KBB - February 2009 - (Page 14)

Focus Bugged Out Get to know antimicrobial products Antimicrobial products have appeared in many areas of our lives. But when it comes to kitchen and bath products, do we really understand what antimicrobial materials are and what they do? For many, the answer is “no,” and misperceptions of these products abound. For dealers, designers and consumers alike, it pays to understand what to expect from products incorporating antimicrobial protections. The effectiveness of products containing antimicrobial agents varies widely. They range from those that can kill most viruses and bacteria (but not spores) relatively quickly, to those that reduce their population over time, to those that merely stop or slow the growth of bacteria, fungi, algae and/or viruses. Antimicrobial technology is being applied to an increasing number of products, such as this baffle used in InSinkErator’s Evolution garbage disposals. MORE AND MORE APPLICATIONS While consumers may have grown accustomed to seeing germfighting cleaners on their grocery-store shelves, they have also likely noticed antimicrobials showing up in everything from sponges and toilet seats to clothing and washing machines. In these applications, an antimicrobial material is “built into” the product in a way that it does not easily wear off. This is often done by mixing the agent into the ingredients of various product parts during the manufacturing process, or by applying the agent separately as a coating or as part of a glaze. There is a wide range of antimicrobial agents used for these treated product applications, but some common examples include silver zeolites, zinc pyrithione, chitosan, colloidal copper and triclosan. The materials selected for these uses are usually low in toxicity, but are also less potent than disinfectants. As a result, these products will not kill all of the germs and microbes coming into contact with them—a fact that might surprise some consumers. Also noteworthy is the fact that some, but not all, antimicrobial agents are consumed over time. While the efficacy usually lasts for years, it is worthwhile for consumers to inquire about the lifetime of the product. If this is the case, why are antimicrobial agents used in these products at all? If treated products will not kill germs on their surfaces in the same way as disinfectant cleaners, what can they do? It is not possible, or even desirable, to keep surfaces and objects disinfected outside of the highly sterile environments found in clean rooms and operating rooms. Even a surface in a home treated with a strong disinfectant like bleach or alcohol will remain germ-free for only a relatively short time before germs begin to reappear. Instead, antimicrobial agents are added to many products because of the many other benefits that they can provide. Durability, colorfastness and ease of maintenance are often greatly improved in many products through the careful addition of antimicrobial agents. They can prevent or slow the growth of certain types of bacteria, algae and fungi responsible for stains and odors in some products and the breakdown of the material itself in others. In the end, though, the benefits of antimicrobials in each application depend on the manufacturing process, agent and the environment where it is used. Toilet bowls treated with antimicrobial agents in a coating, for example, have been shown to develop far fewer stains and odors from fungi, algae and mildew than untreated bowls, and some faucet and toilet flush handles, as well as eyewash stations, are treated to slow the growth of microbes and prevent staining and odors. In addition, a number of faucet aerators have been enhanced by antimicrobials that prevent the growth of bacteria, mold and mildew at the outlets where air and water mix. REGULATIONS AND REGISTRATION In fact, most manufacturers advertise only the protection the antimicrobial provides the product itself; they do not claim a health benefit for the user. Why? The answer lies in the way that these antimicrobial agents are regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA requires that all antimicrobial agents be registered and thoroughly tested to demonstrate their efficacy and to determine their toxicity. The EPA is very concerned that without a proper understanding of the benefits of an antimicrobial product, users might change their basic hygiene practices and place themselves at greater risk. For that reason, the EPA very carefully regulates the public health and benefit language on product literature. The process of testing and registering a product that is intended to provide a public health benefit is very involved, time-consuming and expensive. Meanwhile, claims for benefits to the material in the product itself do not require EPA registration and testing. Compliance with this exemption is very carefully monitored and policed by the EPA. This is why many manufacturers are content to focus their advertising strictly on product benefits, not public health benefits. In the end, however, consumers do not need a degree in microbiology to use the latest kitchen and bath products, but they do need to know their limitations. The key point to remember and convey to consumers is: No product is a substitute for basic sanitation practices like hand-washing and regular cleaning. I —Shawn Martin is the technical director for the Plumbing Manufacturers Institute (PMI). 14 + K BB February 2009 / www.kbbonline.com / The Official Sponsor of K/BIS www.kbis.com http://www.kbbonline.com http://www.kbis.com

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of KBB - February 2009

KBB - February 2009
Contents
Online Contents
Online News
Editorial
Focus
Trends
Products
Options
Design
Green
Tech
Practice
Education
Opinion
Editorial Index
Ad Index
Favorites

KBB - February 2009

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