The Future of Mass Disinfection

The EPA is researching methods for disinfecting large public spaces in order to slow the spread of Covid-19

Drew Costley
OneZero
Published in
5 min readMay 1, 2020

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Staff members disinfect a shopping mall at the Hanzheng Street in Wuhan.
Staff members disinfect a shopping mall at the Hanzheng Street in Wuhan. The shopping mall was thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before businesses were reopened. Photo: Wang Yuguo/Xinhua/Getty Images

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it’s researching ways to disinfect large public spaces, like schools or office buildings, in order to slow the spread of Covid-19. The research will be used to guide public agencies and private businesses around the country on how to kill potential traces of the virus in their facilities.

The EPA already maintains a registry of disinfectants, like Barbicide, Asepticare, and Cavicide, that have been approved to kill the novel coronavirus. But because people and institutions around the country have inquired about the safety of new deep cleaning tools that aren’t on the official registry, the EPA is now researching the efficacy of ultraviolet light, ozone molecules, steam, and electrostatic sprayers and foggers, equipped with EPA-approved disinfectants, for large-scale cleaning efforts.

“People have asked us, ‘Can I use a UV lamp or can I use an ozone generator to clean off packages when they come into our facility?’ or ‘Can I use them for cleaning up or disinfecting a room or perhaps the inside of a vehicle?’” Greg Sayles, PhD, director of the EPA’s Center for Environmental Solutions and Emergency Response, tells OneZero. “[The EPA doesn’t] really know how well they work and we don’t really know how to [best] apply them.”

The EPA, with funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, is researching how effective the disinfectant tools are at killing the coronavirus on different types of surfaces. For the ones that work well, they’ll develop guidelines for using them.

“That kind of thing would be applicable if, sadly, we have another pandemic.”

While the EPA’s research is just beginning, several other countries — and even some institutions in the United States — are already using disinfectants on a large scale. Photos published last month in The Atlantic show workers in China, the Philippines, Iran, Italy, and several other countries, many in hazmat suits, spraying large clouds and streams of disinfectant in offices as well…

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Drew Costley
OneZero

Drew Costley is a Staff Writer at FutureHuman covering the environment, health, science and tech. Previously @ SFGate, East Bay Express, USA Today, etc.