NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Decluttering the kitchen, scrubbing the bathroom and putting away winter clothes isn't spring cleaning; it's a good laugh for folks who spend this season handling excrement and carting off corpses.
The folks at the American Cleaning Institute say 66% of Americans will do some form of spring cleaning this year, including 82% of those ages 18-29. Of that younger neat-freak set, 96% says having a clean home is very important to them, 26% say spring is when they clean their home most thoroughly and 23% say if it wasn't for spring cleaning they'd never clean. Still, the toughest tasks most spring cleaners face this year are wiping down the counters (91%), mopping floors and vacuuming rugs (92%) and reorganizing the closets (88%).
While it's nice the trade association formerly known as the Soap and Detergent Association can keep members such as
, S.C. Johnson & Son and
Procter & Gamble
apprised of this cultural shift toward cleanliness, the people doing the scrubbing in this survey are just a small sampling of a greater collective of cleaners making the world a little less repugnant as temperatures rise. For every dust bunny in your house, there are tons of soot to be swept, gallons of sewage to be siphoned away and lots of spent needles, animal waste and other biohazards to be bundled up and taken away.
There are plenty of dirty jobs out there, but the following four should make spring cleaners feel a bit more comfortable about vacuuming under the couches and clearing out the cupboards:
Mount Everest trash collectors
Amazing would be one way to describe the 6,600 pounds of oxygen tanks, food wrappers, tents and ropes left more than 26,200 feet above sea level in Mount Everest's "Death Zone" since the first successful expedition in 1953. Unsettling would be a better way to describe the number of climbers' bodies left among that debris during the same span.
Last spring, a team of 20 Nepalese Sherpas went in to clear out much of the garbage and retrieve the bodies of dead hikers -- including one identified as a Swiss climber who died on the mountain in 2008. This isn't exactly an annual spring cleaning, either, as much of what the Sherpas brought down had been buried under snow long term but was briefly exposed by warmer temperatures.
Nor is it particularly wise to make such a trip each year. Roughly 300 climbers have died on Everest since 1953 and, as evidenced by the deaths of eight people including hikers and guides near the summit in 1996, the mountain isn't particularly picky about who it takes. Braving the thin air and harsh temperatures at that height is difficult enough, but coming down only to cremate the remains of hikers -- as the Sherpas did with the Swiss hiker after getting permission from his family -- takes similar fortitude.
Despite what songs from
would lead you to believe, chimney sweeping isn't a pleasant experience worth writing twee little show tunes about. Yet even in a world of iPads, Wi-Fi and online pizza delivery, the chimney sweep is a necessary fixture.
According to the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association, wood-burning fireplace and free-standing woodstove shipments have been declining steadily since their peak of nearly 780,000 in 1999, but still hit nearly 231,000 last year. Within the past decade, more than 4.4 million have been shipped and installed in U.S. homes.
That's a lot of soot and creosote to scrape out after a long winter, but even at $45 to $125 for an inspection and $100 to $250 for a cleaning, it's a worthy investment. Once creosote builds up in a chimney, it gets black, sticky, oily and highly combustible in a hurry.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, there were an average of 385,100 residential structure fires between 2005 and 2007. Of those, 26,000 started from the fireplace or chimney and caused roughly $117.4 million in damages. The Department of Homeland Security notes 73% of all heating fires and 25% of all residential fires stem from creosote buildup in the chimney and advises annual inspections to check for cracks, buildup and obstructions that can lead to chimney fires or carbon monoxide inhalation.
The fear of carbon monoxide asphyxiation and the family home being reduced to cinders isn't something you'd put to sheet music and hand to Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews, but it's what keeps soot-sprinkled chimneysweeps in the black.
Municipal spring cleanup
For northern cities that spend much of the cold season snowed under, there are some unpleasant surprises beneath those snow piles. Buried dog waste, Christmas trees and even household trash are just some of the items local sanitation crews have to contend with once the snow mounds melt.
In Boston, slapped with roughly 80 inches of snow that nearly doubled its annual average, city crews began sweeping the city's restaurant-choked North End on March 1 -- a month before the rest of the city -- just to contend with the thawing piles of trash and other debris. The early deployment of street sweepers and litter basket crews around the city further tests a public works department already contending with 100 trees brought down by wet snow and ice and nearly 2,400 potholes filled within the past month.
This isn't much of a problem in such cities as New York and Chicago, where street sweepers run year-round, but cities including Boston, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., don't rev up their street sweepers until late March or early April and put them into hibernation in late November. In Minneapolis, the streets are swept exactly twice a year: once in the spring and once in the fall. The public works departments meeting with crushed cans, water bottles, stray newspapers and various parking space savers when they return all advise residents to take the same action when the sweepers are away: Clean up after yourselves. When 600,000 to 6 million people go through minor inconveniences such as curbing the dog or hitting the trash can, it chips away at one really big, really gross spring cleanup.
Death doesn't go on spring break, which is why the people who have to clean up the blood, decomposition and other unpleasantness associated with it usually don't either.
Timothy Riley, president of Crime and Death Scene Cleaning in Ipswich, Mass., has been cleaning up human and animal remains, blood and fecal matter and other biohazards since 1998. Other businesses like his tend to supplement the nastier stuff with custodial work or fire and water restoration in their spare time, but demand for Riley's biohazard staff of two full-timers and seven part-timers never wanes.
"We average about 22 to 25 calls a month," Riley says. "A call could be something as small as a police department jail cell or cruiser or it could be as big as a murder-suicide with some decomposition thrown into it."
Riley's calendar for the past month reads like the to-do list of the damned: murder-suicide cleanup, a hotel room stripped for bedbugs, medical waste removal, decomposed body abatement, two jail cell cleanings and the separate scouring of a police department jail cell and booking area after it was touched by "a guy with every disease known to man and a cat house." That last item isn't a home to ladies of the evening, either, but one crawling with dirty, malnourished, defecating cats.
"My manager went down to make an estimate on a foreclosed house about 60 miles away from here where the occupant had more than 146 cats," Riley says. The house was unoccupied for about three years, and people went inside and stripped out the wire and copper pipes. "Just to clean out that house will require four 20-cubic-yard trash containers and just that part -- before deodorizing -- will cost about $10,000, and I don't think the bank is going to do it."
General filth makes up about 50% of Riley's business, as most calls involve animal cleanup, human waste cleanup and cleaning of homes inhabited by people who "are not able to care for themselves." That remaining 50% consists of cleaning jail cells, cleaning up after suicides and taking care of decomposing corpses. The jobs aren't numerous, but they're often complicated and lucrative.
"We did an estimate two or three years ago where there was a hoarding situation and the delayed discovery of a body and the cost of cleaning it out and doing the biologicals was going to be about $25,000," Riley says. "The bank saw that there was only $10,000 left on the note and signed it off and gave it back to the family, said the place is mortgage-free and it's all yours."
The cost of such cleanup can be even greater for employers who prefer to take care of it in-house. OSHA regulations require training, vaccinations, equipment and proper disposal methods if an employee is going to be handling medical or biological waste. The cost of medical follow-up for that removal can exceed $1,600, which is still less than the $7,000 to $70,000 OSHA can impose for not following its procedures.
If a similar incident happens in a private home, however, the owner only has two options: Call someone in or clean it themselves.
"Many people believe that biorecovery is something that the local government will provide, and that's not true at all," Riley says. "If a burglar comes into your house and you wind up shooting him, the police will come in and do the investigation and walk away."
-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.
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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet.com. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, The Boston Phoenix, Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent.