Publications : 2022

Boles C, Maier A, Vincent M, Stewart C, Attar S, Yeomans D. 2022. Multi-route exposure sampling of quaternary ammonium compounds and ethanol surface disinfectants in a K-8 school. Indoor Air 00e13036. doi: 01.1111/ina.13036.


The frequency of surface disinfectant use has increased over the last several years in public settings such as schools, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although these products are important for infection control and prevention, their increased use may intensify the exposure to both persons applying the disinfection product as well as bystanders. Safety assessments have demonstrated that these products, when used as intended, are considered safe for use and effective; however, point-of-contact effects (such as respiratory or dermal irritation) may still occur. Additionally, relative exposures may vary significantly due to the wide variation in disinfectant formulation and application methods. Quantitative estimations of exposures to two commonly used active ingredients, quaternary ammonium compounds (QACs) and ethanol, are not well characterized during product use and application scenarios. To assess the potential for health risks attributable to increased use in classroom settings, as well as to quantitatively evaluate the potential exposure to both ethanol and QACs, student and adult bystander surface and air measurements were collected in a K-8 school setting in Ohio, United States, over a three-day period. Direct-reading instruments were utilized to collect real-time air samples that characterized mass fraction concentrations following the use of the QAC- and ethanol-based disinfectants. Furthermore, surface and air sampling of microbial species were conducted to establish the overall bioburden and effectiveness of each disinfectant to inform the comparative risk and health effect impacts from the tested products use scenario. Both tested products were approximately equally effective at reducing bioburdens on desk surfaces. In some classrooms, concentrations of QAC congeners were significantly increased on desk surfaces following the application of the disinfectant spray; however, the magnitude of the change in concentration was small. Ethanol was not measured on surfaces due to its volatility. Airborne concentrations increased immediately following spray of each disinfectant product but rapidly returned to baseline. Each of the QAC congeners listed in the product safety data sheets were detected and measurable on desk surfaces; however, air concentrations were generally below the limit of detection. The 15-min time-weighted averages (TWAs) of both QACs and ethanol in the air were below respective health effects benchmarks, and therefore, the negative impact on health outcomes is considered to be minimal from short-term, repeated use of ethanol- or QAC-based spray products in a school setting when the products are used as directed.