The EPA gave American Airlines approval Monday to use a disinfectant spray on planes in Texas intended to kill COVID-19 germs as air carriers continue to struggle to bring passengers back to flying.
The Environmental Protection Agency said it is giving an emergency exemption for American Airlines to use a product in Texas called SurfaceWise2 made by Dallas-based Allied Bioscience, a spray coating that has been shown to inactivate the COVID-19 virus for up to seven days.
It’s the first time the EPA has given approval for a spray intended to kill the coronavirus for a long period of time, said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler in a call with reporters Monday.
Allied BioScience makes similar sprays for healthcare settings and has been working to get it approved for COVID-19 since early in the pandemic.
Fort Worth-based American Airlines and other air carriers have been scrambling to convince customers that the confined space of an airplane is safe from COVID-19 amid dismal passenger demand since the mid-March. Nearly all airlines require face masks and many have touted air filtering products that they say bring new air into a plane every two to three minutes. Some, including Dallas-based Southwest Airlines and Delta, are underselling planes to allow for social distancing.
The EPA is only allowing the spray to be used at a handful of facilities in Texas. American Airlines will be allowed to use the disinfectant spray on planes that land or spend the night in Texas, but American’s busiest hub at DFW International Airport handles hundreds of flights a day.
The approval came in the form of an emergency exemption and is only valid in Texas, but is expected to be approved in other states shortly, Wheeler said.
The EPA also gave approval for a use of SurfaceWise2 two North Texas healthcare facilities run by Texas Methodist Health System.
Airlines have also increased cleaning procedures between flights and when planes are parked overnight, including the use of some disinfectant sprays meant to disinfect for a week or more.
“In the coming months, America will begin electrostatically spraying surfaces in our entire fleet, including aircraft operated by our American Eagle regional partners,” said American Airlines Chief Operating Officer David Seymour. “Given our fleet size and the fact that it is only approved in Texas, the roll-out of this product will take some time.”
American Airlines has been using another electrostatic spray on planes for the last few months, but those haven’t been given EPA approval to kill COVID-19. Southwest also uses an antimicrobial spray that it says last 30 days but, again, those products haven’t been vetted by the EPA for claims of longevity, Wheeler said.
While CDC officials have said that COVID-19 is primarily spread through air droplets, the infectious diseases agency has also said “it may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes.”
The EPA expects Allied BioScience’s SurfaceWise2 to eventually be available for commercial purchase, Wheeler said. Using the spray is not a replacement for regular cleaning, he said.
Wheeler said he expects other states and airlines to apply for approval to use the product.
Allied BioScience’s Dr. Maha El-Sayed said that while the coronavirus is primarily spread through the air, tests have shown that during flu season, flu germs can be found on more than 30% of surfaces in public areas.
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