Regular use of bleach and other common household disinfectants has been linked to a higher risk of developing fatal lung disease, according to research carried out on over 55,000 nurses. The 30 year study by Harvard University and the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm) found that using these products just once a week increased the risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) by as much as 32%.
What is COPD?
COPD describes a group of lung conditions such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis that make it difficult to empty air out of the lungs because the airways have been narrowed. It affects around 1.2 million people in the UK, and almost 25,000 people die from the disease every year in England alone, making it the third highest death rate in Europe.
Whilst disinfectant use has previously been associated with an increased risk of respiratory problems such as asthma, this new study is thought to be the first which identifies a link between COPD and use of specific cleaning chemicals called quarternary ammonium compounds (also known as “Quats”), which are ammonium salts regularly used in products such as disinfectants, sanitisers, fabric softeners and other cleaning agents.
How might this affect industry?
Everyday use of bleach currently has no specific health guidelines, though researchers hope that this will now be investigated. With disinfectants such as bleach and quats being frequently used in ordinary households, Inserm feel that it is important to investigate these products further to identify the full extent of the risks involved.
Last week, the findings from the study were presented at a meeting of the European Respiratory Society International Congress in Milan, and it was highlighted that further research is needed to clarify the impact of disinfectant use in the home, as well as the role of each specific disinfectant.
Researchers feel that this now emphasises the need for guidelines to be put in place for cleaning and disinfection in healthcare settings, and for places such as hospitals to be updated with occupational healthcare risks taken into account.
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