What is in a biocide. Are they toxic? Is a disinfectant a biocide?
A biocide is intended to destroy, deter, render harmless, or exert a controlling effect on any harmful organism. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) uses a definition for biocides as “a diverse group of poisonous substances including preservatives, insecticides, disinfectants, and pesticides used for the control of organisms that are harmful to human or animal health or that cause damage to natural or manufactured products” (source https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biocide).
We rely on biocides for many things. For example, we disinfect our hands at hospitals to avoid spreading bacteria, and we use mosquito repellents to avoid nasty bites.
Almost all of the biocidal active substances have a relative high toxicity, Although the definition of biocides is quite strict, today during the Covid period little distinction is made at the layman level for disinfectants that contain high does of alcohols and approved biocides. One must follow all chemical handling and use recommendations.
What’s in a biocide? (click here)
EPA Registered Hard Surface Disinfectants Comparison Chart
The concerns with biocides
Attention to workers’ and visitors’ exposure to chemicals in the product selections, particularly respiratory and dermal irritants or asthmagens, is an important consideration. “Cleaning and disinfecting are important parts of a comprehensive infection prevention strategy. While demand for more effective cleaning and disinfecting is growing, there is also increasing evidence that exposure to cleaning and disinfecting can result in acute and chronic health effects, particularly respiratory illness.“ (Quinn et al, 2015). The authors do suggest more research is needed on how to weigh the type of cleaner used with the potential for occupational exposure with the type of cleaning and disinfection that is appropriate for a given area (Bello et al, 2009; Quinn et al, 2015). Some ideas to reduce occupational exposure are modifications to cleaning schedules, appropriate product selection, and ventilation to reduce exposure. Use of personal protective equipment is also important (Weber et al, 2016). During those years steam sanitizers were not available. Now they are.
Steam is H2O (the gaseous form of water). SaniZap® units make steam. The exact biocide chemicals and concentrations vary depending on the region. Here is a site for Europe. Non EU countries may or may not be similar.
Weber, D. J., Consoli, S. A., & Rutala, W. A. (2016). Occupational health risks associated with the use of germicides in health care. American journal of infection control, 44(5), e85-e89.
Bello, A., Quinn, M. M., Perry, M. J., & Milton, D. K. (2009). Characterization of occupational exposures to cleaning products used for common cleaning tasks-a pilot study of hospital cleaners. Environmental Health, 8(1), 11.
Quinn, M. M., Henneberger, P. K., Braun, B., Delclos, G. L., Fagan, K., Huang, V., … & Maher, K. A. (2015). Cleaning and disinfecting environmental surfaces in health care: toward an integrated framework for infection and occupational illness prevention. American journal of infection control, 43(5), 424-434.
Quinn, P. J., Markey, B. K., Leonard, F. C., Fitzpatrick E. S., Fanning, S., Hartigan P. 2011. Veterinary Microbiology and Microbial Disease. Second Edition. John Wiley & Sons.