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Don’t Be Fooled by Improper Claims of Long-Lasting Disinfection on Surfaces
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, some companies are advertising cleaning services using antimicrobial products that they claim will continue to kill SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) on surfaces for days, weeks, or even months. Before you consider using these products or services, it’s important to understand what these claims really mean, what types of pathogens they relate to, and what claims the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does and does not allow. This article will help sort through the myths and facts around what are called residual or long-lasting claims.
What types of EPA-approved residual efficacy claims can a product have and what do they mean?
There are three types of residual, or long-lasting claims, that can appear on a product’s EPA approved master label (Table 1).
Note that all of these claims apply only to bacteria or fungi, and not to viruses. Therefore, these claims are not sufficient to support use against viruses, including SARS-CoV-2. Residual sanitization and residual disinfection claims are considered public health claims meaning they imply a direct impact on human health. These claims require data submission and approval before they can be listed on the product’s EPA master label. “Static” claims like “bacteriostatic,” “mildewstatic” and “fungistatic” are non-public health claims, meaning they do not imply a direct impact on human health. These claims do not require data submission to the EPA for approval at the federal level. However, some states may require data approval in order to make claims in that state.
What are “treated articles”?
In addition to antimicrobial products with residual claims, you may also encounter products with resistant or protection claims, known as treated articles. These treatments can be incorporated into surfaces (e.g., an odor resistant trash bag) or applied to surfaces (e.g., a protective surface coating) to protect the surface itself. The claims for treated articles are commonly used to address aesthetics such as discoloration, stains, or odors. Products that are found to have treated article claims will not have an EPA registration. According to the EPA, “treated articles cannot claim they are effective against viruses and bacteria that cause human illness. This means they are not appropriate for controlling COVID-19.”1
How do I determine whether a product has EPA-approved residual efficacy claims?
To determine which residual efficacy claims a specific product carries, look up the EPA master label and search it for the key terms listed in Table 1. Products that do not make public health claims may not be EPA registered, and should not be used to kill microorganisms on surfaces. If the product is registered, here is how to find and search a product’s master label: 2
- Navigate to the EPA’s Pesticide Product Labeling System (PPLS) website.
- Enter the product’s EPA registration number into the field labeled “EPA Registration, Distributor Product, or Special Local Need Number:” and click “Search.” Companies should be able to provide this number to you, or it may appear on their product website. An example of an EPA registration number is “67619-38.”
- Open the most recent master label. The EPA includes the full history of master labels for each product, but only the most recent one will have all of the currently approved claims.
- Search the label for key terms. Terms like “residual disinfection,” “continuous disinfection,” “residual sanitization” or “residual self-sanitizer” must appear on labels that have approved residual sanitization or residual disinfection claims. Read the terms of the claim, including how often the product must be reapplied.
What is the EPA doing about residual claims in light of the pandemic?
The EPA recognizes the importance of residual kill claims against viruses in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, so they are investigating the possibility of adding these types of claims to certain product labels.3 However, until the EPA provides a clear path to obtaining residual efficacy claims against viruses, companies should not be advertising these types of claims.
Which products can I use against SARS-CoV-2?
For a full list of products that can be used against SARS-CoV-2, see EPA List N: Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19).4 List N includes products that have demonstrated efficacy against:
- at least one virus that is harder to kill than SARS-CoV-2 (Emerging Viral Pathogens Claim)
- a human coronavirus similar to SARS-CoV-2
- a harder to kill pathogen (specifically norovirus, Mycobacterium bovis/Mycobacterium tuberculosis)
All of these products are approved for disinfection of hard non-porous surfaces, but they should not be used for residual disinfection of viruses, including SARS-CoV-2.
To learn about EPA’s List N in an ever-changing environment, please read this blog post by Associate Research Fellow, Richard Lowe.
1. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Is there anything I can do to make surfaces resistant to SARS-CoV-2? https://www.epa.gov/coronavirus/there-anything-i-can-do-make-surfaces-resistant-sars-cov-2 (accessed Jul 20, 2020).
2. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Pesticide Product and Label System https://oaspub.epa.gov/apex/pesticides/f?p=PPLS:1 (accessed Jul 20, 2020).
3. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Longer-Term SARS-CoV-2 Disinfection Evaluation https://www.epa.gov/healthresearch/longer-term-sars-cov-2-disinfection-evaluation (accessed Jul 20, 2020).
4. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. List N: Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) https://www.epa.gov/pesticide-registration/list-n-disinfectants-use-against-sars-cov-2-covid-19 (accessed Jul 24, 2020).