benefect contains oil which needs soap for removal.
The carpet treated with Benefect remained dark with a clear linear edge demarcating the application area. The color did not lighten as it dried, nor blend with the original carpet color.
Benefect has a single active ingredient named Thymol (thyme oil). This oil-based product did not evaporate or sublimate from the porous material. When I pointed this out, Gary agreed to use soap to clean the 40 square feet of carpet he had soaked with Benefect.
We also discussed chemical sensitivities, and Gary finally acknowledged they are individual. I mentioned the web search I had done, but Gary brushed this aside, saying he “reads only the manufacturer's own marketing material.” He was startled and resistant when I suggested objective sources such as the FDA website. I was discrete and we parted on good terms.
I did more web research and found the DIN Label for the product sprayed on my carpet. Health Canada assigns each product a DIN (Drug Identification Number) which points to an official record, as opposed to hype from advertisers.
The DIN Label for this product contains a warning: “Benefect Botanical Disinfectant: Suitable for hard, non-porous surfaces.” That product was never designed for carpets or other porous surfaces.
The DIN label indicates Benefect has a single active ingredient, Thyme Oil – also called Thymol. The FDA Adverse Event Reporting System (AERS) has received numerous reports of side-effects caused by Thymol. The list includes neurological symptoms (headache) which occur 6.1% of the time.
Saskatchewan winter temperatures reach -20°C. Due to the constant cross-ventilation needed in my living room, cold air seeped into my bedroom even with the door closed. One morning I awoke with harshly painful muscle cramps in my back. Two days before (on Thursday) Touch of Green Clean was advised the carpet needed attention. Why didn't Gary return Friday? The wait until the following Tuesday was long and difficult; I could have been spared this unnecessary misery.
Gary returned to clean the carpet with Econo Clean which he assured me was soap. I mentioned the Benefect DIN Label I had found on the internet, but Gary said he “didn't have time to talk about it.” Briefly, I quoted the contents of the label. Gary chose evasion: Although little conversation had taken place, Gary said, “I don't know what more I can say,” and “I don't know what you want from me.” He repeated this several times in strident tones; his face held a grin; he kept pacing to the door, craning his neck to look into the hallway, checking for an audience.
Conclusion: Gary hoped to silence my questions by embarrassing me in earshot of my neighbors. I said, “Just promise you will look up the DIN Label, so other tenants won't have to go through the same thing.” I opted to forward the details to the landlord instead.
During this appointment and the previous one, whenever the topic of Benefect ingredients was raised, Gary developed a nervous mannerism, swinging his arms up high in wide aggressive arcs. This was so blatant it can serve as our Lie Detector when speaking to Gary O’Donnell.
I wrote a memo to landlord Judy Guenther detailing the timeline and my personal experience with Touch of Green Clean. The closing portion:
“Gary O’Donnell is charming when people agree with him, but his conduct today was intimidating. I doubt he will take the DIN Label seriously. I ask two things:
- I do not want to deal with Gary O’Donnell of Touch of Green Clean again. For carpet care in my suite in future, please call another company.
- For the sake of other tenants, Benefect Botanical Disinfectant leave-in spray can cause neurological symptoms, and should never be used on carpets or other porous surfaces. Relevant documents are enclosed.”
Landlord Judy Guenther replied by letter: “Your insights, comments, and complaints are now, and always will be, taken seriously. For carpet cleaning in future, whether the cleaning is for maintenance purposes or emergency purposes, we will ask Gary not to use Benefect Botanical Disinfectant in your suite. We are willing to place your wishes ahead of Gary's (based on the FDA adverse-event reports and the Benefect DIN Label).”
Thymol, a volatile oil found in Oil of Thyme, is a known respiratory irritant. Despite advertising claims, this product is not suitable for aromatherapy. The Health Canada Registration Decision for Thymol cautions: Thymol has a very pungent odor which serves as a warning sign to those working with it to avoid taking a deep breath and avoid prolonged exposure when concentration is high.
