BBMP on Saturday announced that a private company will conduct an ‘aerial spraying’ project to ‘disinfect Bengaluru city against bacteria’ in order to control the virus-caused pandemic. After several questions were raised about the method and materials used, the Bengaluru municipal body on Sunday called off the project, and told TNM that the project was an experiment by the company in their own airfield, but BBMP Commissioner Gaurav Gupta has stopped the implementation in any part of the city till the project is studied in detail. The BBMP said that they had not spent any money on the project by a company called Aerialworks Aero LLP.
In a statement on Saturday, BBMP had stated that two ‘disinfectant’ liquids would be sprayed over certain areas in Bengaluru using a low-flying, two-seater plane, and claimed that this will be effective in reducing germs, pollens and other allergens in the air and also limit the spread of COVID-19
The two liquids which were supposed to be sprayed over Bengalureans’ heads are ‘Airlens Minus Corona’ and ‘Sugaradhana Organic Antimicrobial Concentrate’. While the former is supposedly ionised tap water that claims to kill viruses, the latter is in essence a non-alcoholic surface sanitiser. Experts who TNM spoke to questioned the rationale behind spraying these products aerially, and also wondered whether the BBMP understood that the COVID-19 pandemic is spread by the novel coronavirus — a virus, as the name makes clear — and not bacteria. The BBMP statement on Saturday said they had set up an “aerial platform using the latest technology to spray disinfectant in microns to keep organic liquid suspended in air for a long duration of time so Bacteria floating in aerosols will be washed down limiting the spread of COVID-19 by air
“This is a very confusing statement, mentioning bacteria when COVID-19 is a viral disease,” said Dr Anant Bhan, a bioethics researcher. He also questioned the effectiveness of such an exercise and raised concerns about its safety. Dr Sylvia Karpagam, a public health doctor, said that COVID-19 is majorly spread by interaction with an infected person and this aerial spraying will do nothing to sanitize surfaces that actually could be contaminated. She further argued that spraying is effective only indoors — for example, a hospital ward that housed a COVID-19 patient, where the spray reaches every potentially contaminated surface.
Even indoor surface sanitisation sprays are only effective when they contain at least 60% alcohol, several experts have said, and the ‘Sugaradhana Organic Antimicrobial Concentrate’ that the company was planning to use does not contain any alcohol, and is made using the ‘power of Ayurveda’, according to the product’s website, which was reiterated by the BBMP in it’s press release
“Evidence on the utility of airborne spraying is not readily available. Deploying such technologies without adequate pre-testing is not a good idea, this should include field testing in unmanned areas, and further on a deliberation on the potential risks involved, and the need for getting the communities involved in the final decision regarding deployment,” Dr Anant Bhan said. TV Ramakrishna, a renowned scientist from Indian Institute of Science (IISC) had a similar opinion and said, “This needs to be validated in a reputed scientific lab to make sure of efficacy and whether it is non-harmful to biota including humans, before use in a densely populated region.”
Dr Sylvia said, “Just by calling something ayurvedic, you cannot make it safe. In the past we have seen these ‘ayurvedic’ things containing harmful substances including mercury. When something is sprayed people breathe it and nobody knows what adverse effects it might cause.”
One more concern raised by experts is the ethics involved in spraying areas of human habitation. Dr Bhan argued that it is disrespectful to spray disinfectant over people without their explicit consent. Dr Sylvia pointed out that the areas selected for the operation includes neighborhoods which are majorly occupied by minorities, marginalized and poor sections of people. “These areas selected majorly include areas where Muslims, Dalits and the poor live. In general, the government chooses such areas and by this, a notion that they spread diseases is created in public. This further intensifies the social stigma surrounding these communities,” she said.
Another concern raised by experts is the flying of the plane close to the ground and the risks involved. According to a report in The New Indian Express, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) rule states that the plane cannot be flown less than 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle in congested areas of the city. Speaking to TNIE, BBMP Commissioner Gaurav Gupta had said that they had provided permission for spraying from the air but the height was not regulated by the BBMP. If they violated the rules of the DGCA then they should be held accountable by the DGCA.