Architecture and design firm Perkins+Will is opting out of products with antimicrobial additives. The company’s decision came after a review of available data by the Healthy Building Network indicated no health benefits regarding antimicrobial substances in building materials.
The study, which spanned seven years, also notes that the wide use of some antimicrobials (including triclosan, nanosilver, silver zeolite and quaternary ammonia compounds) may be associated with increasing microbial resistance to these substances – and potentially therapeutic antibiotics as well. In addition, it cites recent findings from the National Institute of Standards and Technology that nanoparticles (including silver-based antimicrobials) can leach out of the products they’re incorporated into, a particularly urgent concern for facilities where children may crawl on floors treated with nanoscale antimicrobials.
The white paper also cites CDC research concluding that no data supports antimicrobial additives in hospital products as part of an infection control strategy, while the FDA drew a similar conclusion about the health benefits of antimicrobial hand soaps.
“Consumers may feel a misplaced confidence in antimicrobial products, in part because of confusing and in some instances misleading marketing materials made possible by the extremely complex regulations governing antimicrobials in building products,” Perkins+Will notes in a white paper about the research. “The source of this confusion is that some products require an antimicrobial additive because it acts as a preservative, and they claim no human health benefits. In other cases, even though a preservative only protects the product from decay or spoilage, the EPA’s legal parameters allow products to be marketed in ways that consumers may interpret as providing a health benefit.”
The firm added a broad category of products marketed as antimicrobial to its Precautionary List, a database of common substances that regulatory organizations have classified as being harmful to human health or the environment. However, narrowing the list to specific antimicrobials is difficult because of the varying availability of product ingredient information, the firm adds.
“A lack of transparency about which products include antimicrobials and for what purpose makes it very difficult to implement a list-based approach based on specific chemicals,” Perkins+Will explains. “Because products which include antimicrobials for preservation purposes rarely advertise their inclusion, Perkins+Will design teams can avoid products using antimicrobials for any other purpose by simply avoiding products marketing themselves as antimicrobial.”