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EPA Dives Into Coronavirus Testing, Disinfectant Research (2)

April 30, 2020, 6:28 PMUpdated: April 30, 2020, 8:44 PM

The EPA has launched a wide-ranging research effort over the past two weeks to improve coronavirus testing, detection, and disinfectants.

The Environmental Protection Agency has embarked on multiple research projects, Greg Sayles, director of the agency’s Center for Environmental Solutions and Emergency Response, said in an agency teleconference Thursday. They include:

  • Working with New York City’s transit authority to find longer-lasting disinfectants for use in subway cars;
  • Developing a live virus assay, or test, that can be processed in two days instead of several;
  • Determining whether raw sewage can indicate a community’s infection rate;
  • Finding effective ways to disinfect personal protective equipment, such as face masks and gowns; and
  • Developing a test to analyze coronavirus antibodies in saliva, instead of blood samples.

Expanding Research

The EPA is asking its scientific advisers to help identify where the agency can step in to address the environmental and human health effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Deborah Hall Bennett, a member of the EPA’s Science Advisory Board’s coronavirus panel, asked if the agency could make recommendations for relative humidity and ventilation that would reduce the spread of the virus in classrooms.

“We can’t go back to work until kids get back to school,” she said during the panel’s teleconference meeting Thursday.

Indoor air is complex from a regulatory standpoint, said Michael Honeycutt, the board’s chair.

“It’s a huge question mark,” he said. The panel resolved to add the issue to the list of research categories the agency will review.

Panel members also suggested researching the antimicrobial properties of nanometals, such as nanosilver, to treat surfaces.

The agency is considering short- and long-term research, ranging from a few weeks to one or two years.

The panel will review a draft report to the agency during a teleconference May 20, Honeycutt said.

Industry Priorities

The American Petroleum Institute, which represents the oil and natural gas industries, said it has a “strong interest” in helping the EPA identify its research priorities.

API said the EPA shouldn’t draw conclusions from a recent study that associated Covid-19 mortality with long-term air exposure to fine particulate matter, like vehicle exhaust or wildfire smoke.

The industry group said there’s not enough scientific literature to know whether exposure to air pollutants increases the public’s susceptibility to coronavirus and other respiratory viruses, or exacerbates existing Covid-19 infections.

The Household & Commercial Products Association said that antimicrobial products other than disinfectants, such as laundry sanitizers, could be proved effective against the virus. The association also suggested creating a new protocol for disinfecting air to reduce the spread of the virus.

(Adds information on draft report in 15th paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Sylvia Carignan in Washington at scarignan@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Rebecca Baker at rbaker@bloomberglaw.com; Renee Schoof at rschoof@bloombergenvironment.com

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