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• Properties: In a buffered alkaline solution, it is a highly effective microbicidal agent used as a high-level disinfectant of medical, surgical, and dental equipment. It usually is a clear liquid, which turns green when activated. It has a sharp, pungent odor.
• Health effects: Glutaraldehyde is a strong irritant to the skin, eyes, and respiratory system. Contact can lead to skin sensitization and allergic contact dermatitis. Vapor inhalation can lead to occupational asthma or can aggravate pre-existing asthma or pulmonary disease.
• Control: Local exhaust ventilation is considered to be the best way to control glutaraldehyde vapor. In general, glutaraldehyde should be used in rooms that are well-ventilated, with a minimum of 10 air changes per hour.
• Protection: Splash-proof goggles and/or full face shields should be used whenever working with glutaraldehyde. Eyewash units must be available for immediate emergency use. Nitrile and butyl rubber are the materials most impervious to glutaraldehyde. Latex gloves should not be used except where only short-term, incidental contact is expected. Employees who may be exposed to glutaraldehyde above recommended limits during routine or emergency work procedures should use appropriate respirators, in compliance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Respiratory Protection Standard.
• Spills: The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations specifies under its Hazardous Materials Plan that a glutaraldehyde spill containment "response team" should be created. The team should include a representative from the safety committee, a physician (ideally an occupational health physician), the unit supervisor, and any other personnel deemed appropriate. The team will develop a written plan for the containment of glutaraldehyde spills.
• Further information: Safe Use and Handling of Glutaraldehyde-based Products in Health Care Facilities (ANSI/AAMI ST58-1996) is available from the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation, 3330 Washington Blvd., Arlington, VA 22201-4598. Telephone: (703) 525-4890.
Source: New Jersey Division of Environmental and Occupational Health Services. Glutaraldehyde: Guidelines for Safe Use and Handling in Health Care Facilities. Trenton: New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services; 1997.