Avoiding the Risks of Pesticide-Registered Disinfectants

Did you know that many disinfectants are registered pesticides and carry serious health risks? Making the right choices when it comes to surface disinfectants can go a long way toward avoiding serious health consequences.

When you choose disinfectants to use in your home, office, or healthcare setting, know which products can negatively impact the health of those around you, the environment, and yourself. The Safer Disinfectants website is a free tool to search all the products that EPA recommends for COVID-19 disinfecting, so you can find the right product for the right disinfecting need—and identify and eliminate the increased-risk ones.

Unfortunately many disinfectants EPA identifies on its List N for COVID-19 for homes, schools, businesses, and health care facilities contain quaternary ammonium compounds (QACs) or are chlorine-based. These disinfecting chemicals can be very harmful to anyone exposed to them, but especially to those who are vulnerable to respiratory illnesses like asthma and COVID-19. It is important to know how to identify and understand the potential health risks they can cause if these chemicals are not avoided. This blog post will explain the dangers and offer effective and safer disinfectant alternatives to QAC-containing and chlorine-based disinfectants.

Why Avoid QACs and Chlorine-Based Products?

Exposure to quaternary ammonium compounds are known to exacerbate asthma conditions and can also cause asthma to develop in people who have never had it before. These disinfecting products infiltrate the airways and make them sensitive, increasing the risk for asthma attacks. This is specially dangerous for anyone who has a vulnerability from COVID-19. Occupational hazards associated with using these chemicals are important to be aware of, too. A study done with nurses revealed that regular use of disinfectants containing QACs bring a serious risk of developing COPD.

In addition to respiratory health risks, exposure to QACs and chlorine-based disinfectants can also cause eye and skin injuries. These products can cause dry skin, rashes, or even burns, with skin contact. If any of these chemicals get in eyes, irritation or even permanent eye damage can result.

Identifying Hazardous Products The simplest way to identify QACs is to use www.SaferDisinfectants.org to check for products by safety level, by name, application type or surface type. You can also look-up disinfectant products that you are using by name or manufacturer.

For those disinfectants labelled as antimicrobial, manufacturers are required to note the presence of QACs in the product. The acronym QAC or QA for this class of chemicals will not be identified on the label ingredient list. Instead, look for chemical names that will end with “[ammonium chloride].”(https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Ammonium-chloride) Unfortunately, this tactic is not fail-safe, as not all products list QACs depending on the percentage used in the product—and some have a chemical name that does not include ammonium chloride. SaferDisinfectants.org will guide you to which products are safer or increased-risk.

Choosing Safe Disinfectants

Instead of using disinfectants containing quaternary ammonium compounds or chlorine, there are plenty of safer and effective options for COVID-19. Alcohol based products, such as isopropyl alcohol or isopropanol, are not going to induce asthma or any skin or eye injuries. Extra caution should still be taken when using these products around children however. Products containing hydrogen peroxide, thymol, L-lactic acid, or citric acid are other good alternatives to products containing QACs or chlorine. More information, including a video and a printable Safer Disinfectants Buying Guide Chart for these alternatives can be found here. Remember to always clean surfaces before disinfecting and be sure to read product instructions, as contact times may vary. And never use more than one chemical at a time as the interaction of different chemicals and vapors can be highly toxic. Given the risks of asthma, vulnerability of lungs from the pandemic, and injury to eyes and skin, it’s good to know how we can identify and make safer disinfectant choices for use at home and in business.