Did you know disinfection can harm you? See this best practices guide for schools from Green Seal, HSC

by Brianna Crandall — August 24, 2020 — As schools and colleges consider heightened COVID-19 disinfection regimens that can unintentionally expose students and staff to health risks from hazardous chemicals, the Healthy Green Schools & Colleges program just released Guidelines for Safer COVID-19 Cleaning and Disinfection that spell out effective and responsible cleaning practices for health and safety during the pandemic. The HGS&C program is a partnership between global nonprofit eco-certifier Green Seal and pioneering advocacy nonprofit Healthy Schools Campaign.

The Guidelines were developed by Green Seal and Healthy Schools Campaign in partnership with recognized leaders in green cleaning and facilities management (FM) at schools and universities across the US. They are based on the latest scientific understanding of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes COVID-19 and build on guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Disinfectants sometimes harm instead of help

Due to legitimate concerns about blocking COVID-19 transmissions, many organizations may be overdoing the disinfection component, according to Green Seal. Although clean surfaces are important in infection control, Green Seal points out that COVID-19 is currently seen as more likely to be spread by airborne, person-to-person transmission, and that incorrect or excessive application of chemicals can actually cause harm to the people you are trying to protect — as well as to the cleaners themselves.

Health experts caution that repeated or extended exposures to disinfectant chemicals can lead to significant health effects, especially for vulnerable populations, including children. For example, some common disinfectant ingredients, such as quaternary ammonium compounds, are linked to asthma and reproductive toxicity.

Excessive chemical exposure poses an especially grave risk for the 1 in 13 Americans with asthma — a group the CDC has identified as being at high risk for COVID-19. Choosing safer proven-effective products, especially those that do not contain asthmagens or respiratory irritants, is critical for protecting high-risk groups, notes Green Seal. The Guidelines identify the eight safest active ingredients to look for when choosing from EPA’s list of approved COVID-19 disinfectants.

The Guidelines caution against using application tools such as foggers that are being marketed for controlling COVID-19, but which unnecessarily increase hazardous chemical exposure while providing no added protection against the pathogen. They clarify when and how to safely use technologies such as electrostatic sprayers and UV-C light.

Five steps for safer schools

With actionable best practices and clear infographics, the Guidelines explain how to:

  1. Create an effective cleaning and disinfecting plan;
  2. Ensure that cleaning personnel are properly trained;
  3. Maintain sustainability and healthy indoor air;
  4. Communicate the cleaning and disinfecting plan; and
  5. Provide safer working conditions.

Green Seal CEO Doug Gatlin stated:

Blanketing a building in hazardous chemicals won’t necessarily prevent the spread of COVID-19, but it can create significant health risks for those inside, including — ironically — serious respiratory disease. After physical distancing and mask-wearing, the best tool to combat COVID-19 is accurate information. These Guidelines for safe and effective cleaning and disinfection are a handbook for schools that are committed to comprehensively protecting the health of students and staff during the pandemic.

Rochelle Davis, president and CEO of Healthy Schools Campaign, added:

Schools face many challenges in providing a healthy and safe environment for students [and] staff as they operate in a COVID-19 environment. Concerns over COVID-19 may cause some schools to over disinfect, potentially creating other health problems, wasting valuable resources or creating a false sense of security. These guidelines offer evidence-based recommendations on an effective and responsible program for maintaining a [healthy,] clean environment for students and staff.

Learn more and download Healthy Green Schools & Colleges’ Guidelines for COVID-19 Cleaning and Disinfection from the HGS&C website.