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Daily News Blog

07
Feb

Should EPA Allow Disinfectant Products that Increase Vulnerability to Covid-19, when Alternatives Exist?

(Beyond Pesticides, February 7, 2022) Recent research on quaternary ammonium compounds (QACs) shows the critical need for a reassessment of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) criteria for determining appropriate disinfectant products where coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19), is a concern. EPA maintains a list of disinfectants—List N—that it expects to kill all strains and variants of SARS-CoV-2. However, in creating List N, EPA fails to consider dangers posed by some of the chemicals. QACs, in particular, can cause serious acute and chronic health problems.

>>Tell EPA to reassess its criteria for List N and delist quaternary ammonia compounds. Tell Congress to make sure EPA does its job. 

Early in the pandemic, emphasis was placed on disinfecting surfaces, under the mistaken assumption that transmission of the virus was primarily through contact with contaminated surfaces, or fomites. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is now known that, “The principal mode by which people are infected with SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) is through exposure to respiratory droplets carrying infectious virus. It is possible for people to be infected through contact with contaminated surfaces or objects (fomites), but the risk is generally considered to be low.”

 A study published in Environmental Science and Technology finds that concentrations of QACs in the human body have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, raising health and safety concerns. QACs include a variety of chemicals in personal care, pharmaceutical, and medical products used as disinfectants, sanitizers, antimicrobials. However, over the past 70 years, large-scale production and use of these compounds led to accumulation in the environment, including surface water, sediment, and soil. Previously, researchers thought most QACs lack the potential to bioaccumulate, but emerging evidence demonstrates that specific QACs bioaccumulate in blood and other body tissues and can cause a range of toxic effects. Therefore, studies like this highlight the significance of monitoring chemical exposure for adverse health effects. The researchers note, “Further efforts are needed to explore the relationship between the use of QAC-containing products and the levels of QACs in human blood or of their metabolites in urine. Considering the increased use of some QACs as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, our findings warrant further exposure and epidemiological research focused on QACs.” The results show 15 out of the 18 QACs are detectable in blood samples, with QAC concentrations significantly higher during the pandemic than prior to it. The main routes of exposure include diet, inhalation, ingestion, or the skin.

While EPA has certified several disinfectants as effective against COVID-19 (List N), many of these chemicals are hazardous. Quaternary ammonium compounds are among some of the most harmful disinfectants, as their “long-lasting” properties have adverse impacts on human health, which has extensive documentation in the scientific literature. Effects include mutations, lower fertility, and increased antibiotic resistance. QAC disinfectants’ overuse in U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) detainment centers caused nose bleeds and other adverse health effects. Furthermore, teachers are seeking less harmful disinfectants to use in the classroom, especially as many are experiencing adverse impacts of disinfectant use (e.g., chemical skin burns, respiratory issues). Since EPA has listed so many disinfectant products containing QACs, they remain ubiquitous in the environment as use continues.

EPA is currently promoting false reasoning that a chemical that kills a pathogen necessarily protects health. Although disinfectants like QACs, kill viruses, bacteria, and other microbes via cell wall and protein destruction, they can also negatively affect the immune system, thus reducing resistance to disease. People who have a preexisting condition or are of advanced age, who may have a weakened immune or respiratory system, are more vulnerable to the effects of the virus. When managing viral and bacterial infections, chemicals that exacerbate the risk to vulnerable individuals are of serious concern.

While Beyond Pesticides identifies “Disinfectants to Avoid,” including those with OACs, many safer disinfectants are, at the same time, listed by EPA as effective against the virus, including citric acid, ethanol, isopropanol, L-lactic acid, hydrogen peroxide, sodium bisulfate, dodecylbenzene sulfonic acid, and thymol. Products containing these chemicals are present on Beyond Pesticides’ list of “Disinfectants to Look for.” Avoid pressure to use toxic disinfectants, despite the availability of safer products. In fact, while [CDC] is recommending 70% alcohol for surface disinfection, [EPA’s] Office of Pesticide Programs promotes the use of unnecessarily toxic substances.

