What is Corrosion Engineering and how much anti-Covid Disinfection affects the Deterioration of Surfaces

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Author: Salvatore Corradi – FM Chairman

The phenomenon of corrosion engenders enormous costs for our society. Besides the estimated $2 to $4 trillion lost every decade to corrosion in the United States, corrosion can compromise also people’s safety. Railway accidents, wear of emergency equipment, explosion of a dam, these are just a few examples that demonstrate how dangerous corrosion can be for humans. It is clear that it is in the public’s best interest that corrosion, not being able to be stopped completely, be at least mitigated as much as possible.  

Corrosion engineering refers to the application of physics, mathematics, chemistry and engineering with the aim of developing and implementing methods to mitigate the damage caused by corrosion. The corrosion engineering industry is not widely known and not many people are employed in this industry, making this a highly niche discipline. The men and women trained in corrosion engineering are employed in industries where corrosion is a considerable economic or safety issue.

A corrosion engineer deals with the design or implementation of protection systems and among his objectives is the desire to understand the interaction between a material and its environment. Thanks to these experts, it is evident that even a small change in either can make the difference between days and decades of useful life.

We now come to the delicate issue of the COVID-19 pandemic that is still afflicting the entire world: the World Health Organization has stated that thorough cleaning of surfaces and the application of commonly used hospital-level disinfectants are effective procedures.

It is well-known that the respiratory virus is spread mainly through contact with an infected person and scientists are still determining its exact nature and the role of surfaces in spreading the contaminant. Regarding the survival time of the coronavirus on surfaces, there are studies that have indicated a significant variation in its permanence ranging from two hours to nine days and depends on factors such as the type of surface, temperature and humidity. An effective inactivation could be achieved by using common disinfectants such as sodium hypochlorite (bleach). 

The corrosion community is therefore very concerned about the increased use of disinfectants on certain surfaces that would alter their corrosion rate in the short to medium term.

The sanitary protocols of the industries have changed, causing negative effects on the surfaces highly exposed to hypochlorites from the point of view of corrosion; Suffice it to say that one in five disinfectants listed by the US Environmental Protection Agency and indicated as effective against the virus includes chlorinated compounds, most of which are sodium hypochlorite based.

A useful research topic would be to be able to obtain an appropriate corrosion control, selecting inhibitors that do not decrease the effectiveness of the sanitization process. Finally, multidisciplinary research approaches should be considered to address these urgent challenges too often overshadowed.