Ban on Antimicrobials Sparks ACA Response


American paint and coatings manufacturers are urging one of the nation’s largest healthcare systems to modify a ban on the use of antimicrobial products, including paints, in its facilities.

In a letter sent to Kaiser Permanente in June, the American Coatings Association said it was concerned with the broad nature of Kaiser’s “Prohibition of Antimicrobial Chemicals in Fabrics, Furniture and Finishes Bulletin,” (Bulletin Number: 2015-05).

The healthcare system announced its position on antimicrobial substances in December 2015, targeting 15 specific chemicals commonly found in paints, flooring and other building products.

“Health care interiors can be beautiful spaces designed to inspire health and healing,” said John Kouletsis, Kaiser Permanente’s vice president of facilities planning and design, in a statement the company issued at the time.

“But lurking beneath the surface can be a surprising number of pollutants that are anything but benevolent.”

In arriving at the decision to ban, Kaiser Permanente—which it says operates 38 hospitals and more than 600 medical offices throughout the U.S.—cited experts and a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, published in 2003, that said “no evidence is available to suggest that use of products treated with antimicrobial chemicals will make patients healthier or prevent disease.”

In 2006, the hospital system began asking its architects and designers to stop using antimicrobial products. But it wasn’t until recently that the company had a formal policy against using them.

Letter of Concern

In its letter to Kaiser Permanente’s National Facilities Services, ACA expressed concern with a chemical management approach based on a single attribute and noted that, as written, the policy could actually bar Kaiser from specifying low-VOC (volatile organic compounds), water-based coatings.

ACA offered industry insight into the various usages of antimicrobials in paints and coatings.

“Manufacturers use antimicrobial substances for a variety of reasons, for example, as in-can preservatives, and to protect the dry paint film in particularly humid climates,” ACA said. Those substances are fully registered under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act as in-can preservatives, the association explained.

© / David Marchal

Antimicrobial paints and coatings boast "germ-killing" characteristics.

Further, ACA added that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency exempts in-can preservatives and antimicrobial claims made for the paint film from FIFRA under the “treated articles exemption.” Each of the preservatives listed in Kaiser’s policy have been reviewed and determined as safe under FIFRA, ACA said.

Moreover, the association noted that some manufacturers have formulated paints and coatings that claim “full biocidal benefits” and these products are registered as biocidal products under FIFRA, having undergone extensive testing, risk assessment and labeling requirements.

ACA: Ban is Unclear

The association says that the bulletin language is unclear on whether Kaiser is focused solely on “products and finishes” that claim to offer a biocidal benefit or if the use of antimicrobials as in-can or dry film preservatives could also be affected by the ban.

“However, after speaking with a Kaiser representative, ACA understands that banning the use of in-can preservatives was not the intention of the policy,” the manufacturers group reported. “ACA is requesting that Kaiser update the Bulletin to better define the narrower scope of the policy.”

Antimicrobials Usage Increasing

Additional concerns with the bulletin were also raised, including ACA’s disagreement with the notion that “products and finishes that do not contain these additives or treatments are increasingly available.”

Contrary, ACA says that as manufacturers continue to develop and produce more low-VOC coatings, the percentage of products using antimicrobial substances actually increases.

“Emulsion polymer binder systems are responsible for the drastic reduction in the use of organic solvents which are typically the source of VOCs from the paint and coatings industry,” ACA explained. “Over the past three decades, industry has switched from traditional polymer systems that used organic solvents to emulsion polymer systems where the primary solvent in the formulation is water.

“This switch has allowed paint and coatings formulators to lower the concentration of VOCs in the final products, which has drastically decreased the potential impacts of paints and coatings on human health and the environment. Due to the increased concentration of water (which introduces microbial substances into the system), and the decreased concentration of organic solvents (which traditionally inhibited microbial growth) these and other products have become more prone to microbial contamination from bacteria, yeasts, and fungi.”

The preservatives also, ACA argued, help Kaiser further sustainability goals by extending the useful life of the paints and coatings products.

In addition to narrowing the ban’s scope and ACA urged Kaiser to exempt both treated articles and FIFRA-registered products manufactured by the paint and coatings industry.


Tagged categories: Anti-microbial; Antimicrobial coatings; Centers for Disease Control; Coating chemistry; Coatings Technology; Construction chemicals; Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Health and safety; Health Care/Hospitals; North America

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