September 2, 2020 - Podcast

Episode 27—Effects on health from increased cleaning and disinfecting and the role of social services in policing

Cleaning and disinfecting have reached new levels of intensity during the coronavirus pandemic. But new research from Indiana University suggests that increased use of chemicals to stop the spread of the virus may pose its own health risks. Scientists from IU’s O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs recently compared dust samples taken from vacuums in residential homes across Indiana in June 2020 with previously collected samples from before the COVID-19 outbreak. In the samples collected after the COVID-19 outbreak, they discovered a significantly higher concentration of quaternary ammonium compounds, or , chemicals that are widely used in household cleaning products. While it’s good news that people appear to be disinfecting more, the chemicals being used can cause health problems if used in high enough concentrations, the scientists say. The compounds are easily absorbed into airborne particles and dust, which leads to long-term contamination of an indoor environment. And the elevated exposure is concerning because these chemicals have been linked with increased risks of asthma, skin irritation, and reproductive effects. The scientists say that while cleaning and disinfecting are essential during the pandemic, we must also pay attention to the potential negative effects on our health and develop strategies to reduce our exposure such as disinfecting with alcohol or products that do not contain these QAC compounds.

In other news, the recent surge in national protests against racism in policing has spurred a nationwide debate about police reform, including the role of social services in policing. But at the IU School of Social Work, the idea that social services -- and social workers -- can play an important role alongside policing is nothing new. In fact, the school has been helping place social workers in police departments since 2016. Marshelia Harris, a professor of social work at IU Northwest, says the roles of social workers and police can be complementary, not contradictory. Working alongside police, she says social workers can link individuals and families to critical support and resources, ranging from basic needs, such as food and clothing, to more complex mental health services, to financial relief, such as rent assistance. They can also provide support programs and officer training to help people struggling with substance abuse get access to recovery services. And in addition to providing the community access to social services, those involved with the IU School of Social Work program say that social workers can help build community connections by providing education on social injustices and cultural differences, as well as support with de-escalation. In the end, they say the goal is a partnership that supports both law enforcement and the community, providing the training, resources, and support that each needs.