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EXPLAINED: WHAT IS BEING SPRAYED ON MIGRANTS, AND IS IT SAFE?

In several places including Barreili of UP and Delhi, migrant workers travelling to their home states, or their belongings, were sprayed with a disinfectant, apparently to sanitise them.

The chemical in the spray was a sodium hypochlorite solution. Sodium hypochlorite is commonly used as a bleaching agent, and also to sanitise swimming pools.

Is the chemical safe?

As a common bleaching agent, sodium hypochlorite is used for a variety of cleaning and disinfecting purposes.

  • It releases chlorine, which is a disinfectant.
  • The concentration of the chemical in the solution varies according to the purpose it is meant for. Large quantities of chlorine can be harmful.
  • A normal household bleach usually is a 2-10% sodium hypochlorite solution. At a much lower 0.25-0.5%, this chemical is used to treat skin wounds like cuts or scrapes.
  • An even weaker solution (0.05%) is sometimes used as a handwash.

What was the concentration used in the spray in various places?

In Delhi, officials have said a 1% sodium hypochlorite solution was used in the spray applied on migrant workers’ belongings.

Possible Side-effects/harm

A 1% solution can cause damage to the skin of anyone who comes in contact with it.

  • If it gets inside the body, it can cause serious harm to lungs.
  • Sodium hypochlorite is corrosive, and is meant largely to clean hard surfaces.
  • It is not recommended to be used on human beings, certainly not as a spray or shower.
  • Even a 0.05% solution could be very harmful for the eyes.

In swimming pools, the quantity of sodium hypochlorite is very low, so that it does not harm the skin. In Pune, the chemical has been sprayed on buildings. Even this could be harmful to people living inside.

Does the chemical get rid of the novel coronavirus?

The World Health Organization, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recommend homemade bleach solutions of about 2-10% concentration to clean hard surfaces to clear them of any presence of the novel coronavirus.

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September 2022
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