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Paper Cautions Use of Antimicrobial Paints

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

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Paints, flooring, door knobs and other building products made with antimicrobial additives could enable proliferation of so-called “super bugs” and their use should be approached with skepticism, according to a new white paper.

Global research-driven architecture firm Perkins + Will along with the nonprofit Health Building Network conclude that antimicrobial building products “marketed as healthy or beneficial to human health contain ingredients that may have adverse environmental or human health impacts, and alternative products should be considered whenever possible.”

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The paper’s authors say the widespread use of antimicrobial building products may actually contribute to the formation and spread of illness-causing germs that no longer respond to medical treatment, i.e., super bugs.

Their 42-page report, titled “Healthy Environments: Understanding Antimicrobial Ingredients in Building Materials,” was published this month.

Words of Caution

The paper says that while building products with antimicrobial additives are relatively new to the marketplace, their recent surge in popularity has been driven by manufacturers “looking to differentiate themselves and tap into consumer demand for healthy products and healthy building environments.”

“What consumers don’t realize is that the federal government considers antimicrobials pesticides because they are agents used to kill or control living organisms—and they should therefore be used with great care,” states Suzanne Drake, a senior interior designer at Perkins + Will and a co-author of the paper.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration have both concluded that there is no evidence that antimicrobial additives provide an added benefit, even in hospitals, the paper indicates.

“The fact is, there’s zero evidence that antimicrobial additives provide a health benefit,” Drake says.

Super Bugs and Transparency

The paper’s authors say the widespread use of such products may actually contribute to the formation and spread of illness-causing germs that no longer respond to medical treatment, i.e., super bugs.

Further, they note a lack of transparency when it comes to advertising products containing antimicrobial additives, “even when you examine a Health Product Declaration or third-party certificate.”

© / annebaek

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration have both concluded that there is no evidence that antimicrobial additives provide an added benefit, even in hospitals, the paper indicates.

“Ideally, manufacturers would clearly disclose when antimicrobials are added to building products, the specific additives used, and their purpose within the product,” according to the paper.

“Until this is standard practice, the designer’s best course of action is to educate clients interested in antimicrobial products, and explain why they may want to be avoided.”

Perkins + Will has added products marketed as antimicrobial to its list of substances of concern that are generally to be avoided.

Expert Opinion

Antimicrobial agents are often found in consumer goods and building products such as surface treatments and specialized building materials, including paints and coatings, Allen Zielnik, a coatings technology expert, told D+D News.

“These agents include organohalides such as Triclosan, silver ions, copper, and quaternary ammonium compounds.”

Zielnik says that while some tests have shown that some technologies “may reduce the microbial load on treated surfaces, their effectiveness in reducing hospital acquired infections (HAI), or in improving or protecting the health of building occupants, has not been demonstrated.”

Further, he adds that concerns have recently been raised over the use of such agents, noting the recent ban on the use in hand soaps. Zielnik says the white paper summarizes the authors’ present thinking about the current use of antimicrobials in the building industry.

Industry Comments

A spokesman from Sherwin-Williams said the company “has been working with leading medical professionals and others in the health care industry to help combat disease causing bacteria.”

The paint manufacturer recently released a product called Paint Shield, billed as a microbicidal paint said to kill 99.9 percent of Staph (Staphylococcus aureus), E. coli (Escherichia coli), MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), VRE (Vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecalis) and Enterobacter aerogenes on painted surfaces within two hours of exposure, and continue to kill 90 percent of bacteria for up to four years when the integrity of the surface is maintained. The company says the product is registered with the EPA.

In response to the report, the executive director of the American Chemistry Council's Biocides Panel, Komal K. Jain, said that these chemicals are "extremely well-regulated" and "critical" components used in building materials.

"While this report primarily discusses the use of antimicrobials to protect public health and safety, most antimicrobials used in building materials act as key material preservatives.

"This report fails to clearly distinguish between these uses or explain the need for and benefits of antimicrobials as material preservatives, creating the misleading impression that antimicrobials are not beneficial additions to building materials," said Jain.

As an example, Jain said the materials ensure that low-VOC paint doesn't require refrigeration and they further extend the life of materials such as wood and drywall.

