Back to School Lessons: Avoiding Disinfectant Wipes with Quats
It feels like summer has only just begun yet schools are already sending out supply lists for the 2021/2022 school year! I like to get an early start on getting my kids stocked for school to make sure the stores don’t run out of the essentials (If I don’t hit up stores in early August all the glue sticks and markers are gone by the time school starts at the end of August!).
One thing you can usually find on supply lists is disinfectant wipes. As we continue to weather the pandemic, the perceived need to disinfect hasn’t gone away. And unfortunately, that means continued exposure to disinfectant pesticides like ammonium quaternary compounds (or quats) that can cause asthma, reproductive harm, severe rashes, and contribute to antimicrobial resistance (i.e. super bugs!).
Commonly found quats in household products usually include “…onium chloride” in their names. Examples of commonly found quats are:
- Benzalkonium chloride
- Alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride (C14 60%, C16 30%, C12 5%, C18 5%)
- Alkyl dimethyl ethylbenzyl ammonium chloride(C12-14)
- Didecyldimethylammonium chloride
As schools work to best protect their students and staff, it is also essential this protection includes preventing exposures from toxic chemicals, particularly in regards to the overuse and misuse of disinfectants. Safer products are not just important for children and teachers, they are a necessity for protecting the health of workers who are routinely exposed to these products on a daily basis.
So, when you see disinfectant wipes (often the brand name Clorox) on your back to school list consider having a conversation with the teacher about whether wipes are even necessary (there is no evidence that disinfecting reduces transmission of COVID-19 or any other disease in schools) and/or also ask that the teacher request cleaning wipes (without disinfectant chemicals) or ones with the active ingredients hydrogen peroxide or lactic acid, both of which are much safer.
Sometimes the safer disinfecting wipes can be hard to find in retail stores. Thankfully, some retail stores are recognizing the health concerns and have committed to stocking safer alternatives. This year, Office Depot announced the company will stock more safer alternatives in their commitment to safer chemical management. We need more retailers to step up and prioritize providing shelf space for products that will not harm our health.
The use of quats-based disinfectant certainly isn’t confined to schools. They are also used frequently in gyms, workplaces, and other public spaces. Women’s Voices for the Earth has pulled together some helpful resources to help reduce the use of these harmful pesticides. We also have a national action group, People Against Quats (PAQ), who are concerned about quats in public spaces.
You can learn more about the PAQ group here.
As summer draws to a close and you have your school supply list in hand, look for safer alternatives to the disinfectant wipes that may be on the supply list. And if you need support in transitioning your school to safer disinfectants, WVE is here to support you!
To safe and healthy schools!
TOOLKIT: How to Talk to Schools about Safer Disinfectants. Toolkits available for both students and parents.
New recommendations from the CDC on using disinfectants to combat COVID-19
Sample letter to schools regarding use of disinfectants and safer alternatives
List of Safer Disinfectants – and how-to search for your disinfectant on the EPA’s N-List