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Potential human health and environmental issues

A number of potential human health issues related to the use of microbial-based cleaning products have previously been described in a recent report on the use of such products, mainly in Europe (Spok and Klade, 2009). Environmental issues may also potentially exist because of the widespread use of such products and releases into the environment that may result. These issues can be categorised as issues: i) related to the micro-organism itself; and ii) related to formulation/use of the product.

Issues related to the micro-organism itself

Likely the single most important issue related to the micro-organisms themselves is the reliability of their taxonomic designation. Many of the micro-organisms found in these products were identified only to the genus level. For those identified to the species level, little to no information is provided as to what methods or tests were used to arrive at their identification. Some of the products do appear to have used micro-organisms from well-known culture collections (such as the ATCC), thus providing somewhat increased confidence in their taxonomic designation. From an overall risk assessment perspective, reliable taxonomic designation of a given micro-organism is the most important determinant of its potential hazard to human health and environment (Environment Canada and Health Canada, 2011a). A reliable taxonomic designation allows for the appropriate assessment of a micro-organism’s infectivity, virulence and overall pathogenicity. This includes its ability to produce toxins, toxic metabolites and allergens as well as potential effects on sensitive populations (e.g. the immunocompromised, children/elderly, pregnant women, etc.) (Spok and Klade, 2009; Environment Canada and Health Canada, 2011a).

Based on the micro-organisms identified as being contained in the products listed in Table 9.1, even a cursory survey of the scientific literature reveals that it is possible that some of these products may contain pathogens. For example, some toxin-producing strains of B. licheniformis have been identified in outbreaks of food poisoning (Mikkola et al., 2000). Another example is Acinetobacter baumanii, which has recently emerged as a cause of healthcare associated infections (Fournier and Richet, 2006). A third example is several Candida species, including C. albicans, considered to be opportunistic pathogens for which a number of different virulence factors have been identified (Yang, 2003). In cases like these, proper taxonomic designation of a micro-organism to at least the species level (and in some cases, the sub-species or strain level) becomes very important, since it can help to distinguish between pathogenic and non-pathogenic strains.

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