Potential exposure routes include direct contact with the skin and indirect contact of Thymol vapor with the eyes and lungs. Thymol is known for its corrosive and irritating properties, and the product label must spell out a number of mitigative measures to limit risk. According to Health Canada:
The product label must warn workers to “Avoid inhaling the vapour” and “Handle in a well-ventilated area” to mitigate unnecessary risk due to inhalation exposure.
The label must instruct workers to wear chemically resistant gloves and protective clothing during handling and application of Thymol. To further mitigate dermal risks, the label should state: “Danger – Skin irritant. Corrosive to eyes and skin. Do not get on skin, eyes, or clothing.”
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies Thymol as a pesticide (EPA Registration #84683-1). When used as a pesticide, the site of action is the nervous system of insects. Registered biopesticide products must be labeled with specific directions for use, including risk-reduction measures to protect human and environmental health. These directions must be followed by law.
Sam DeAth, president of Benefect, is the directing mind of the company and is therefore liable for any civil reparation claims, and for any criminal charges, that may arise from injury caused by his product. He knew, or should have known, that the active ingredient Thymol can cause adverse events, which information is readily available on the FDA, Health Canada, and EPA websites. The Benefect DIN label provides less than full material disclosure: this is misleading, deceptive and likely to create an erroneous impression in consumers.
After filing my FDA MedWatch Report, I heard from two Benefect representatives named Kelly Pajunen (Customer Relations) and Sam DeAth (Benefect President).
Tuum Est - It Is Up To You
But man crouches and blushes,
Absconds and conceals;
He creepeth and peepeth,
He palters and steals;
Jealous glancing around,
An oaf, an accomplice,
He poisons the ground.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
The water emerging at the light cover-plate trickled down the vertical pipes inside the wall.
The pipes led to the kitchen sink of the suite directly above (discovered next day).
If the night Responder had traced the leak when called, that would have saved 12 hours of water accumulating on my carpet. Damage would have been limited to 2 square feet of carpet, instead of 40 square feet.
Prevention Tip for Landlords:
In residential apartments, night staff should be given basic training on the infrastructure of the building. Even casual workers should understand how to trace a water leak, and where to shut off water at the source.
Water was clean (no odor, no sewage, no grime). A strong disinfectant was unnecessary. Benefect especially was ill-judged. The Benefect DIN Label states in a clearly marked box: ‘SUITABLE FOR disinfecting hard, non-porous surfaces.’ A caution to avoid porous surfaces is implied.
Gary O’Donnell of Touch of Green Clean is typical of the zealous ‘green’ consumer who believes botanical products can be used without restraint. Health Canada should revise the label to carry a warning in direct language: ‘NOT SUITABLE for porous surfaces such as carpets.’
The Benefect DIN Label hypes the green theme: ‘Made from botanically pure plant extracts with pleasant aromatherapeutic vapours.’
My experience: It smells like cloves, but amplified. Benefect is pungent, unpleasant, harsh. The smell faded in 2 hours from my carpet. For 7 more days the volatile oil emitted vapor, causing headache until the residue was removed with soap.
Photo: 40 sq ft of carpet sprayed with Benefect. The active ingredient, Thymol, did not evaporate or sublimate. Evidence: Treated area remained dark in color, clearly marked with linear edges.
No change in carpet appearance for 7 days until Benefect residue removed with soap.
The DIN Label claims Benefect is: ‘Made from botanically pure plant extracts with pleasant aromatherapeutic vapours.’
Rebuttal: Health Canada's Registration Decision says ‘The active ingredient Thymol is a known respiratory irritant. Thymol has a very pungent odor which serves to warn workers to avoid taking a deep breath and avoid prolonged exposure when concentration is high.’
Pros and Cons
Thymol has strong antimicrobial properties, but also occupational toxicity.
The dissipation half-life for Thymol is 16 days in water, and 5 days in soil. (Source: Pest Science Management 2008 v64)
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