Women’s Health Organization Calls for The Clorox Company to Quit Toxic ‘Quats’ in Disinfecting Products
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – Environmental health non-profit, Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE), is raising concerns about the use of antibacterial chemicals commonly found in disinfecting products like wipes, sprays, and all-purpose cleaners. Registered as pesticides with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), ammonium quaternary compounds — or “quats” — are linked to adverse health effects including asthma, dermatitis, reproductive harm, and the spread of antimicrobial resistance bacteria, often referred to as “super-bugs”.
As a major manufacturer of disinfecting products, WVE is calling on The Clorox Company to be a leader in product safety and eliminate quats from their products.
“Disinfectants with quats, like those sold by Clorox, are pushed on the public as must-haves for preventing illness, but in most circumstances these products are unnecessary, excessive and can be outright dangerous,” said Sarada Tangirala, Director of Corporate Accountability at WVE. “Under this guise of ‘health’ and ‘clean’, quats are instead putting workers at risk for work-related asthma, and exposing people to chemicals linked to fertility issues and reproductive harm. As one of the largest manufacturers of household and institutional cleaners, Clorox has the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to protecting public health, instead of using chemicals that put it at risk. It’s time for Clorox to quit quats for good.”
Disinfecting products that contain quats are marketed as potent germ-killers and often used in homes and public spaces like schools, gyms, grocery stores and office buildings to combat germs.
“While quats do kill germs on surfaces — they are pesticides after all — studies of quat use in households have never proven to actually reduce colds or flu in the people who live there,” said Alexandra Scranton, Director Science and Research at WVE. “Meanwhile, the health impacts linked to these chemicals is real and cause for alarm.”
Emerging science shows that exposure to quats is harming sperm quality, reducing fertility and resulting in birth defects in mice; how quats are impacting human reproductive health is still unknown.  In addition, links to respiratory conditions are of particular concern. For example, studies reveal quats as triggering new cases of work-related asthma (asthma caused by work) as well as cases of work-aggravated asthma. 
Because of these health concerns, authoritative bodies like The San Francisco Department of the Environment recommend using cleaning products in public spaces — including schools, parks and office buildings — that do not contain quats, calling specific attention to the chemicals’ connection to asthma, its toxicity to aquatic life, and potential links to reproductive harm. In addition, in places like Washington, the State Department of Health specifically warns teachers about using disinfectants with quats in the classrooms, noting children are particularly vulnerable to chemical exposures like asthma triggers.
“Asthma triggers like quats create additional burden on respiratory health, especially in communities that are already overwhelmed with pollutants and exposures impacting air quality,” said Tangirala.
Antibacterials have also recently received scrutiny from the Food and Drug Association (FDA). In 2016, the FDA banned the chemical triclosan and 18 other less commonly used antibacterial chemicals from soaps used in a household setting. And in 2018, this ban was extended to hand soaps and sanitizers marketed specifically for use in healthcare settings. The FDA is currently reviewing two quats — benzalkonium chloride and benzethonium chloride — for not only safety, but for their effectiveness at actually reducing illness.
WVE has collected over 13,000 petition signatures from women and men concerned about the health impacts of quats in Clorox products, particularly in regards to exposures from these chemicals in public spaces.
“Avoiding quats, especially in public spaces, is incredibly challenging. As a cleaning products giant, Clorox can immediately help reduce public exposure to quats by eliminating it from their widely used both household and institutional disinfecting products,” said Tangirala.
In addition, WVE is encouraging Clorox to go beyond quats and address improvements to their chemical safety screening methods and criteria.
“Toxic chemicals should not be ending up in products in the first place, and when we see harmful ingredients like quats in Clorox products, we have very real concerns about the company’s standards for chemical safety screening,” said Tangirala. “Clean should not be toxic.”
Since 2007, Women’s Voices for the Earth has run a sustained campaign to promote ingredient safety and ingredient disclosure in the cleaning products industry, including their most recent report Health First: A Cleaning Products Industry Roadmap for Selecting Safer Chemicals and Inspiring Consumer Trust. WVE’s “Quit the Quats” work is supported by partner organizations, Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families and CalPIRG.
About Women’s Voices for the Earth
Founded in 1995, Women’s Voices for the Earth is a national environmental health organization that works to amplify women’s voices to eliminate toxic chemicals that harm our health and communities. www.womensvoices.org
Beth Conway – Communications Director
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Alexandra Scranton – Director of Science and Research
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 Melin VE, Potineni H, Hunt P, Griswold J, Siems B, Werre SR, and Hrubec TC (2014) Exposure to common quaternary ammonium disinfectants decreases fertility in mice. Reproductive Toxicology; 50: 163–170. December 2014.
 Melin VE, Melin TE, Dessify BJ, Nguyen CT, Shea CS, and Hrubec TC (2016) Quaternary ammonium disinfectants cause subfertility in mice bytargeting both male and female reproductive processes. Reproductive Toxicology; 59: 159–166. December 2016.
 Jajosky, RA et. al. (1999) Surveillance of Work-Related Asthma in Selected U.S. States Using Surveillance Guidelines for State Health Departments – California, Massachusetts, Michigan, and New Jersey, 1993-95. MMWR 1999:48 (No. SS-3) June 25, 1999.