"Antimicrobials are key elements to creating more sustainable construction projects," she said. Jain also suggested that the report is based on "over generalized claims and a limited examination of the extensive body of literature supporting the safe use of antimicrobials."

The American Coatings Association did not immediately respond Monday (March 6) to a request for comment on the study or antimicrobial products in general.

Editor's Note: This story was updated at 8:49 a.m. Tuesday (March 7) to include the American Chemistry Council's response to the report.


Editor's note: This story was one of our most popular in 2017, and it appeared in our Readers' Choice edition Dec. 27.


Tagged categories: Additives; Antimicrobial coatings; Architecture; Coating chemistry; Coatings Technology; Construction chemicals; Designers; Health and safety; Health Care/Hospitals; Paint

Comment from Brent Faid, (3/7/2017, 9:06 AM)

e have used and installed epoxy coatings with antimicrobial coating in restrooms on the floor for years and our customers love it as it kills the bacteria thus not allowing the smells from urine and feeces

Comment from Colin Anderson, (3/7/2017, 1:35 PM)

Trials in a hospitals in USA (Virginia) and UK (Prof Bill Keevil, Southampton University) have clearly demonstrated that use of copper on touch surfaces reduces Hospital Acquired infections. To say copper is toxic to humans by touch is nonsense: people have worn copper bracelets for centuries, and still do.

Comment from Jesse Melton, (3/8/2017, 8:05 AM)

Colin, inorganic copper, like in jewelry and wiring, is most certainly toxic to humans.

It's a heavy metal with highly active electron trading characteristics as a function of oxidation. The long term effects are just as bad as mercury and lead.

There's a general ignorance about the metal, because, as you pointed out, copper is everywhere. Lack of information about it is so pervasive that the neurological effects are regularly treated as mental health issues instead of metal poisoning. The drunken Indian stereotype was greatly magnified by the high rate of cirrhosis and infant mortality which were assumed to be from booze, a lot of it was, but copper toxicity turned out to be the big driver as they were making all their food, even for babies, with copper cookware.

This is not new information. Copper toxicity has been known for a very long time. The Internet has allowed information about inorganic copper to circulate more freely and awareness is growing. It's going to be a bigger issue than lead.

There are more than a few people who believe copper toxicity is intentionally underreported because the entire world is going to be very unhappy about it, but we have no suitable substitutes for copper. I don't think that it's a huge conspiracy, but I do believe the issue is ignored because of the lack of alternatives. There's nothing to be done about it for a lot of applications, but we definitely shouldn't be adding copper to touch or ingestion surfaces. Copper is very toxic.

Comment from Colin Anderson, (3/8/2017, 11:14 AM)

Jessie, Copper, unlike Lead, is essential to human life: see As with fire, too much or too little can be harmful, but in the correct amounts it is a vital part of everyday life.

Comment from Jesse Melton, (3/9/2017, 11:39 AM)

Colin, organic copper is essential to Human life. It's present in plants and animals (at least the ones fed with at least some minimally processed grains and grasses). Our bodies actually store the amount of that we require. Those same storage mechanisms can also absorb and safely process some degree of inorganic copper.

But that's part of the problem itself. If your diet is such that you are getting the minerals we all need your body has a greatly reduced capacity for coping with inorganic copper. Your reserves are full. If you continue absorbing inorganic copper your body believes it doesn't have enough copper. Up until the late 1980's in Europe and the mid-90's in the US, the default treatment, based on lab results, was to medicinally increase the amount of organic copper in your system. Which just made everything worse. A lot of people died. Especially children and old people. Anemia, jaundice, physiological control problems and psychological problems we symptoms also associated with lead. A lot of research is being done to try and determine how much copper poisoning was mistakenly diagnosed as lead poisoning.

I'm no health nut. I'm fueled entirely by bread and DuPont. Until about 18 months ago I smoked three packs of Marlboro Reds a day for decades. But I've spent a fair amount of time exploring the copper issue. It's a problem that's going to be a lot easier to appreciate if you don't go to the copper lobbyists for information. Lead and asbestos had those too.

I don't think it's a reason to panic or scare everybody, but there's clearly a gap in education about the issue. Running around and smearing copper on everything is as bad of an idea as radium water.

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