OSHA Closes Complaint Against Hospital for PAA Exposure Because of Lack of Ability to Measure PAA

The Pittsburgh City Paper (CP) recently reported that OSHA closed a complaint of workplace exposure against healthcare giant, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) because OSHA lacks the means to measure peracetic acid (PAA).

Hospital acquired infections are a major problem for healthcare in this and other countries and hospitals are looking for effective biocides to control germs. UPMC started using a PAA based wipe called Oxycide from Ecolab which the safety data sheet (SDS) says contains 5.8% PAA, 27.5% hydrogen peroxide and 8% acetic acid, since it is very effective against a wide variety of pathogens including the hard to kill Clostridium difficile spores.

The paper quoted a UPMC employee saying “The problem was that OxyCide is giving us headaches, making us nauseous and making it hard to breathe,” says Justin Sheldon, the employee who filed the complaint on behalf of 200 employees. 

The CP reported that in April OSHA closed the complaint without issuing any violations. PAA is the most irritating component but OSHA only looks at the hydrogen peroxide and acetic acid components which have OSHA permissible exposure limits; and as importantly, OSHA standard methods for measuring vapor concentrations.  If OSHA can’t measure it, OSHA can’t cite for it.

The same challenge exists for employers such as UPMC who want to keep their employees safe and ensure that they provide a safe work environment; but they lack a means to measure the PAA concentration. If they cannot measure it, then it is also very difficult for them to control it and ensure that their workers are not overly exposed.

UPMC is not alone in needing to monitor for PAA, PAA is widely used in healthcare, food and beverage production and many other industries.  A large multinational beverage company that used PAA on its aseptic filling lines experienced employee complaints from symptoms similar to those reported above. They measured the hydrogen peroxide and acetic acid concentrations and found them to be at safe levels but employee relations soured because the symptoms experienced by the employees did not match the concentrations measured. When they installed a ChemDAQ system for PAA, the readings now matched the symptoms, and the corporation was able to use the PAA monitor readings to control the exposure. The symptoms were reduced, employee trust was regained, and the corporation even reported a 5 percent increase in productivity, a significant improvement for their three high speed aseptic bottling lines.

Chemicals such as PAA provide a vital role as a biocide in controlling pathogens, as disinfectants and sterilants. ChemDAQ systems are currently used in hospitals, clinics, food and beverage and other industries in the US, Canada and in Europe to protect both employees from exposure and allow employers to continue to use disinfectants and sterilant chemicals such as PAA in their operations.