General Description

Glutaraldehyde is used in cold sterilization and disinfection in the health care industry as a 2% water solution. It is known by its synonym Cidex. It is a colorless liquid with a pungent smell. Glutaraldehyde is also used in X-ray processing solutions, so workers handling recently processed X-ray films may also be at risk of exposure.

Health Effects

The most common health effect of glutaraldehyde exposure is irritation of the nose, and to a lesser degree, irritation of the eyes and skin. It can also cause allergic contact dermatitis (skin sensitization). Gloves do not seem to help. In some cases, it has caused asthma. Glutaraldehyde has a low vapor pressure, so it is probably not inhaled as readily.

Exposure Limits

NIOSH, OSHA, and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists have set an exposure limit of 0.2 parts per million (ppm). It has been found that short-term exposure to glutaraldehyde in concentrations of 0.3 ppm or higher results in significant risk of irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat. Even at low concentrations (below 0.2 ppm), studies have found that glutaraldehyde causes irritation symptoms. In a simulation of a cold-sterilization procedure, the worker exposure was 0.38 ppm.

Protective Measures

Workers using glutaraldehyde should have personal protective equipment to prevent skin and eye contact. Skin that comes in contact with the solution should be washed immediately. Eye wash fountains should be provided in case of accidental contact. Clothing that has become wet with solution should be removed and replaced.

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