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  • Ermine Herman

The Dangers of COVID-19 Over Sanitization

The new Sars-CoV-2 (COVID-19) protocols developed by international agencies and adopted by national authorities emphasizes the need for cleaning and sanitization to minimize the risk to the COVID-19 virus, which has instilled fear and trepidation into the hearts of many.


Over the past few months as businesses reopen and life continues with a sense of normalcy, the flip-side to the sanitization programmes instituted by many organizations will begin to take a toll and create another public health nightmare.


With Covid-19 taking precedence over current public health matters, there have always been concerns for the impact of the new protocols on indoor air quality. Research has shown a direct correlation between increased sanitising and increased indoor air contamination. A number of our local clients (H&L Environmental Services Ltd) have been monitoring the indoor air quality, via continuous monitoring devices. These devices assess an important pollutant, which is total Volatile Organic compounds (tVOC). The results have been astounding. While the outdoor air quality has improved by 30% and saved lives in highly polluted countries (Bourzac, 2020), the opposite has been documented for indoor air quality where spikes in tVOC concentrations have been alarming (Awair, 2020).


Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are emitted as gases from certain solids and liquids and include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short and long-term side effects. VOCs are found in the following (EPA, 2017):

  • cleansers and disinfectants

  • sanitising agents

  • paints, paint strippers and other solvents

  • wood preservatives

  • aerosol sprays

  • moth repellents and air fresheners

  • stored fuels and automotive products

  • hobby supplies

  • dry-cleaned clothing

  • pesticide

  • building materials and furnishings

  • office equipment such as copiers and printers, correction fluids and carbonless copy paper

  • graphics and craft materials including glues and adhesives, permanent markers and photographic solutions.

These VOCs enter the body via inhalation and have been linked to a number of health issues including but not limited to:

  • Eye, nose and throat irritation

  • Headaches, loss of coordination and nausea

  • Damage to liver, kidney and central nervous system

  • Some organics can cause cancer in animals, some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans.

With the increase in the use of alcohol based hand-sanitizers and the excessive use of ammonia and chlorine based cleaning compounds, the following trends have been identified within select establishments in St. Lucia with these air quality monitoring devices:


Figure 1: Graph showing the increase in tVOC concentrations during the COVID-era

The graph above clearly indicates an increase in tVOC concentrations during the current COVID-19 period, compared to the concentrations prior. The excessive use of sanitizing products changed an acceptable indoor environment to an unacceptable one where building occupants were negatively impacted.

Figure 2: Trend in tVOC concentration over a 24-hour period

Figure 2 indicates that during the work period, the tVOC concentration exceeds the maximum acceptable concentration of 300 – 500 ppb by 9900%. In order to curb this the following is recommended:


  1. Improve ventilation by increasing fresh air intake either mechanically (ventilation systems) or manually (opening windows and doors). The World Health Organization (WHO) has indicated the importance of proper ventilation (at least 6 air changes) to not only reduce indoor pollutants such as toxic gases, but to help reduce the possibility of spread of COVID-19.

  2. Use botanical, products deemed to be “green”. (Awair, Awair - Blog, 2019) conducted an experiment which shows that non-green cleaners e.g. Lysol and Windex increased the VOC concentrations by 638% compared to a marginal increase of 52% when botanical products were used. Also, the VOCs emitted from non-green cleaners lasted longer indoors compared to green-cleaners which dissipated quickly after use.

  3. Place sanitizing stations on building exterior for use before entry.

  4. Wash hands with soap and water frequently instead of opting to use hand sanitizers indoors.

  5. Reduce the presence of VOC producing compounds indoors.

  6. Continuously monitor the indoor air quality for compliance.


Bibliography


Awair. (2019, July 31). Awair - Blog. Retrieved from Awair Investigates: Are Green Cleaning Products Actually Healthier?: https://blog.getawair.com/awair-investigates-green-versus-non-green-cleaning-products


Awair. (2020, July 1). A VOC Sensor Can Protect Your Health in the COVID-19 Era. Retrieved from Awair - Business, Health and Wellness : https://blog.getawair.com/voc-sensor-protect-your-health-covid-19-era


Bourzac, K. (2020, September 25). COVID-19 lockdowns had strange effects on air pollution across the globe. Retrieved from Chemical and Engineering News: https://cen.acs.org/environment/atmospheric-chemistry/COVID-19-lockdowns-had-strange-effects-on-air-pollution-across-the-globe/98/i37


EPA. (2017, December 1). Identifying Problems in the Indoor Environments. Retrieved August 27, 2018, from Environmental Protection Agency: https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/identifying-problems-indoor-environments


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