conditions. The BPC of the ECHA stated, for example, (with regard to silver sodium hydrogen zirconium phosphate):

Generally, the antimicrobial effect of polymer materials containing silver active substances is dependent on how much of the silver is released. A precondition for the release of silver is a solvent, i.e. a liquid which the material comes into contact with. A dry polymer material surface will not release any silver ions and thus will not exert an antimicrobial effect.

In other words, whilst the committee accepted that biocides might be effective if a surface is immersed continually in a solvent solution, and remains wet for a period of time, it was not proven that biocides had any antibacterial effect where surfaces are dry. In the absence of this proof, the committee decided not to approve the use of biocides in the disinfectant product category.

Whilst a decision is yet to be made regarding floor and wall coverings, the decision regarding disinfectant products has important implications. Flooring and wall coverings are typically employed in environments that are predominantly dry, particularly in healthcare sites. So there is every reason to believe that the ECHA BPC will reach a similar non- approval decision regarding the use of biocides in floor and wall coverings, within the next two to three years, when scientific examination of other product categories reaches completion.

ALTRO’S POLICY For manufacturers such as ourselves the decision to include or remove biocides has been at the top of the agenda for nearly a decade, so our policies reflect our response to the latest research from academics and regulatory bodies. Traditionally, customers have been keen to have antibacterial additives included in wall and floor coverings. In an industry sector where research and technology is advancing rapidly, it is understandable that suppliers and specifiers welcomed this apparent opportunity to solve major issues. Our technical teams follow scientific and regulatory evidence relating to our products on an ongoing basis, however, as part of our duty to customers and end users. So, a key question for us has been whether it

would be better to remove biocides from all of our product ranges, irrespective of customer demand.

A breakthrough in recent years has been the development, by scientists, of new testing protocols for biocides which are revealing new insights and calling earlier findings into question. Responding to the latest evidence from teams of academics and bodies such as the ECHA BPC, we decided back in 2012 that inclusion of biocides could be discontinued in our resilient flooring ranges as they had no positive impact on hygiene. Use of biocides in Altro wall cladding products was also reviewed. In 2012 we decided to exclude biocides when designing new Altro wall cladding ranges, and began to supply specific geographical markets (notably the USA and Nordic markets) with biocide-free materials. Today we do not include any biocides in our products.

Inclusion of biocides is only one aspect of infection control, however. We continue to focus on hygiene as a key aspect of our research and development. Using the latest testing protocols, Altro Whiterock (without a biocide) was recently shown in tests to be up to 99.99% effective against MRSA and 99.89% effective against Ecoli, indicating levels of infection control equal to those claimed by manufacturers incorporating biocides, without the associated risks to

health and the environment. It is also important to mention that, depending on the progress of research teams across the world, our policy on biocides could change over time. There have been exciting discoveries regarding new types of ‘eco-benign’ biocides, based on plant-based ingredients, which could possibly play a role in infection control in our products in the future.

In conclusion, research involving currently-available additives suggests that specifiers and customers should not consider biocides a ‘silver bullet’. But end customers can continue to rely on solid gold best practice for all areas where infection prevention is paramount. Firstly, research has confirmed the critical importance of hand hygiene, which has been shown to have far greater impact on infection control than was generally thought. Secondly, irrespective of whether biocides are incorporated into products, good cleaning regimes, that physically remove the microbes from surfaces, remain the most effective way to ensure hygiene criteria are met, even in critical hygiene areas. To make this possible it is advisable to look for impervious, grout-free wall coverings, such as Altro Whiterock, with a smooth, easy-to-clean surface. A thorough cleaning regime on impervious surfaces such as this, with supporting good hand hygiene, is the answer. HEALTHCARE | 29

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