Home' Inclean : INCLEAN May-Jun 2017 Contents 70 INCLEAN May/June 2017
CARPET & RESTORATION
Hygiene is defined as the conditions or practices conducive
to health. In most cases, we are only concerned about indoor
environmental risks, as opposed to what we come across
outdoors, when it comes to thinking about hygienic conditions.
More recently we have become focused as a society on wellness.
Hygiene is one part of wellness, as wellness also includes
thinking about our diet and exercise regimes, and protection of
our mental health. Hygiene tends to take less notice of chemicals
in a building that may make us sick, so the focus here is on
diseases are the result of practices around microorganisms.
You cannot be well if your environment is not sufficiently
hygienic to prevent disease. It is here that confusion is present
in the industry around how we determine if a building is
The measurement of the hygiene status of a food preparation
area for example is often assessed using a meter that detects
adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy driving compound
found in all living cells.
Researchers in the US have shown that ATP is incredibly
sensitive to detecting bacteria, whether they come from an
unwanted growth on our food, or from our own bodies –
around 50 per cent of the cells in a human body are bacteria.
So, knowing the relevance of what we are testing is vital in
understanding when and where ATP measurement is useful.
For managing hygiene risks with general cleaning, it is mainly
bacteria that we want to combat. Research has shown that
ATP correlates well with bacterial concentrations on surfaces in
schools (Shaughnessy et. al., 2013).
If readings in this case indicate that the ATP levels are not of
concern, this was shown to provide a good link to a clean bill of
health. Showing a surface is hygienic just based on visual assessment,
however, was shown to miss the risks from inadequate cleaning.
We want to avoid encountering infective diseases, for example
when eating contaminated food. Where we have a particular
disease to eliminate, we need a tool targeted to finding it, and
ATP alone is not enough.
We may be concerned about avoiding risks of exposure to
bacteria that cause diseases such as Legionnaire’s disease in our
plumbing systems, and Giardia in our drinking water from our
rainwater tank systems.
In these cases, specific testing is required where the organism
of concern can be confidently detected. Sewage contains specific
marker organisms that we need to measure to show that they
are not a problem if we are cleaning up after a sewage escape
such as Enterococcus faecilis or Escherichia coli. Again, ATP is
not enough to provide a bill of health to a previously sewage-
In the examples, above, we are thinking about becoming
sick because of poor practice, rather than because of an
unforeseen event, such as a flood or water leak that can result in
contamination of our buildings.
Yet these events can lead to buildings becoming hotbeds of
chemical and biological contaminants because of mould growth
on building materials.
The use of ATP for
ensuring safety in
buildings – an overview
By: Claire Bird*
These buildings are unhygienic, but not because of the risk
of bacteria. They are not always thought of primarily as being
just unhygienic, instead now being considered as somehow
We need instead here to show that mould is not a risk to our
health if the building is to become hygienic that is literally to not
pose a risk to our health.
Whilst useful in assessing contaminated buildings, ATP is
not definitive in showing that there are no residual risks after
restoring premises to pre-loss condition. In many cases where
a building has poor hygiene before the event, the levels of
ATP may be such that they are well above the manufacturer’s
recommended thresholds for a hygienic environment even before
mould was present in a building.
In some cases, ATP measurement fails to detect dormant mould
spores that may be themselves harmful to occupants, or pose a
future threat if buildings then become wet again.
ATP, however, can be useful where bacteria are not likely to be
present at significant levels, as actively growing mould will contain
high levels of ATP and often has bacteria associated with it.
But its use should always be thought about in the knowledge
that the presence of bacteria from humans, soil, or other
biological sources may lead to false alarms, or that mould spores
may be present that could lead to asthma or allergies, or later
growth of mould that are not detected using ATP measurement.
In these cases surfaces should be tested specifically for mould
using a suitable method such as tapelift sampling, or vacuuming
of dust into a collection device for laboratory analysis.
A final consideration is that the mechanism by which ATP is
detected in a meter (bioluminescence) has been shown to be
interfered with when using disinfectants.
So, ensuring all residual disinfectant is removed before
relying on ATP readings to show hygienic conditions is vital
(Omidbakhsh et al, 2914).
Claire Bird is president of Indoor Air Quality Association’s
(IAQA) Australian chapter
Shaughnessy, R., Cole, E.C., Moschandreas, D. and U.
Haverinen-Shaughnessy, (2013). ATP as a Marker for Surface
Contamination of Biological Origin in Schools and as a Potential
Approach to the Measurement of Cleaning Effectiveness. Journal
of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, 10: 336-346.
Omidbakhsh, N., Ahmadpour, F and N. Kenny. (2014).
How Reliable are ATP Bioluminscence Meters in Assessing
Decontamination of Environmental Surfaces in Health Care
Settings? PLoS One, 9(6), 18 June 2014.
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