Over 400 common disinfectants currently in use could be made safer for people and the environment and could better fight the COVID-19 virus with the simple application of UVC light, a study from the University of Waterloo shows.
Benzalkonium chloride (BAK) is the most common active ingredient in many disinfectants regularly used in hospitals, households, and food processing plants to protect against a wide range of viruses and bacteria – including all strains of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 – but its toxicity means that it can’t be used in high concentrations. It also means that products containing BAK are harmful to humans and the environment.
“Our results show that a disinfecting procedure using BAK followed by UVC radiation can minimize the harmful effect of BAK residues on humans and the environment,” said Dr. David McCanna of Waterloo’s Department of Optometry & Vision Science. “Such a procedure also has a great potential to maximize the disinfection efficacy by utilizing two different antimicrobial mechanisms.
“As the pandemic continues, our findings are especially important as it provides another method to make our hospitals, food, homes, and the environment safer.”
While an important ingredient for a disinfectant’s efficacy, BAK is a severe human skin and eye irritant. The chemical’s high toxicity limits the ability to use products with a high concentration of BAK to better protect against harmful viruses and bacteria. High levels of BAK residue are also harmful to the environment, proving especially toxic to fish, aquatic invertebrates, and birds.
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