Quat disinfectants are helping during the pandemic. But could they contribute to antibiotic resistance?
Quaternary ammonium compounds, or quats, are a common ingredient of disinfectants, sanitizing wipes, and personal care products. Use of quats has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic — half of the disinfectants approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to fight the virus that causes COVID-19 contain quats. But while they can slow the spread of disease, researchers worry they could endanger the environment. High quat levels could hinder wastewater treatment processes that rely on bacterial activity, leading to inadequately treated wastewater that then pollutes rivers and other waters downstream. But with help from colleagues, Yenjung (Sean) Lai, an assistant research scientist in ASU’s Biodesign Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology, directed by Fulton Schools Professor Bruce Rittmann, is developing a system to make quats harmless to the bacteria used to decontaminate wastewater.