Wiping graffiti off buildings, benches and bus shelters might make The City easier on the eyes, but some of the chemicals used for those efforts are not easy on the health of city workers, according to a new city document.
Some of the dozens of products used to combat graffiti in The City are “extremely hazardous” to humans and are “widely used by city staff,” according to a document released by the Department of Environment.
Some products contain harmful chemicals, including carcinogens and other toxins that can cause cancer, reproductive problems and asthma among other health conditions, the document said.
And while toxic graffiti removal products are said to be widely used, officials told The Examiner on Monday there is no viable accounting method to determine exactly how much are being used daily or annually.
Whatever the scale, having city departments use less-toxic products has become a high priority, said Chris Geiger, a toxicologist who works as a green purchasing program manager for the Department of Environment.
As part of a green purchasing initiative begun in 2005, the department wants to move city departments toward purchasing and using healthier alternatives to wipe off graffiti, Geiger said. Currently, departments are only recommended to use alternative products and methods.
The department has set a goal for the next three years to finalize a list of graffiti removal products that work best and are the least hazardous so that guidelines may be written into stone, he said.
Geiger doesn’t believe it is accurate to say The City is widely using hazardous products in graffiti removal. In fact, San Francisco has been pioneering the use of alternative products and methods for various city projects and services, including graffiti removal, and has set up an online catalog filled with so-called “S.F.-approved” green products, he said.
“We know there is a potential problem out there,” Geiger said. “We want to work on it.”
Various city departments, including Muni and the Department of Public Works, are already testing or using healthier alternatives to wiping off graffiti, he said.
Muni, for instance, has been experimenting with an environmentally friendly orange oil product to eliminate graffiti on vehicles, though workers have complained of a strong smell emitted by the substance, Geiger said. City agencies are also testing soy-based products, he said.
DPW spokeswoman Christine Falvey said crews in her department use paint to cover up the “vast majority” of graffiti on public property. When they must use the toxic graffiti removers, staff is trained to use gloves and goggles for protection, she said.
The DPW “has discontinued use of some graffiti removers over the years in favor of products that are better for our staff, the public and the environment,” Falvey said.
Green purchasing priorities
Along with establishing guidelines for purchasing healthier, environmentally friendly products for graffiti removal, The City also wants to set guidelines for the purchase of these products and materials:
Bags (plastic and compostable)
Janitorial cleaning products
Janitorial floor care products
Street cleaning detergents
Toner and cartridges
Weed barriers and mulches
Source: San Francisco Department of Environment