Some systems tap into existing air ducts; others are plug-and-play and are designed to release probiotics directly in the air.

Environmental Probiotics: Creating Healthy Indoor Workspaces

It is sensible that businesses and institutions should invest in programs to reduce the presence of harmful microorganisms.

Indoor environments have been shown to have a significant impact on human health and productivity. As employers strive to create healthier environments for their workers, the demand for green cleaning services is creating a culture of sustainability in the commercial office cleaning industry, with increased awareness of the benefits driving buying decisions. An accompanying surge in environmentally desirable products and services is impacting the way that facilities managers are thinking about and approaching the cleaning and maintenance of their buildings.

With the growing concerns about the health and environmental impact of the cleaning products that are used in workspaces, it is vital that managers address which cleaning methods are implemented and how they work. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the removal of infectious agents is one of the steps that is crucial to maintaining a healthy indoor environment. How the removal of these agents is done and what products are used are important considerations for workplaces concerned about the potential harmful impacts of cleaning agents on their workers. In contrast to older cleaning products that could present a variety of health hazards, non-hazardous products possess positive environmental attributes that can remove biological contaminants from a workspace. Probiotics-based cleaners are proving effective in this regard.

Biological Contaminants in Workspaces
Numerous investigations have raised the issue of harmful microorganisms in workspaces. For example, a CBS News report focused on hot-spot areas such as door handles, kitchen sinks, and elevator buttons as common bacterial habitats, with these microorganisms distributed within breakrooms, conference rooms, and stairwells. Other likely habitats have been shown to include everything from toilet fixtures to computer keyboards. A classic study by University of Arizona researchers determined that the typical worker's desk harbors hundreds more bacteria per square inch than an office toilet seat. As a result, it is sensible that businesses and institutions should invest in programs to reduce the presence of harmful microorganisms.

However, cleaning paradigms that incorporate antibacterials or other substances to eliminate entirely harmful microorganisms run a separate risk: encouraging the growth of stronger strains of bacteria, such as the much-reported "superbugs," that exhibit antibiotic resistance. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), infections triggered by antibiotic-resistant organisms are difficult to treat, entailing the use of second- or third-choice drugs for treatment that might be less effective, more toxic, and more expensive.

Environmental Probiotics Create a Revolutionary Purification System for Workplaces
Instead of the "all or nothing" approach to battling toxic microorganisms in the workplace, a trend toward implementing probiotics as cleaning tools has surfaced in the past several years. As noted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), probiotics are live microorganisms—long incorporated into certain foods and dietary supplements—that are intended to have health benefits. Although bacteria and other microorganisms are often thought of as harmful germs, many microorganisms can help the body function properly. For example, bacteria that are normally present in intestines can help digest food, destroy disease-causing microorganisms, and produce vitamins.

In light of what is known regarding the activity of probiotics and presence of microorganisms in workplaces, studies have been done that successfully demonstrate the potential of probiotics, as air and surface purifiers, to control the growth of bad microorganisms while retaining beneficial varieties.

The rationale behind the use of probiotics is straightforward. Traditional purifier sprays and devices indiscriminately kill all bacteria, both harmful and beneficial—causing an imbalanced, sterile environment that could increase the risk of pathogens' evolving resistance. In contrast, probiotics offer a natural, chemical-free and environmentally friendly solution to combating Sick Building Syndrome: the probiotics consume contaminant waste such as dust mite fecal matter, pollen, dead skin cells, and pet dander while maintaining the balance of essential bacteria in the environments where people work, additionally reducing bad odors caused by bacteria and mold.

One commercialized probiotics application, known as Enviro-Biotics (short for "Environmental Probiotics"), is comprised of water and Bacillus Subtilis. This technology works on a microscopic level and repetitively releases billions of micron-sized probiotic particles to purify the air and clean surface and objects.

The devices offer an automatic solution for every space size: Some systems tap into existing air ducts; others are plug-and-play and are designed to release probiotics directly in the air. These are carried by airflow throughout the indoor space, subsequently landing on every interior surface. Product lines have been developed that treat spaces of various sizes, from 800 square feet to up to 45,000 square feet. The systems are designed for ecological balancing and are both fully programmable and customizable. No special infrastructure is required.

In addition to providing a more friendly and healthy microenvironment for office workers, the system provides automatic and continuous cleaning inside of air ducts, thereby improving the quality of the air that goes through them.

The Power of Probiotics, Backed by Research
To date, several studies have suggested a solid backing for the potential of probiotics to improve the environment in workspaces. For example, as reported in the Journal of Microbiology & Experimentation, a research study evaluated the efficacy of cleaning products containing spore forms of Bacillus spp in comparison to a traditional chlorine-based treatment. At a hospital, the total microbial count as well as Staphylococcus aureus, Coliforms, Pseudomonas spp, and Candida spp were monitored for four months on several surfaces. A total of 11,223 microbiological samples were collected, both seven and 24 hours after the scheduled cleaning procedures. The data showed that, differently from traditional chemical-based disinfectants, the effect of the probiotics-based product led to a reduction of more than 80 percent in the microbial load of Staphylococcus aureus, Coliforms, Pseudomonas spp, and Candida spp. The researchers concluded that the proposed strategy of utilizing probiotics-based cleaners is a reliable alternative to the traditional chemical disinfection of surfaces.

In a separate study, a probiotics system was installed at eight strategic zones (including a sitting room, recovery room, and waiting room) within a medical center in Israel. Air and surfaces were sampled prior to installation and following a treatment period of approximately three weeks. Initially, among additional problematic species, significant counts of pathogens—including Staphylococcus and Pseudomonas—were detected on various surfaces and in the air. At the conclusion of the test period, no fungi or bacteria at all were detected on surfaces, and only the Bacillus probiotics released by the system were detected in the air.

Given the evidence presented by these and other studies in the field, there appears to be ample potential for probiotics to be used as an effective class of cleaning and replenishment tools in commercial workspaces. The end result of their use could include not only cleaner workspaces, but also healthier and more productive employees.

This article originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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