Many disinfectants used to disinfect against COVID-19 that meet EPA’s criteria contain the active ingredient Quaternary ammonium. Quaternary ammonium compounds (QAC) are registered with the EPA as pesticides and increasingly are being found to cause serious health effects. Mount Sinai Selikoff Centers for Occupational Health report on Quaternary Ammonium Compounds for health professionals cautions QAC exposure from cleaning products for triggering asthma symptoms even in people with no prior asthma history, among other serious harmful impacts.
Chlorine-based disinfectants also cause respiratory irritation and illness. (see sidebar)
Nurses’ regular use of disinfectants is associated with developing COPD, 24-32% higher.
AVOID and replace disinfectants and cleaners containing these chemicals:
WARNING: NEVER mix products. Mixing bleach with vinegar, ammonia or alcohol is very toxic. Clean surface dirt and rinse before disinfecting.
CHOOSE SAFER disinfectant ingredients approved by CDC and EPA N List:
Contact to surface times vary, read label instructions.
Finding Safer Disinfectant Products Approved for COVID-19
SEARCH the EPA List N database to find safer disinfectant products:
Use this link (https:bit.ly/2wQMIG5) to access database, scroll down page to Search Table of List N products by Active Ingredient, input active ingredient from SAFER list. Eliminate product results with multiple active ingredients that are listed in AVOID list.
Or download these PDF files of List N products with safer active ingredients:
When using the PDF list, only choose products highlighted in YELLOW on product lists. DO NOT USE PRODUCTS containing AVOID ingredients.
Respiratory Impacts and Disinfectants Medical References:
“Chlorine gas is a pulmonary irritant with intermediate water solubility that causes acute damage in the upper and lower respiratory tract. Exposure to low concentrations of chlorine for prolonged periods may have destruct-tive effects, as might very short-term exposure to high concentrations.” 1
“Many pesticides (disinfectants) are sensitizers or irritants capable of directly damaging the bronchial mucosa, thus making the airway very sensitive to allergens or other stimuli. Pesticides may increase the risk of developing asthma, exacerbate a previous asthmatic condition or even trigger asthma attack by increasing bronchial hyper-responsiveness.” 2
According to a 2019 analysis of the EPA Pesticide Product Labeling System and other studies, published in the American Journal of Infection Control (AJIC), asthma occurs at higher rates in adults who use disinfectants and cleaners regularly for their jobs—such as janitors and healthcare workers—than in other workers. 3
Consumer Reports issued a warning about using disinfecting wipes because they contain EPA-registered pesticides, which can be hazardous to young children and states… “Recent increases in the concentration of EPA-registered bleach products make diluting bleach correctly more confusing and difficult. More concentrated bleach products also expose staff to more bleach vapors when using the products.” 4
– The California Department of Pesticide Regulation outlines asthma-related concerns related to using bleach as disinfectant: https://bit.ly/2V5Je6B
1 Gerald F O’Malley, Chlorine Toxicity, Medscape, Updated May 13, 2019
2 Hernandez AF, Parron T, Alarcon R., Pesticides and asthma. Curr Opin Allergy Clin Immunol. 2011 Apr;11(2):90-6
3 Catherine Roberts, Why Parents Should Be Cautious When Using Household Disinfectants, Consumer Reports Feb 05, 2020
4 Consumer Reports (CR), 2013 update: Bleach-free Disinfection and Sanitizing for Child Care, Green Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting: A toolkit for Early Care and Education,