Do quaternary ammonium compounds have negative effects on the environment and health?

A recent review published in the Environmental Science and Technology Journal focused on quaternary ammonium compounds (QACs) and the potential environmental and human health concerns associated with their use. QACs are commonly found in a variety of products, including antiseptics, fragrances, pesticides, herbicides, and personal care items like hand washes and lotions. During the COVID-19 pandemic, their use has increased due to their antimicrobial properties, and the ban on active ingredients like triclosan in body washes enforced by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2016.

The review summarized existing data on QACs, including their sources, properties, pharmacokinetics, and environmental and human effects. QAC exposure can occur through ingestion, inhalation, and dermal absorption. Environmental sources of QACs include wastewater, solid waste, water, soil, sediment, and food. They can accumulate in the body after ingestion and bypass hepatic first-pass metabolism following inhalation.

Overexposure to QACs can cause acute and chronic toxic effects in vulnerable aquatic organisms, respiratory and dermal effects in humans, and impair mitochondrial function. QACs have also been shown to enhance antimicrobial resistance and increase lipid production in some microbes.

Based on the review findings, it is clear that QACs are widely used and can adversely impact the environment and human health. Comprehensive assessments of QACs are necessary to inform policy decisions and evaluate potential risks and benefits associated with their use.

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