Evaluating Disinfection Methods for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Items Intended for Reuse
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused shortages in PPE, including N95 masks. Having the ability to disinfect PPE without impacting its effectiveness is critical for hospitals, nursing homes, and essential workers. EPA researchers are evaluating methods to disinfect used PPE and evaluate whether these methods cause any damage to the effectiveness of the PPE. Understanding the effectiveness of different disinfection methods on a variety of PPE types can help inform practices to protect those on the front lines of the public health crisis.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) researchers are building on an expansive body of biological wide-area remediation research by applying that knowledge to reduce the risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. This research will help states, tribes, local, and territorial governments—including public health agencies—and guide homeowners, business owners, and workplace managers to reduce the risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2. The global COVID-19 outbreak has caused severe shortages in personal protective equipment (PPE), prompting a need to provide supporting information on disinfection methods that enable PPE reuse. This interim update presents the results of Phase 1 (method development testing) of this 3 Phase project to evaluate these disinfection methods.
Infectious virus can be transferred to people and other objects by aerosol transmission as well as direct contact with surfaces; contamination on hands may then be spread to the mouth, nose, or eyes and potentially cause infection. In the current COVID-19 pandemic, SARS-CoV-2 has been shown to survive on surfaces for a period of hours to days. To reduce potential transmission from surfaces, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends frequent hand washing, and cleaning and disinfecting surfaces with approved disinfectants against SARS-CoV-2. EPA maintains a list of approved disinfectants for use against SARS-CoV-2 on surfaces.
In addition to hand washing and surface disinfection, various PPE items are used to prevent contact with the virus and droplet/aerosol transmission, thereby reducing potential exposures to SARS-CoV-2. Specialized-use PPE such as filtering-facepiece respirators, medical-use masks, face shields, and body coveralls are intended to protect the wearer from exposure to the virus and are primarily used in healthcare settings. Non-specialized items including procedure masks, face coverings, clothing, and shoes have been adapted by the general public during the COVID-19 pandemic to reduce virus transmission from infected individuals to those in their surroundings. Together, the use of these specialized and non-specialized PPE items is being implemented with the aim of reducing virus exposure and transmission. The CDC provides PPE optimization strategies to healthcare workers and information regarding face coverings to the general public.
Data on virus disinfection efficacy for various types of specialized and non-specialized PPE materials are limited outside of healthcare setting applications. Further, disinfection efficacy tests coupled with wear cycles and integrity tests on the PPE materials after exposure to disinfectants need to be performed to ensure that the disinfection processes are not impacting protection of the
wearer. These results need to be compiled into easy to implement procedures for a broad range of stakeholders, including frontline workers such as healthcare staff and emergency responders as well as the general public. This will ensure that comprehensive mitigation strategies may be developed when PPE items are in limited supply and that the general public can implement/follow data-driven guidance about how to clean their non-specialized PPE items. Proper cleaning can prevent potential transmission from contaminated PPE surfaces and ensure continued protection.
The overall goal of this project is to provide the general public, emergency responders, and healthcare workers with initial information on the effectiveness of selected disinfection/cleaning technologies and commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) products for the disinfection/cleaning of specialized and non-specialized PPE items for potential reuse during the pandemic. This study will identify and evaluate disinfection techniques and cleaning protocols that can be used for the disinfection of disposable and reusable PPE contaminated with viruses. The project will evaluate technologies currently recommended in standard and crisis capacity strategies developed by both industry and U.S. government agencies. PPE categories to be evaluated for post-disinfection reuse will include eye protection, face protection, body protection, and respiratory protection. The primary research focus will be the testing of disinfectants for viral inactivation from PPE items used by the general public during the pandemic (some of which are not considered traditional PPE such as face coverings and clothing). Additionally, PPE items (e.g., N95 respirators, face shields, and Tyvek® suits) used by healthcare workers and emergency responders for protection from exposure to SARS-CoV-2, as well as other hazardous materials, will be evaluated. The efficacy data and procedures used during testing will be summarized in the form of visual aids for easy interpretation by the general public and field responders.
The results of this research do not supplant data required for disinfectant product registration nor for adding additional claims to product labels. Products must be used in accordance with their label claims under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). EPA does not endorse the use of any products tested in this study.
EPA is conducting several studies to support the response to the COVID19 pandemic, the results of which may be useful to the Nation. The summary here is intended to provide a simple representation of the results of on-going testing; therefore, only a brief description of the purpose of the study, methods, and interim results are provided. This study is being conducted in accordance with an approved Quality Assurance Project Plan. The interim results have been reviewed by internal EPA technical experts, quality assurance staff, and management. No interpretation of the interim results is provided. Once complete, the study and its results will be described in detail in a publication subjected to external, expert peer review. EPA does not endorse the purchase or sale of any commercial products or services.