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Covid-19: Hand sanitisers, disinfectants potentially harmful to environment

Increase in use of hand sanitisers and disinfectants since the Covid-19 outbreak has sparked concerns over its ecological impact on rivers, oceans. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency(ANA)

Increase in use of hand sanitisers and disinfectants since the Covid-19 outbreak has sparked concerns over its ecological impact on rivers, oceans. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Mar 20, 2020

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Cape Town - Chemicals found in the anti-bacterial products which many people are using amid the Covid-19 pandemic could potentially be hazardous towards the environment, say experts.

Hand sanitisers and disinfectants have become a lot more evident in the household since the Covid-19 outbreak and a concern has been raised about how this could impact on the river streams and oceans.

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Wild Trust recycling strategic manager Hanno Langenhoven said the chemicals found in many of the hand sanitisers could be hazardous towards the environment. The majority of the sanitisers contain triclosan, triclocarban and acrylate copolymers.

Langenhoven said: “These chemicals are considered toxic but deemed safe due to the small quantities used at a time.

“When triclosan is released into clear water and exposed to sunlight, it turns into a dioxin. Dioxins are a group of very toxic chemical compounds that are harmful to the health of people and the natural world.

“Once triclosan is turned into dioxins, it can stay in the environment for years.”

UWC Natural Science Professor

Leslie Petrik said: “Waste wipes which are not biodegradable and made from polymer microfibres and microplastics are responsible for the blockage of drains which end up in the environment.”

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Petrik said triclosan and triclocarban were antimicrobial and not completely effective against viruses, “to my knowledge”.

“The problem is that people think chemicals will stop the virus, however, self-isolation and hand-washing are the most proven way to stop infection.”

Langenhoven explained two ways in which hand sanitisers could affect the environment.

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Every bottle contained remnant products. This leaked directly into the environment, sometimes starting at a landfill and other times directly into streams and rivers.

“The second channel of waste into the environment is even scarier and a lot more direct.

“Most people carry around small plastic bottles filled with hand sanitiser to have convenient access to disinfected hands.

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“This contributes a fair amount to the plastic pollution already found when not disposed of properly,” he said.

Master’s student in Environmental Humanities South researching in the San Ocean project, Melissa Zackon, said the increasing number of people using antibacterial and hand-sanitiser products would result in higher volumes of antibacterial waste entering the water.

Zackon said: “The issue with regards to Cape Town’s rivers is that wastewater treatment works are largely near the rivers and often discharge their treated waste into these rivers.

“Many of these wastewater treatment plants are not fully compliant, over-capacitated and therefore operate optimally causing pollution in our river systems.”

@Sukainaish

[email protected]

Cape Argus

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