The COVID-19 pandemic has increased demand for antimicrobial chemicals in building products like doorknobs, countertops, and paint. However, a joint statement released by leading green building organizations, architects, and scientists warns that building materials with added antimicrobials have no proven health benefit—and may be harmful.
In response to the surge in advertising for antimicrobial products, the statement’s authors sought evidence-based guidance for the building industry. They found that outside of limited studies on copper, no building products with added antimicrobials have been shown to reduce viral infections in people. Worse, many of the chemicals are linked to health and environmental harm, and could produce resistance to the antibiotics we depend on to fight disease.
“Unfortunately, the science behind antimicrobials in building products doesn’t live up to the marketing claims,” said Tom Bruton, Senior Scientist at the Green Science Policy Institute. “In fact, these products may be providing a false sense of protection from the novel coronavirus while posing other health threats.”
Antimicrobials used in building products include quaternary ammonium compounds, which are associated with asthma—a potential risk factor for severe COVID-19. Triclosan, which can disrupt hormone functioning, is banned in hand soaps but is still used in some building products. However, the identities of the chemicals used in products are often not disclosed.
The statement concludes that antimicrobials should not be used in building products when not required for product preservation. The authors urge building product manufacturers to practice truthful advertising and to disclose the compounds they use. They also call for more hazard assessments and research.
“Now more than ever, we should strive to create healthier spaces for people to live and work,” said Gina Ciganik, Chief Executive Officer of Healthy Building Network. “Architects, designers, and building owners should take a precautionary approach and avoid unproven solutions with known harms.”
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