'List N' Disinfectants May Not Be Proven Safe for HumansIn response to COVID-19, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released "List N," which is a list of about 400 disinfectants that meet the EPA's criteria for use against SARS-CoV-2. To meet the criteria, the disinfectants must demonstrate effectiveness against a harder-to-kill virus or demonstrate efficacy against a human coronavirus similar to SARS-CoV-2.
"This doesn't mean that they have been approved because they're considered safe with regard to human health," exposure scientist Lesliam Quirós-Alcalá, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told Bloomberg. While studies on many of the chemicals are limited, some have been linked to asthma and other respiratory conditions, reproductive effects, and neurological and dermatological problems.
Research published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine also found that women responsible for cleaning at home, or who worked as house cleaners, had accelerated declines in lung function and impaired long-term respiratory health 10 to 20 years after cleaning activities.
Ramped Up Disinfecting a 'Hazardous Proposition'Health risks likely increase with increased levels of disinfectant exposure, making coronavirus disinfectants particularly risky due to the high frequency of application.
The EPA, in their guidance for cleaning and disinfecting public spaces and homes against COVID-19, recommends surfaces frequently touched by multiple people, such as door handles, desks, faucets, and light switches, be disinfected at least daily, with certain surfaces, such as shopping carts and sale keypads, being disinfected more often, including before each use.
Speaking with Bloomberg, Rich Feczko, national director of systems, standards and innovation at Crothall Healthcare, said the pace at which the company is cleaning hundreds of hospitals has accelerated. "Our frequencies have ramped up in public places like lobbies and elevators to 6–8 times per day," with restrooms cleaned every two hours.
Spraying Disinfectants May Be Especially DangerousAdding to the problem is the way some of the disinfectants are being applied. Using sprayers that aerosolized disinfectants is becoming increasingly popular during the pandemic, as it allows cleaners to cover far more space in a shorter period of time. Electrostatic sprayers also add a positive charge so the chemicals stick to surfaces.
The New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) issued a health alert bulletin that fogging ambulances with toxic disinfectants may cause illness after four emergency medical technicians were diagnosed with work-related asthma.
"Fogging is not recommended in ambulances," NJDOH warned. "Often, the active ingredients are respiratory irritants and sensitizers and include chemicals such as, chlorine, phenol, quaternary ammonium compounds ("quats"), alcohols, or hydrogen peroxide compounds (listed in decreasing order of toxicity)."
The World Health Organization (WHO) similarly warned: "In indoor spaces, routine application of disinfectants to surfaces via spraying is not recommended for COVID-19. If disinfectants are to be applied, these should be via a cloth or wipe which is soaked in the disinfectant." Despite this, industrial cleaning companies are moving to use spraying technologies once reserved for hospitals in school busses.
"If we can spray it in a Hershey's food plant or at a hospital, we can certainly spray it on a school bus," Bob Gorski, president of cleaning company Merrick Group, told Bloomberg. In several places around the world, including major cities and popular public areas, such as Turkey's Grand Bazaar, clouds of disinfectants are even being dispersed into the sky via drones, even though experts have warned the practice likely is not effective and could be toxic to humans.