“The approach that we take to the marketplace during any type of crisis … is education and response,” Clean Harbors’ Sean Spaziani said. (Courtesy Clean Harbors)

As venues look toward reopening, it’s important to know the difference

As venues emerge from closures after the COVID-19 pandemic, a crucial distinction for facility managers and owners to grasp as they prepare for the eventual resumption of live events is the difference between disinfection and a deeper level of cleaning: decontamination.

“That’s a critical distinction in this environment,” said Sean Spaziani, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Clean Harbors and its Safety-Kleen subsidiary, a company that provides sanitation services on the NASCAR circuit and for thousands of other clients across a variety of industries. It’s joined in the sector by companies such as Jani-King International and ABM Industries.

Clean Harbors performs over 6,000 emergency response jobs each year and “in times like these, (we) do as much consulting with prospects and customers as we do actual work,” Spaziani said. Since March, the company has handled over 1,200 assignments, including work at two major stadiums.

“The approach that we take to the marketplace during any type of crisis, whether it’s a hurricane, whether it’s H1N1, bird flu, anthrax, whether it was our decontamination work after 9/11, what we focus on is education and response,” he said.


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According to Spaziani, the rule for determining whether to opt for full disinfection as opposed to decontamination is if there is no possible, plausible or known infection. If any of those three conditions are involved, however, “the only acceptable cleaning method is decontamination.” 

In the case of disinfection, crews use chemicals approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that have been shown to be effective against the virus, he said.

“On a decontamination, the level of (personal protective equipment) that’s required is greatly enhanced because we assume the presence of the virus,” Spaziani said. 

Affected areas are sealed off, crews don full face respirators and full suits, and all materials are bonded. Fogging and misting applications can be used, sometimes in partnership depending on the area being decontaminated.

“But again, there is an assumption that the virus is present and our professionals go in with the intention of killing the virus,” Spaziani said.

Whether disinfecting or fully decontaminating, the most important thing, he said, is to rely on trained professionals with “a deep understanding of time on material.”

“Putting a chemical on a surface and wiping it off is not disinfection,” he said. “In order to disinfect appropriately you have to understand, depending on what it is you are cleaning, whether it’s a hard flat surface, whether it’s wood, whether it’s soft material, you have to have a good understanding of time on material if you want to perform an effective disinfection. And then you have to have the proper PPE to make sure that the workers performing the work are safe. How many times have you seen in the news where the workers performing the disinfection are getting sick? All of our PPE exceeds OSHA, CDC and EPA guidelines.”