QACs are harmful to the respiratory system and have a long list of adverse effects from cancer and genetic mutations to lower fertility and increase antibiotic resistance. Most recently, the QAC antimicrobial cetylpyridinium chloride (CPC) has raised concerns. The compound is present in mouthwashes, lozenges, toothpaste, and nasal sprays and is thus commonly encountered orally. A recent study finds CPC has associations with adverse respiratory effects (e.g., lung inflammation). Moreover, acute oral inhalation can be fatal. Since COVID-19 is a systemic (general) disease that overwhelmingly impacts the respiratory system, exposure to CPC presents a heightened risk of co-occurring symptoms. Damage to the respiratory system can also trigger the development of extra-respiratory systemic manifestations like rheumatoid arthritis, and cardiovascular disease. Check out our downloadable infographic The Dirty Side of Disinfectants & Sanitizers.

EPA must assess all risks associated with pesticide use, including the mode of action. EPA’s failure to respond to current science is a significant shortcoming of its risk assessment process, especially regarding disease implications. In contrast to EPA, Beyond Pesticides tracks the most recent health studies related to pesticide exposure through the Pesticide-Induced Diseases Database (PIDD). This database supports the clear need for strategic action to shift away from pesticide dependency. For more information on harms associated with pesticide exposure, see PIDD pages on asthma/respiratory effects and other diseases.

>>Tell EPA to reassess its criteria for List N and delist quaternary ammonia compounds. Tell Congress to make sure EPA does its job.  

Letter to EPA Administrator and Assistant Administrator Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention

Recent research on quaternary ammonium compounds (QACs) shows the need for a reassessment of EPA’s criteria for determining appropriate disinfectants where SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19, is a concern. In creating List N of disinfectants to kill SARS-CoV-2, EPA fails to consider dangers posed by some of the chemicals. QACs, for example, can cause serious acute and chronic health problems.

Early in the pandemic, emphasis was placed on disinfecting surfaces, under the mistaken assumption that transmission of the virus was primarily through contact with contaminated surfaces, or fomites. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is now known that, “The principal mode by which people are infected with SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) is through exposure to respiratory droplets carrying infectious virus. It is possible for people to be infected through contact with contaminated surfaces or objects (fomites), but the risk is generally considered to be low.” This means that elimination of fomites can no longer be used as the basis for allowing high risks of disinfectant chemicals.

 A study published in Environmental Science and Technology finds increased concentrations of QACs in the human body during the COVID-19 pandemic, raising health and safety concerns. QACs include a variety of chemicals in personal care, pharmaceutical, and medical products used as disinfectants, sanitizers, antimicrobials. Production and use of these compounds have led to their accumulation in the environment. Emerging evidence demonstrates that specific QACs bioaccumulate in blood and other body tissues, causing a range of toxic effects. The researchers note, “Considering the increased use of some QACs as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, our findings warrant further exposure and epidemiological research focused on QACs.” Results show 15 out of the 18 QACs are detectable in blood samples, with QAC concentrations significantly higher during the pandemic than prior to it. Routes of exposure include diet, inhalation, ingestion, and the skin.

Many disinfectants on List N are hazardous. QACs are among the most harmful, with effects including mutations, lower fertility, increased antibiotic resistance, and harm to the respiratory system. The antimicrobial QAC cetylpyridinium chloride (CPC), present in mouthwashes, lozenges, toothpaste, and nasal sprays, has been associated with adverse respiratory effects (e.g., lung inflammation). Acute oral inhalation can be fatal. Since COVID-19 is a systemic disease that overwhelmingly impacts the respiratory system, exposure to CPC presents a heightened risk of co-occurring symptoms. Damage to the respiratory system can also trigger the development of systemic disease, including rheumatoid arthritis and cardiovascular disease.

