Last Updated: May 10, 2021
A recent up-tick in demand for antimicrobial additives in building products and environments has prompted some unfounded warnings against anti-microbial health claims in building products. Microban International (MBI) supports fact and science-based decision-making and would like to offer the following information on the topic so that the public, the consumer, and other stakeholders can make fully informed decisions.
What is an antimicrobial in relation to a treated building product?
There are two types of antimicrobial claims that can be made on products: Public Health Claims and Non-Public Health Claims.
- A public health claim is a claim made for control of specific microorganisms or classes of microorganisms that are directly or indirectly infectious or pathogenic to man (or both man and animals). Examples of these products are disinfectants, germicides, sanitizers, and sterilants. These formulations have been tested against specific harmful microorganisms to verify efficacy and are proven to control the specified microorganisms at a minimum level (i.e. – 99%). Such products are under strict control by the respective country regulatory bodies (EPA, Health Canada, EU BPR and MDR, etc.) These products directly imply a human health benefit and a healthier environment when used as directed.
- Non-public-health claims relate to the protection of inanimate objects, industrial processes or systems, surfaces, water, or other chemical substances. They provide protection of these items from odor, contamination, fouling, or deterioration caused by bacteria, fungi, protozoa, algae, or slime. These are products aimed at providing product protection. These substances are used in thousands of consumer items, household goods, and clothing available in almost every country in the world. They are also incorporated into many building materials, often as preservatives, to protect the product from decay and degradation. These technologies are also under strict control by the respective country regulatory bodies (EPA, Canada PMRA, EU BPR, etc.) These products are able to make claims relating to the protection/preservation of the product that they are added to.
What are the benefits of utilizing antimicrobials in Building Products and Environments?
Microban technologies are formulated to be incorporated at the point of manufacture to protect articles against degradation from mold, mildew, and odor-causing bacteria for the entire life of the manufactured product. Delivering longer product life, increased function during that life and decreasing spoilage, waste, and landfill load are all very positive benefits from using Microban technologies in building products and environments. This aligns with the circular economy systemic approach - a collective movement away from the current take-make-waste extractive industrial model and away from single-use products and packaging. Microban is pleased to be working with partners in many areas to support circular economy initiatives and is hopeful for continued positive progress towards lower waste economies in many jurisdictions around the world. Some illustrative examples show how:
- Microban technology is included in certain plastics to maintain flexibility over a longer service lifecycle, preventing a premature failure and a shortened life in appliances, power tools, and many other applications.
- Microban technology is deployed in ductwork insulation to inhibit mold and mildew due to condensation, provide a more efficient product that does not require a moisture barrier layer to be installed, and provide a longer functional life to the homeowner.
- Microban technology is used in paint formulations to prevent it from spoiling in the can (lifecycle extension) and minimize the amount of paint being disposed of in landfills. It also allows for the use of water-based products as opposed to solvent based chemistries which helps to reduce VOC emissions.
What about those companies who are making human health claims as a result of their use of antimicrobials in a product?
The use of antimicrobials in products as preservatives, i.e., for product protection, does not provide a health benefit to those that utilize or interact with the product. Companies that have implied or explicitly claimed such a health benefit, without the public health testing data approved by the appropriate regulatory authority to support these claims, have created a breach of trust in the industry. Microban International, as an industry leader, takes that breach of trust very seriously. Over the last 24 months alone, Microban has actively pursued numerous such organizations through multiple avenues, forcing these companies to modify the use case and associated claims language to be compliant, or in some instances ceasing their activities altogether as a result of enforcement actions. We will continue to be vigilant in this manner.
It should also be noted that embedded antimicrobial additives do not contribute to antibiotic resistance, sometimes referred to as “superbugs”, which occurs when bacteria change in response to the use of antibiotics. Antibiotics are a type of antimicrobial that act upon very specific areas of a microbial cell. The specificity of the antibiotic to one cell component makes the development of resistance fairly easy for microbes that can reproduce within minutes and hours. In general, “superbugs” are generated due to misuse of antibiotics by physicians and patients not by the use of embedded antimicrobials.
Embedded antimicrobials that are utilized for building materials are very different. While safe, these antimicrobials are not meant for human consumption. Embedded antimicrobials are meant to act within the environment of the building material surface. Embedded antimicrobials are able to target multiple cellular components at the same time. In addition, this class of antimicrobials are able to target multiple organisms and sites on those organisms. This makes it very difficult to have resistance development build to these organisms. Academic, peer-reviewed literature supports that embedded antimicrobials do not cause a concern for microbial resistance development and propagation.
What is Microban’s approach to helping improve human health?
In addition to our core business in bringing antimicrobial (preservative/product protection) and odor management solutions to market with our partners, we have spent the last decade working hard to create a range of residual sanitization solutions for home surface care and use in professional environments. Public health claims are supported on these products through the rigorous testing and registration approvals that are required. These products are sold at retail and through industrial distribution channels as the Microban 24 and Microban 24 Professional line of products. They are the only approved line of consumer and professional cleaners that provide residual protection against bacterial growth for up to 24 hours, even after multiple touches. Also, our innovations and commercial teams have been excited to bring to market in the healthcare sector a range of continuously active disinfection technologies in both ready-to-use spray and wipe formats. These products are hospital-grade disinfectants that provide the added benefit of being continuously active for a period of up to 24 hours, even after multiple touches. Sold to market as Sani-24, these products have been purposefully designed and explicitly targeted to the healthcare environments where they can have the most impact on improving human health and preventing hospital-acquired infections (HAIs). Microban is proud that both our residual sanitization and our continuously active disinfection technologies are active against numerous pathogens, including SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
Microban International is the global leader in antimicrobial, odor control, and smart surface solutions. We are home to the most trusted and well-known global brands in the antimicrobial and odor control market – Microban and Ultra-Fresh. Collectively, Microban and Ultra-Fresh have experienced over 100 years of growth and have revolutionized the industry. As such, we take the approach in the development of our solutions and deployment of those with our partners very seriously, whether those are our antimicrobial and preservative technologies for numerous substrate materials or our innovative odor management solutions for textiles, clothing, and footwear, or our best-in-class residual sanitization and continuously active disinfection technologies. We understand very clearly the difference between products that ‘clean’ and products that ‘protect’ and are proud to be able to offer both to our partners and downstream consumers by tailoring the best solutions to meet customer needs. And as consumers continue to look for smarter products that stay cleaner and last longer, we will continue to focus on innovation and the development of cutting-edge technologies to meet the global marketplace's ever-changing needs.
At Microban International, we believe in making the world a cleaner place. In juxtaposition to some unfounded claims against the use of antimicrobial additives in building products and materials, our recommendation asserts that cleaner, longer lasting surface protection provides a greater overall performance benefit coupled with bolstered confidence to end users. Globally recognized efficacy standards and test methods prove significant reductions of microbial populations on building materials when these additives are present, and we stand by this positive attribute, among others, that our portfolio of solutions has provided to products for over 65 years.