Probiotics: The Future of Indoor Air Quality
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Using chemicals and indiscriminate biocides for cleaning
In March last year, the Chartered Institute of Building Service Engineers (CIBSE) published their revised recommendations for building services design (ref CIBSE TM40 Health and Well-Being in Building Services. The main alteration was to switch from a performance requirement to an outcome requirement.
This means that rather than just providing a certain amount of ventilation, the designer is responsible for providing a safe level of IAQ. The document refers to the issue of airborne chemicals from cleaning products and their health threats to both the building occupants and the cleaners. It also refers to airborne bio-allergens. It points to chemicals from cleaning products adding to the general outdoor air pollution when exhausted by the buildings’ extract ventilation systems.
It is already established that long-term cleaning operatives using chemicals endure far higher cancer rates than the general population. In addition, cleaning chemicals are linked to respiratory issues, child asthma, skin issues and disturbed gut microbiome (the balance of microorganisms in our digestive tracts, which is important for good health). Cleaning products in the USA are also linked with reproductive system health issues.
But the future looks bright, and there is an easy way to implement change: Naturally sourced, totally biodegradable probiotic cleaning products that improve hygiene results – without the negative health impacts of chemical biocides.
These also prevent odours by simply out-competing the odour causing bacteria in the first place. The resulting reduction in the use of smell-masking chemicals further reduces the indoor air pollution. The probiotics also consume bio-allergens to further improve IAQ.
What about COVID – do we need to keep using chemical cleaning agents?
All cleaning detergents break down the virus. Probiotic cleaning products are a detergent with high sustainability credentials, allowing a reduction in the use of chemical based cleaners.
Further – in September and December 2020, the Lancet published articles that moved the focus for COVID transmission away from surfaces towards airborne droplets and aerosols (very small particles).
But what about cleaning? What about sanitising surfaces?
The Lancet articles explain how Coronavirus found on surfaces were not viable. This seems to suggest that the chances of catching Coronavirus from a surface is unlikely. Other information sources repeat this.
Although fogging and sanitising had previously been considered very important, this is now under question. The true human health cost of recent high intensity cleaning and sanitisation may not be known for some time.
The average adult breathes approx. 15 kgs of air per day, and 14% of UK COVID-19 deaths are linked to the poor quality of the air the victim breathed. Given that we spend approx. 90% of time indoors (work, home, car, shops etc.), doesn’t it make sense to remove pollution from indoor air wherever we can?
It is difficult or costly to reduce the use of some pollutants (e.g. flame retardant coatings) and easy, quick and inexpensive to remove others (e.g. cleaning products). You can therefore immediately reduce the amount of chemicals used when cleaning.
What about other side-effects of cleaning?
Pre-COVID-19, the biggest issue facing the World Health Organisation (WHO) was antimicrobial resistance (AMR). AMR occurs when bacteria and viruses change over time and no longer respond to antibiotics and other medicines. This makes infections harder to treat and increases the risk of disease spread, severe illness and death. In fact, the WHO believed AMR would claim 10 million lives every year by 2050. Unfortunately, AMR is likely to become worse because of the pandemic.
This is because chemical cleaning and indiscriminate antibacterial cleaning agents create resistant strains of pathogens – often called ‘superbugs’. In fact, they are key culprits (along with overuse of antibiotics in humans and animals) in causing AMR.
For example, last summer, a British national newspaper reported that hand sanitisers also lead to an increase of dangerous pathogens on our hands. (4) Anecdotal evidence shows cleaning chemicals causing costly damage to gym equipment (Europe and the UK), transportation equipment and delicate electronic hospital equipment (USA). The effects on human health when these products are breathed in is obvious.
So how do we mitigate this, and quickly?
Probiotic cleaning products are shown to improve hygiene results, whilst reducing the issue of AMR. As the products are naturally-sourced they are safe for both building occupants and cleaning operatives. Moreover, they positively benefit the wider environment.
The Lancet suggests there is no need to exacerbate health issues by holding on to what was acceptable in the past. Just like passive smoking, a simple shift in understanding and habit can soon become the norm as health benefits become obvious. Passive smoking was once ‘ok’, but is now never acceptable (and doesn’t that seem obvious now?).
Breathing in and absorbing chemicals and other biocides aimed at the indiscriminate destruction of all bacteria will (hopefully) become socially unacceptable soon. The question is, who leads this early adoption of improved health and hygiene, and who waits until the last minute to change?
Building services industry associations in Britain are calling for ‘safe havens’ that achieve our right to breathe clean indoor air. How can chemical cleaners fit into this goal? If you are still reading, then you may be looking for an alternative to indiscriminate biocides and cleaning chemicals. One without the negative health impact on indoor air quality.
How does probiotic cleaning work?
The eco detergents/surfactants in probiotic products clean surfaces and break the outer membrane of envelope-type viruses (including Coronavirus). But it’s the added ‘good’ bacteria, called probiotics, that make the difference.
These helpful probiotic microorganisms remain on surfaces after application and continue working for up to 72 hours after application. They consume organic waste/dirt and bio-allergens (dust mite faeces etc.) and odour molecules. And they out compete the ‘bad’ pathogenic bacteria (such as MRSA and E. coli) that can cause ill-health.
The ‘bad’ bacteria simply die of starvation. This means they cannot develop resistance because of the lack of food. In this way, the probiotics restore a healthy and balanced indoor environment microbiome, which is known to support better health and immunity. They act as a defending army to prevent re-contamination by pathogens.
Traditional cleaning using indiscriminate biocidal techniques removes the crucial competition provided by the ‘good’ bacteria. This reduces re-contamination times to less than one hour. I.e., surfaces cleaned once a day, every day, with traditional cleaners are likely to be pathogen-bacteria contaminated for 23 hours a day whilst still appearing visually clean.
All our probiotic products use the same method of simply and mechanically out-competing bad bacteria and replacing with good. Probiotic sprays for hard to clean soft furnishings and difficult-to-reach areas perform the same function and can be mechanically added to ducted HVAC systems to both achieve wider dispersal and to help with the issues of pathogenic bacteria and mould spores inside the duct work supplying occupied areas.
At the same time, water pollution is reduced (from discarded cleaning product remnants) by the reduction in chemical use and the action of the probiotics in the wastewater system, infection rates are reduced and so too is the AMR caused by cleaning.
This article is less about the science of how probiotic cleaning works, more about ability to make a difference to indoor air quality with just a small change in product use.
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About the author:
Joe Flanagan is the owner of Ingenious Probiotics and the Ingenious Air Company and brings more than 25 years of experience to the industry.