Health Effects Of Formaldehyde & Glutaraldehyde

Health Effects Of Formaldehyde & Glutaraldehyde

Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is used as a disinfectant or sterilant. It is commonly used as a preservative in medical laboratories and mortuaries. Formaldehyde is also used to prepare viral vaccines, as an embalming agent, a tissue fixative, and in the sterilization of medical equipment. Paraformaldehyde, a solid polymer of formaldehyde, can be heat vaporized for the gaseous decontamination of laminar flow biologic safety cabinets. Additionally, formaldehyde is often found mixed in water and referred to as formalin.

Healthcare workers may be harmed by exposure to formaldehyde. It can irritate the skin, throat, lungs, and eyes. Repeated exposure to formaldehyde can possibly lead to cancer. The level of exposure depends on the dose, duration, and the work being done.

Glutaraldehyde

Glutaraldehyde is a toxic chemical that is used as a cold sterilant to disinfect and clean heat-sensitive medical, surgical, and dental equipment. Glutaraldehyde is also used as a tissue fixative in histology and pathology labs and as a hardening agent in the development of x-rays.

Glutaraldehyde is used in a limited number of applications, rather than just as a general disinfectant. Specific applications include:

  • use as a disinfecting agent for respiratory therapy equipment
  • bronchoscopes
  • physical therapy whirlpool tubs
  • surgical instruments
  • anesthesia equipment parts
  • x-ray tabletops
  • dialyzers
  • dialysis treatment equipment
health effects of Glutaraldehyde

Health Effects

  • Short term (acute) effects: Contact with glutaraldehyde liquid and vapor can severely irritate the eyes, and at higher concentrations burns the skin. Breathing glutaraldehyde can irritate the nose, throat, and respiratory tract, causing coughing and wheezing, nausea, headaches, drowsiness, nosebleeds, and dizziness.
  • Long term (chronic) effects: Glutaraldehyde is a sensitizer. This means some workers will become very sensitive to glutaraldehyde and have strong reactions if they are exposed to even small amounts. Workers may get sudden asthma attacks with difficulty breathing, wheezing, coughing, and tightness in the chest. Prolonged exposure can cause a skin allergy and chronic eczema, and afterwards, exposure to small amounts produces severe itching and skin rashes. Glutaraldehyde has been implicated as a possible cause of occupational asthma.

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