Monday, August 19, 2013

Using Biocides Properly And Safely

After all the water damage Tropical Storm Sandy caused, we started getting phone calls on what was the proper procedure for cleaning up moldy surfaces and such.  Inevitably they would ask should they use bleach to clean the surfaces.As we always do we recommend the use of cleaners (i.e., Dawn), water, and lots of elbow grease (scrubbing).  For those of you who need a reference for this recommendation click on this EPA link.  The point of this post is to clear up some of the misconceptions regarding bleach and biocides as a whole.

As the term biocide implies "life killer", it is designed to destroy/kill living organisms.  This is one of the dangers with a biocide, we are a living organism and these chemicals could kill/damage us.  Its important to remember that everything is a poison, what matters is the dose.  So the dosage is very important when working with biocides.  This information also means that there must be a regulation or regulatory agency that regulates biocides, of course.  The regulation that regulates most biocides is called the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the agency that enforces it.  Before EPA can approve an application under FIFRA, "the applicant must show, among other things, that using the pesticide according to specifications "will not generally cause unreasonable adverse effects on the environment."  This act regulates chemicals used to disinfect, sanitize, or kill molds, fungi, bacterias, etc.  One of the key words in the quote above is the word "specification".  What the quote is basically saying, is that the biocide manufacturer must come up with the safe procedures to use when using that manufacturer's biocide.  Another words the label on the biocide has the safe procedures for using the product (the label is the law, if its not on the label you can't use it that way).  Which in some ways makes things easy, follow the instructions on the label and it can be used safely.

Which brings us to what the label on bleach says?

As you can see above, bleach is a corrosive.  This means it could do damage to the skin, eyes, or the respiratory system.  This part of the label tells you what to do if you happen to get this product on your skin or in your eyes.  The next label tells you how to use it safely:

For disinfecting surfaces you use 1/2 cup bleach to 1 gallon of water.  Please note that the label requires that the surface you are disinfecting should be pre-washed/cleaned.  The reason for this is that dirt, or other organic materials can deactivate bleach reducing its disinfecting ability.  In order for bleach to disinfect a surface, the surface must be cleaned first.  Which brings us back to our suggestion at the beginning of this post, the most effective way to get rid of mold is to clean the surface with a detergent and elbow grease.

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