Outside of the lab, QAC overuse in U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) detainment centers caused nose bleeds and other adverse health effects. Teachers experiencing adverse impacts of disinfectant use (e.g., chemical skin burns, respiratory issues) are seeking less harmful disinfectants to use in the classroom. EPA’s listing of so many disinfectant products containing QACs contributes to their ubiquitous presence in the environment.

 Although disinfectants like QACs kill pathogens, they can also negatively affect the immune system, thus reducing resistance to disease. People who have a preexisting condition or are of advanced age, who may have a weakened immune or respiratory system, are more vulnerable to the effects of the virus. When managing viral and bacterial infections, chemicals that exacerbate the risk to vulnerable individuals are of serious concern.

EPA must assess all risks associated with disinfectant use and must reevaluate its assessment of their benefits. QACs do not belong on List N. EPA’s failure to respond to current science is a significant shortcoming of its risk assessment process, especially regarding disease implications.

Letter to U.S. Senators and Representatives:

Recent research on quaternary ammonium compounds (QACs) shows the need for a reassessment of EPA’s criteria for determining appropriate disinfectants where SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19, is a concern. In creating List N of disinfectants to kill SARS-CoV-2, EPA fails to consider dangers posed by some of the chemicals. QACs, for example, can cause serious acute and chronic health problems.

Early in the pandemic, emphasis was placed on disinfecting surfaces, under the mistaken assumption that transmission of the virus was primarily through contact with contaminated surfaces, or fomites. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is now known that “The principal mode by which people are infected with SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) is through exposure to respiratory droplets carrying infectious virus. It is possible for people to be infected through contact with contaminated surfaces or objects (fomites), but the risk is generally considered to be low.” This means that elimination of fomites can no longer be used as as the basis for allowing high risks of disinfectant chemicals.

 A study published in Environmental Science and Technology finds increased concentrations of QACs in the human body during the COVID-19 pandemic, raising health and safety concerns. QACs include a variety of chemicals in personal care, pharmaceutical, and medical products used as disinfectants, sanitizers, antimicrobials. Production and use of these compounds have led to their accumulation in the environment. Emerging evidence demonstrates that specific QACs bioaccumulate in blood and other body tissues, causing a range of toxic effects. The researchers note, “Considering the increased use of some QACs as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, our findings warrant further exposure and epidemiological research focused on QACs.” Results show 15 out of the 18 QACs are detectable in blood samples, with QAC concentrations significantly higher during the pandemic than prior to it. Routes of exposure include diet, inhalation, ingestion, and the skin.

Many disinfectants on List N are hazardous. QACs are among the most harmful, with effects including mutations, lower fertility, increased antibiotic resistance, and harm to the respiratory system. The antimicrobial QAC cetylpyridinium chloride (CPC), present in mouthwashes, lozenges, toothpaste, and nasal sprays, has been associated with adverse respiratory effects (e.g., lung inflammation). Acute oral inhalation can be fatal. Since COVID-19 is a systemic disease that overwhelmingly impacts the respiratory system, exposure to CPC presents a heightened risk of co-occurring symptoms. Damage to the respiratory system can also trigger the development of systemic disease, including rheumatoid arthritis and cardiovascular disease.

Outside of the lab, QAC overuse in U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) detainment centers caused nose bleeds and other adverse health effects. Teachers experiencing adverse impacts of disinfectant use (e.g., chemical skin burns, respiratory issues) are seeking less harmful disinfectants to use in the classroom. EPA’s listing of so many disinfectant products containing QACs contributes to their ubiquitous presence in the environment.

 Although disinfectants like QACs kill pathogens, they can also negatively affect the immune system, thus reducing resistance to disease. People who have a preexisting condition or are of advanced age, who may have a weakened immune or respiratory system, are more vulnerable to the effects of the virus. When managing viral and bacterial infections, chemicals that exacerbate the risk to vulnerable individuals are of serious concern.

Please ensure that EPA assesses all risks associated with disinfectant use and must reevaluate its assessment of their benefits. QACs do not belong on List N. EPA’s failure to respond to current science is a significant shortcoming of its risk assessment process, especially regarding disease implications.

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