What Is the Denver Broncos’ Coronavirus ‘Disinfecting Spray’?

A product called MicroSURE claims it protects surfaces from Covid-19, including human skin

Photo: Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

On Monday, the Denver Broncos posted a weird video to its Twitter account. In the video, the NFL team’s players walked through a gate that sprayed a fine mist onto them. “Time for work,” the tweet read. “But first, we sanitize.” The video has 3.4 million views as of this publication.

The Broncos’ lead writer Aric Dilalla tweeted more details: “This disinfecting spray helps protects [sic] the players from COVID-19 by killing microbes and pathogens instantly by forming millions of nano-crystalline structures. Players walk through the non-toxic spray as they walk out to the practice field for a walkthrough or practice.” A team spokesperson confirmed to British tabloid the Daily Mail that the product being sprayed was “MicroSure, a nontoxic disinfectant used against viruses like E. Coli and coronavirus.”

On Twitter, people were dubious; an emergency doctor in the U.K. called it “complete nonsense.” To prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends social distancing, hand-washing, wearing a mask, and cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, though it has updated its guidance to note that the virus “does not spread easily” on surfaces. Scientists have established that the coronavirus spreads primarily through person-to-person contact via tiny droplets emitted when a person coughs, sneezes, or talks, though it may also be airborne and travel distances greater than six feet.

The Broncos appear to be attempting to disinfect the surfaces of the players with a fine mist of a disinfectant called MicroSURE. Finding details about the product and its manufacturer isn’t easy.

The Illinois-based Twitter handle @microSURE_, which has four followers as of this publication, retweeted several tweets featuring the Broncos video. One retweet included the reply: “Thank you for your trust and support @Broncos”. The display name on the Twitter account is “microSURE Hand Sanitizer,” and its description says “Alcohol-Free Hand Sanitizer based on 15-year-old technology and material science.” It points visitors to the MicroSURE website.

The website advertises only a spray-on hand sanitizer, but it’s unclear if that’s what the Broncos are getting misted with. Neither MicroSURE nor the Broncos responded to the Coronavirus Blog’s questions in time for publication. (If they respond, we will update the story.) The MicroSURE site also features a banner for a health care solutions company called Strategia and advertises its partnership with a company called LE Supply Pro, which shares its proceeds with the National Sheriffs’ Association.

Strategia has a fact sheet detailing “Microsure Antimicrobial Solutions,” which suggest that MicroSURE is better described as a line of products rather than a single product, and that MicroSURE is manufactured by Strategia. The fact sheet details three MicroSURE-branded products: a wound care ointment, the aforementioned hand sanitizer, and an all-purpose cleaner and disinfectant. Whatever the Broncos are using is likely one of the latter two. The products seem to be based on technology developed by a Texas surgeon named Erwin Lo, MD, that is said to create a mechanical barrier on surfaces that kills pathogens.

The hand sanitizer is advertised as alcohol-free and is said to kill germs on contact while leaving behind an invisible, “breathable” barrier that protects skin for eight hours or more, or however long it takes for your skin cells to slough off. Its active ingredient is benzalkonium chloride, a compound that the Food and Drug Administration recommends customers avoid using, pointing out that the CDC only approves at least 60% alcohol-based hand sanitizers for preventing the spread of Covid-19. The FDA notes, however, that benzalkonium chloride–based sanitizers can be legally marketed if they meet certain marketing requirements, through a quirk in the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

Then there’s MicroSURE’s all-purpose cleaner and disinfectant. It’s advertised as “proven to effectively combat against coronavirus!” by modifying the surface onto which it is sprayed, with the caveat that it’s proven to fight viral pathogens, including SARS, a member of the coronavirus family (but it doesn’t list SARS-CoV-2, which is the virus that causes Covid-19). An unlisted video posted to the website of Ritter Implants, a distributor of dental products that sells MicroSURE goods, suggests that the all-purpose cleaner builds up tiny crystals on surfaces that burst any virus particles that fall onto them. The product’s supposedly surface-modifying abilities seem to be what the Broncos’ Dilalla was referring to:

When a surface is coated with Microsure All Purpose Cleaner and Disinfectant, millions of “invisible”, nanoscopic crystalline structures begin forming and bonding (with the surface), effectively forming a new surface and resulting in a “mechanical kill’, that will kill the cells of the bio threat trying to attach to the object.

However, the all-purpose cleaner’s fact sheet lists only two active ingredients, both of the “quaternary ammonium” variety commonly used in household cleaners. Notably, they’re the exact same ingredients as those in the Pine-Sol formulation approved by the Environmental Protection Agency for killing SARS-CoV-2.

The all-purpose cleaner and disinfectant isn’t supposed to come into contact with skin. If it does, you’re supposed to take off any contaminated clothing and rinse your skin immediately with plenty of water for 15 to 20 minutes, according to Strategia’s fact sheet.

Interestingly, on a table listing details on all of the EPA’s approved disinfectants for the coronavirus, the products with EPA registration numbers corresponding to those listed on the fact sheet are called SC-RTU Disinfectant Cleaners, registered by a person named Ye Liu on the behalf of the Stepan Company, based in Illinois. The products also have the same active ingredients, used at the same concentration, as MicroSURE’s all-purpose cleaner. The correspondence between Liu and the EPA, however, doesn’t mention the name MicroSURE.

It still isn’t clear whether the Broncos are getting misted with MicroSURE’s benzalkonium chloride–based hand sanitizer or the all-purpose cleaner. Neither are great options. The former isn’t approved by the CDC to fight Covid-19, and the latter is harmful to the skin.

The so-called mist booths are concerning, not only because there are potentially harmful effects to the players, but also because they may not be doing what they are meant to do: prevent the spread of the coronavirus. They could be dangerous to the players’ health — and the health of everyone around them — if they create the false sense that the players are protected from getting infected with and spreading Covid-19.

The performative nature of the Broncos’ disinfecting process is a perfect example of what’s become known as “hygiene theater”: making a show of cleaning surfaces to protect against the coronavirus when that’s all it actually is — a show. As scientists have said over and over again, the coronavirus spreads largely through the air, and transmission via surfaces is far less common. Seeing as more than 59 NFL players have tested positive for Covid-19 at some point, one can only hope the Broncos won’t let their misting booths cloud their judgment about mask-wearing and social distancing.

Editor, Medium Coronavirus Blog. Senior editor at Future Human by OneZero. Previously: science at Inverse, genetics at NYU.

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