I bet an aerosol disinfectant spray is probably at the top of your buying list for this weeks shopping?
Tell me if you haven’t seen workers dressed in protective suits and rubber boots, carrying tanks of disinfectants, hosing down plazas, roads, steps, airports, vehicles, indoor spaces and even people, occasionally. This is a common sight in countries all over the world where governments are trying to eliminate the novel coronavirus by spraying aerosol disinfectant sprays.
But is this practice really as effective as it seems? According to WHO, “Spraying or fumigation of outdoor spaces, such as streets or marketplaces, is not recommended to kill the COVID-19 virus or other pathogens because disinfectant is inactivated by dirt and debris.” While it is effective to clean doorknobs, handles, railings, high-touched surfaces with disinfectants, it is not advisable to use aerosol disinfectant sprays for especially outdoors. Not only does spraying the aerosol disinfectants pose a risk on your health but it may also have negative environmental impacts.
What are Aerosol Disinfectant Sprays?
Most people believe that spritzing aerosol disinfectant sprays outdoors helps control the spread of the virus. But is this information accurate? Research has shown, it is unlikely that spraying disinfectants adequately covers all surfaces for the duration of the required contact time needed to inactivate pathogens. Even if disinfectant reaches every outdoor surface and stays there, sunlight and build-up of organic matter on surfaces will rapidly deactivate its effect. It is because most of the disinfectant sprays are composed of chlorine which quickly decomposes in the environment. Also, for the coronavirus to infect a person, it has to enter the person’s body, and that can only happen if the person touches his face (mouth and eyes) after touching an infected surface. But when is the last time you remember touching the road, pavements, with your bare hands and then touching your face? It is very improbable.
If we talk about hand-rails and road crossing buttons, these surfaces need cleaning before being sanitized with bleach. The prior cleaning is to make sure there is no organic build-up on the surfaces. Even if cleaning is done prior to sanitising, this process needs to be consistent as the next time an infected person touches the surface it can be recontaminated. Evidently, a one-time spray isn’t going to solve the purpose. Which is why it is advised to stay at home. If going out is a sheer necessity, always wash your hands as frequently as possible.
So if doing aerosol disinfectant sprays outdoors isn’t effectual, then why is it done? While some countries are making workers dressed in protective suits spritz aerosol disinfectant sprays, some like China, Russia, Iran, and Indonesia are even using trucks to spritz more quickly. Even though spraying disinfectants in urban areas is unlikely to be effective, there are, however, a couple of reasons why countries may be doing this. One reason that instantly comes to mind is that governments want the public to feel safe. It wants them to see that the authorities are taking actions to ensure the public’s safety. Although there may be a downside to this. With people feeling that it is safe to go outside, they will hardly follow the norms of social distancing. Not to mention that the general public may fail to notice how over spraying of aerosol disinfectants has negative impacts on the environment.
Environmental Impacts of Aerosol Disinfectant Spray
The commonly used disinfectants can roughly be categorized into poisonous chlorine disinfectants and non-toxic alcohol disinfectants. It is quite obvious that excessive spraying of poisonous chlorine aerosol disinfectants will surely pose a threat on the environment. According to environmental protection expert, Peng Yingdeng, when the poisonous chlorine aerosol disinfectant spray is spritzed on the roads, it will go into sewer pipes, then enter the drainage system, and then the rainwater system. If the disinfection is used inordinately, it can seep into underground water. If mixed with underground water, it may enter the food chain, get eaten by aquatic creatures and eventually by humans. Furthermore, when sprayed in the greenbelts, the soil will absorb the disinfectant and it will infiltrate slowly into the underground water. Meanwhile, the disinfectants used indoors at hospitals will enter the sewage system. Without proper treatment is done, the influence of such disinfectants can also be harmful. Chemicals like phosphorous and nitrates often don’t get removed by water treatment facilities. They may return to the waterways to cause algal blooms that play havoc with the ecosystems and waterways.
Packaging of Aerosol Disinfectant Spray
On the one hand spritzing of aerosol disinfectant is a major concern, on the other hand the packaging of these sprays poses a similar threat. Many products come in aerosol cans, containing a propellant gas. This gas, which is often chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) although non-toxic and chemically inert, is proven to damage the ozone layer. In addition, many aerosol disinfectant sprays come in plastic containers which may be very light and durable but are very slow to biodegrade. One way by which pollution through packaging can be reduced is to buy such products that allow for the use of refills. Buying concentrated product in a bulk amount reduces the amount of packaging required.
Health Concerns of Using Aerosol Disinfectant Spray
Although this topic has little to do with the environment, it is still a matter of concern. We have seen how malls, community centres, offices, etc are making use of “mist tunnels” to spritz aerosol disinfectant spray on people as they enter. Spraying toxic chemicals on people can cause eye and skin irritation. It may also lead to bronchospasm and gastrointestinal effects. Also, people with asthma and other respiratory conditions are advised to stay away from places where aerosol disinfectants are being sprayed. It is understandable how chlorine disinfectants might be stronger, but alcohol-based aerosol disinfectant sprays are evidently the better choice.
So, what is the best path forward? Given that person to person transmission of the virus is the most likely way of the spread, it would be more important to focus on how to keep following social-distancing. Also, instead of excessively spraying the aerosol disinfectant sprays, it is better to wipe surfaces with disinfectants. Not to forget, how the best way to control the outspread of coronavirus is to not spritz intemperate amounts of aerosol disinfectant sprays in the environment but to practice safety norms instead. Staying home if you are sick, reducing close contact with others, making sure to cover your mouth if you sneeze or cough, and washing your hands regularly for at least 20 seconds, is the better way to go.
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