Indoor Exposure to Commonly Used Disinfectants During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Staying safe during the COVID-19 pandemic requires frequent disinfecting of the indoor environment. Quaternary ammonium compounds (QACs or “quats”) are the major class of chemicals widely used as disinfectants in consumer products. While disinfection is necessary for a safe environment during the pandemic, the increased use of QACs is concerning as exposure to these compounds has been associated with adverse effects on reproductive and respiratory systems. We have determined the occurrence and distribution of 19 QACs in 46 residential dust collected before and during the outbreak of COVID-19. All QACs were detected in more than 90% of the samples at concentrations ranging from 1.95 to 531 μg/g (median 58.9 μg/g). Higher QAC concentrations were found in dust collected before the COVID-19 pandemic and in homes with higher disinfecting frequencies (p < 0.05). In addition, 7 products most frequently used in these homes were analyzed, and QACs were detected at concentrations reaching up to 16,600 mg/L. The QAC profiles in dust and in products were similar, suggesting that these products can be a significant source of QACs. Our findings indicate that the indoor exposure to QACs is widespread, raising concerns about increased exposure to these chemicals during the ongoing pandemic.