BRICKELL KEY, Fla. – A South Florida community is trying to be proactive in keeping people safe from the COVID-19 pandemic, but instead, residents are complaining that what's being done is toxic and causing more harm than good.
Brickell Key resident Priscilla Colon often takes waterfront walks, but recently she began to notice migraine headaches occurring; and then her dog, Astro, got sick.
Colon said since mid-March, people in hazmat suits have been driving around the community's open spaces in golf carts. They are spraying a chemical on the community's Baywalk that some photos show to be harming even the grass.
In an email obtained by Local 10 News, Brickell Key Master Association said they started a daily 5 a.m. sanitation program, using Virex Plus, which is being applied, they said, in according to the product's direction.
That, however, is in dispute. Local 10 News' Christina Vazquez checked with the manufacturer of Virex, Diversey.
In a statement to Local 10, Diversey said that Virex Plus is a disinfectant designed for cleaning hard surfaces.
"Diversey does not recommend Virex Plus to be used on porous concrete or grass."
Signs tell residents that the Baywalk is closed for sanitation from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m., but some residents told Local 10 that it can remain closed as late as 1 p.m., after which they still complained of the smell of the spray.
While Virex Plus is listed on what the EPA calls it's N-List of disinfectants for the virus that causes COVID-19, an EPA spokesperson said the products need to be used as directed, and that EPA and CDC guidance says typically only routine cleaning is needed for outdoor areas.
In addition, the Florida Poison Information Center in Miami told Local 10 that the disinfectancts in this product's class are designed for industrial cleaning, not residential uses. They also said there is no scientific basis yet for spraying common areas to combat coronavirus infection, and that exposure to a high enough concentration can cause eye irritation, skin blistering, stomach pain and vomiting.
As for Priscilla's dog Astro, "He had to be hospitalized," she said. "Diagnosed with gastritis."
Astro's vet told Local 10 it happened after he consumed grass sprayed with Virex, and that the dog may have suffered permanent internal damage.
Priscilla said despite raising these concerns with the association, the spraying continues.
"They are wasting our financial resources," she said.
In a statement sent to Local 10 News, the Brickell Key Master Association said, in part, “BKMA has not used Virex Plus since April 10. Virex Plus became unavailable because of consumer demand, so BKMA then switched to using diluted, disinfectant Clorox approved for indoor and outdoor use.”
According to the association, residents have been provided with email announcements that includes, “the information they need to choose whether they wish to visit the affected areas.”
The statement concludes, “The Master Association will continue to handle the Baywalk Sanitation Program with approved products and according to the manufacturer’s instructions. All residents, including dog owners, should make personal decisions about whether they wish to use any of the island’s specific amenities in light of the cleaning programs in place.”
Since the story aired I have received new complaints from Brickell Key residents. One couple told me “we have noticed on our balcony some strange smells like of heavy pesticide or cleaning chemicals, my hubby has had headaches and feeling nauseaus.” https://t.co/eTb4CQx903— Christina Vazquez (@CBoomerVazquez) May 13, 2020
More Brickell Key residents are reaching out to me. Complaints of headaches, nausea, and eye irritation. One resident emailed to say: “I had no clue that the Brickell Key was doing this...I was never notified via email about this prevention that the island took upon themselves.” https://t.co/0ZBa9uGKLJ— Christina Vazquez (@CBoomerVazquez) May 13, 2020
FULL STATEMENTS OBTAINED BY LOCAL 10 NEWS BELOW:
“All items on List N should be used only as directed by the label. Also, EPA and CDC worked together on disinfecting and sanitizing guidance which includes information on outdoor spaces. The guidance explains that typically only routine cleaning is needed for outdoor areas. It is important to use disinfectants efficiently given limited supplies.” -EPA spokesperson. To read more about the EPA’s guidance in this manner, click here.
"Virex® Plus is an effective disinfectant designed for cleaning and disinfection of hard, non-porous surfaces, and must be used as specified on the label. Diversey does not recommend Virex Plus to be used on porous concrete or grass as those are not hard surfaces. When used according to the label instructions, Virex Plus has been proven to be safe and effective." –Diversey.
"We do receive calls about disinfectants in this product’s class (quaternary ammonium) and calls have been increasing since March (see chart attached). I am unable to release information about this specific product or specific callers (since these calls are medical records and are covered under HIPAA). What I can say is that we do receive calls about this class of cleaners and callers’ symptoms range from eye irritation to skin blistering to stomach pain and vomiting if they are exposed to a high enough concentration. These products are designed for use on hard surfaces in healthcare or industrial settings - not residential uses, according to the EPA. There is also no scientific basis yet for spraying common areas to combat coronavirus infection. The virus is unlikely to survive long on outdoor surfaces with our heat, sunshine and humidity. Sidewalks and shrubbery are also not “high-touch areas” for most people. Pets and small children are at higher risk for these types of poisonings since they are lower to the ground and touch and put random things in their mouth with greater frequency. A better approach for residential communities (beyind cleaning of indoor areas like hand rails, elevators, etc.) would be to encourage residents to remove shoes when they enter the home and/or to sanitize the soles of their shoes if they want to be particularly thorough. Please let me know if you need more information and please do share the hotline with your viewers if they have further questions: 1-800-222-1222." - Wendy Blair Stephan, Florida Poison Information Center-Miami.
"As part of the Baywalk Sanitation Program and in accord with City and County Mandates, the BKMA closed Baywalk on March 23. Prior to that date and thereafter, as part of the Sanitation Program, the BKMA began applying disinfectant in certain areas of Brickell Key, focusing on high tough points such as benches and trash bins and including the grassy areas adjacent to the Baywalk. The BKMA selected only commercially available and widely used products, and strictly followed the “Guidelines of Use.” On March 30, the BKMA distributed information with these details to all residents, and this information continues to be available upon request.
"BKMA has not used Virex Plus since April 10. Virex Plus became unavailable because of consumer demand, so BKMA then switched to using diluted, disinfectant Clorox approved for indoor and outdoor use.
"The BKMA installed signs which indicate where and when areas are closed for sanitation (between the hours of 5:00 A.M. and 9:00 A.M.) These signs specifically instruct residents to wait until the area is fully dried before entering. The BKMA has also followed up with email announcements to provide residents and guests with the information they need to choose whether they wish to visit the affected areas.
“The Master Association will continue to handle the Baywalk Sanitation Program with approved products and according to the manufacturer’s instructions. All residents, including dog owners, should make personal decisions about whether they wish to use any of the island’s specific amenities in light of the cleaning programs in place.” – Brickell Key Master Association.
Below: Letter from Colon’s veterinarian regarding Astro consuming grass sprayed with Virex, and an email from Brickell Key Master Association to Colon in which it says Virex Plus “is being applied in accordance with its direction.”