Many cleaners and disinfectants commonly used in routine maintenance activities have the potential to have adverse impacts on indoor air quality and on employee and patient health when used improperly or for extended time periods. Less-toxic, environmentally friendly maintenance products exist for almost all cleaning and disinfecting needs. For information on safer use of cleaners, as well as information on the toxic constituents found in cleaners and a listing of vendors selling alternative products, visit cleaning products and reducing toxics.
In addition to using cleaners in common areas, healthcare facilities use an array of disinfectants and sterilizing solutions on various surfaces and instruments to reduce or eliminate the risk of infection caused by microbiological contamination. Studies have shown that two of the more commonly used products, glutaraldehyde and ethylene oxide, can cause serious health effects.
Glutaraldehyde can cause skin irritation, asthma, headaches, and nausea. Anecdotal reports have also detailed some occurrences of chemical sensitization disorders.
Ethylene oxide is extremely reactive and flammable; it also has been identified by the National Toxicology Program as a known human carcinogen. Depending on the type of exposure, it can also cause nausea, vomiting, neurological disorders, damage to the central nervous system, liver, and kidneys, and it may pose reproductive hazards.
Cost-competitive alternatives exist for both products. Examples of alternatives for glutaraldehyde include Cidex OPA, Sporox, and Sterilox. Alternatives for ethylene oxide include Sterrad, Sterris, and Metrex Compliance. When comparing either product to a less toxic alternative, it is important to evaluate whether there will be any impact on:
instrument or equipment use, wear, or warranty
required emissions controls
waste management practices and costs
other operational costs (labor, time to disinfect/sterilize, or staff training)
helpful links about cleaning products
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