Quaternary ammonium compounds of emerging concern: Classification, occurrence, fate, toxicity and antimicrobial resistance

Sanjeeb Mohapatra, Lin Yutao, Goh Shin Giek, Charmaine Ng, You Luhua, Ngoc Han Tran, Karina Yew-Hoong Gin*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


Amplified hygiene and precautionary measures are of utmost importance to control the spread of COVID-19 and future infection; however, these changes in practice are projected to trigger a rise in the purchase, utilisation and hence, discharge of many disinfectants into the environment. While alcohol-based, hydrogen peroxide-based, and chlorine-based compounds have been used widely, quaternary ammonium compounds (QACs) based disinfectants are of significant concern due to their overuse during this pandemic. This review presents the classification of disinfectants and their mechanism of action, focusing on QACs. Most importantly, the occurrence, fate, toxicity and antimicrobial resistance due to QACs are covered in this paper. Here we collated evidence from multiple studies and found rising trends of concern, including an increase in the mass load of QACs at a wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) by 331% compared to before the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as an increases in the concentration of 62% in residential dust, resulting in high concentrations of QACs in human blood and breast milk and suggesting that these could be potential sources of persistent QACs in infants. In addition to increased toxicity to human and aquatic life, increased use of QACs and accelerated use of antibiotics and antimicrobials during the COVID-19 pandemic could multiply the threat to antimicrobial resistance.
Original languageEnglish
Article number130393
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Hazardous Materials
Publication statusPublished - 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • Disinfectants
  • Quaternary ammonium compounds
  • Sediment
  • Toxicity
  • Antimicrobial resistance


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