EPA Guts Safety Standards for Pesticide at Request of Manufacturer

For Immediate Release: 
Friday, October 24, 2008

Personal care products are another source of exposure to this hazardous chemical. ADBAC is a form of benzalkonium chloride.

OAKLAND, CA - At the request of a single manufacturer - Edwards-Councilor Co., Inc. of Virginia Beach, VA - the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has weakened federal safety standards for a toxic chemical that is used in a broad range of cleaners and other consumer products that come in regular contact with food.

The chemical in question - alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride, or ADBAC - is a pesticide and antimicrobial agent that is suspected of causing asthma and reproductive system damage. Products containing this chemical are regularly used to sterilize surfaces and utensils used during food preparation. Residues that remain can accumulate in food and be consumed by unwitting diners.

“EPA should not give a free pass to this potent chemical, given its widespread use in commercial and consumer products, and growing concerns about its adverse impacts to human health and the environment,” says Environmental Working Group scientist Rebecca Sutton, Ph.D.

This toxic antimicrobial is a type of benzalkonium chloride, a class of antimicrobial chemicals used in a broad range of cleaning products and at least 207 personal care products, where it is completely unregulated,according to an EWG analysis. EPA’s action, effective Oct. 20, has rolled back a key federal safety standard in place to reduce consumers’ risks.

Reviews of available toxicological and epidemiological research on ADBAC and other quaternary ammonium compounds, or QACs, reveal substantial data gaps and significant cause for concern regarding impacts to human health and the environment. As EPA eased food safety standards for this particular pesticide, it neglected to consider evidence that ADBAC and other QACs may be reproductive and genetic toxicants. In addition, studies on people and lab animals have linked these compounds to increased risk of asthma.

In an interview in the leading scientific journal Nature in June of 2008, Washington State University scientist Dr. Patricia Hunt says she observed a severe decline in the fertility of her lab mouse population after moving her lab from Case Western University in Cleveland, OH to Pullman, WA. The culprit: the disinfectant Virex, that contains ADBAC and other QACs, and which was used to clean the mouse cages in the new animal facility.

Widespread use in hospitals of disinfectants containing ADBAC and QACs is believed to be one of the primary reasons asthma is on the rise among health care workers. A recent survey of 3,650 health care workers in Texas found that the likelihood that these workers developed asthma during their careers doubled if they performed general cleaning of surfaces.

“EPA’s action to remove these safety standards at the behest of a single company goes against the Agency’s own mission ‘to protect human health and the environment',” Sutton said. “EPA’s acquiescence to Edwards-Councilor will increase human exposures to this toxic chemical, and may lead to more cases of asthma and infertility among Americans.”

Dr. Sutton’s entire letter to EPA can be found here.


EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment.

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