Peracetic Acid Spills in Hospitals – an Administrators nightmare

Every hospital administrator’s nightmare is to see hazmat crews dressed in white overalls breathing through respirators running into their facility in front of the TV cameras while staff are evacuating patients in response to a chemical spill. High level disinfectant (HLD) chemicals such as peracetic acid are an essential part of modern healthcare, medicine being used to disinfect those items that cannot be heat treated. These HLDs are used safely everyday across the world; but if something goes wrong, hospital these chemicals pose a risk to anyone exposed to them and the administrators start having those dreams again.

Recently a few adminstrators had to face this very problem.On November 8th, over 100 staff and outpatients were evacuated from Harrogate Hospital, in the UK after a spill from a drum of peracetic acid in the endoscopy department. Closer to home, on November 15th a hazmat crew responded to report of a leaking peracetic acid container at a dialysis unit of Cape Coral Hospital in Florida.

In February last year Llandudno Hospital, Wales evacuated their outpatient department due to a peracetic acid spill and in June a peracetic acid spill at the Northbay Surgical Regional Center in Novato, CA resulted in one employee being treated for throat discomfort from the acid fumes. and evacuation of the first-floor patients who were able to walk, while three surgery patients who were semi-sedated were sheltered in a sealed room with their attendants. In 2010 another spill had Addenbrook’s hospital near Cambridge, UK in 2010 evacuate staff and patients.

Peracetic acid is widely used as a high level disinfectant because of its superior antimicrobial properties but like all high level disinfectants, it poses a risk to anyone exposed to it. These hazards are well recognized and the ACGIH has proposed a TLV of 0.4 ppm 15 minute STEL.

Peracetic acid spills and leaks can occur form many reasons including container failure, equipment malfunction, wear and tear and of course human error. Leaks may be as vapor or liquid, though with the latter, there will always be vapor associated with liquid. Therefore when using peracetic acid it is important to employ good engineering controls, continuous gas monitoring, person protective equipment and good training etc.

Some problems appear suddenly and if the problem results in the release of peracetic acid vapors a continuous gas monitor will sound an alarm if the concentration approaches hazardous levels. However, many, perhaps most problems develop gradually over time. For these problems, a continuous gas monitor may provide an alert of the problem before it becomes a major issue. For more information about continuous gas monitors for peracetic acid or other gases and vapors contact ChemDAQ by e-mail at info@chemdaq.com or by telephone at 412-787-0202.