A joint statement released by leading green construction organizations has raised concerns about the increasing demand and use of antimicrobial chemicals in building materials. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a surge in antimicrobial construction products, such as countertops and doorknobs. But experts warn these products could actually do more harm than good.

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The statement looks at key areas of concern regarding the use of such chemicals, their effectiveness and their possible side effects on human health and the environment at large. The statement notes that while more people are now relying on these antimicrobial products, they have no proven benefits. The joint statement also questions the misleading marketing of such products.

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In recent months, there have been more advertisements geared toward promoting chemicals and disinfectants that can be applied to households in various ways in a bid to prevent the spread of COVID-19. While most advertisements sound harmless, the statement cautions that if an evidence-based approach is not taken, then more dangerous chemicals could be released into homes. The statement says that the possible environmental and health effects of these chemicals are not known.

“Unfortunately, the science behind antimicrobials in building products doesn’t live up to the marketing claims,” said Tom Bruton, one of the statement authors and a 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.”

There are many antimicrobials used in construction materials and other home products. Among the most common chemicals are quaternary ammonium compounds, which have been associated with asthma. Others include triclosan, which can affect hormone functioning and has been banned in products like hand soaps but is still allowed in building materials. Oftentimes, these chemical additions are not disclosed.

“Now more than ever, we should strive to create healthier spaces for people to live and work,” said Gina Ciganik, CEO 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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Image via Chris Robert