The Managing Infection Control publication includes an interesting twist for 2009. This year’s Sterilization Technology Showcase isn’t just about managing exposure to pathogens. It also touches on protecting employees from chemicals as well. In many cases, the danger of exposure comes from the very equipment and processes used to control microbial threats. The Steri-Trac Monitoring System from CemDAQ is designed to address this problem. The 2009 Showcase provides interesting information about how sterilization equipment can be monitored for safety.
Gas sterilizers are most often used to disinfect temperature sensitive instruments such as endoscopes. There are a number of different chemicals that can be used in this process and some are more toxic than others. OSHA and the CDC have studied the effects of exposure to each of these gases and set parameters on what is considered a safe exposure level. Not surprisingly, these limits are very low. Acute exposure can have immediate and devastating consequences; but even small quantities of these chemicals can cause problems if employees are in contact with them over extended periods of time.
Meet The Gases
Ethylene Oxide gets most of the bad press since it has been shown to cause cancer in humans. Although this gas does have a distinctive odor, a large amount has to leak before this smell is detectible to the average person. By that time the level of exposure may be over 500 times the maximum safe limit determined by OSHA.
Hydrogen Peroxide vapors are virtually odorless making it impossible for anyone to notice a leak by smell alone. Unlike the 3% hydrogen peroxide sold over the counter at the grocery store, medical sterilizers may use concentrations as high as 90%. This is an extremely caustic substance and unsafe for direct contact or inhalation. Corneal ulcers, skin blistering, and permanent lung damage can be some of the consequences of exposure to concentrated HP.
The final byproduct at the end of an O3 sterilizer cycle is simple oxygen. This is why it is often advertised as an environmentally friendly sterilization method. However, exposure to the concentrated ozone that is created for injection into the chamber can be very harmful to the lungs. This gas does have a sharp, irritating smell but it becomes less noticeable over time as people get used to it. That means a leak could occur and keep getting worse with no one the wiser.
No piece of machinery is completely failure proof. Accidental exposure can occur due to a leaky valve or faulty seal. Failure to properly service and maintain equipment is an oversight that increases the risk of gas and vapor leakage. Operator error and poor or improper ventilation are other common causes of exposure.
How CemDAQ’s System Can Help
The Steri-Trac is designed to immediately alert personnel to the presence of unsafe levels of toxic gases before they get out of control. Since the system monitors EtO, O3, and Hydrogen Peroxide, it only needs to be installed once. If a facility chooses to switch gas sterilizer types during an upgrade, the Steri-Trac will still be compatible.
Visual and audible alarms are programmed to go off in the event of a gas leak. The displays can be read remotely so no one has to actually enter a dangerous area to review the alert message. Up to 8 separate monitors can be tracked from a central location. Detailed, long term record keeping is done automatically to comply with OSHA regulations. Best of all, freshly calibrated sensors can be delivered on a set schedule from CemDAQ so that the entire system is always operating at peak performance.
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