Hospital-wide Hazards » Glutaraldehyde


The following health effects have been reported in hospital workers exposed to glutaraldehyde:

  • Asthma, asthma-like symptoms, and breathing difficulty
  • Throat and lung irritation
  • Nose irritation, sneezing, and wheezing
  • Nosebleed
  • Burning eyes and conjunctivitis
  • Rash-contact and/or allergic dermatitis
  • Staining of the hands (brownish or tan)
  • Hives
  • Headaches
  • Nausea

Glutaraldehyde is found in products used as cold sterilants.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), hospital staff can be exposed to glutaraldehyde through:

  • Working in areas with a cold sterilizing procedure that uses glutaraldehyde (e.g., gastroenterology or cardiology departments)
  • Working in operating rooms, dialysis departments, endoscopy units, and intensive care units, where glutaraldehyde formulations are used in infection control procedures
  • Working in Central Supply, where glutaraldehyde is used as a sterilant
  • Preparing either the alkaline solutions or tissue fixatives in histology and pathology labs by research technicians, researchers, and pharmacy personnel
  • Sterilizing bench tops in laboratories with glutaraldehyde solutions
  • Developing x-rays
  • Filling and cleaning equipment
  • Accidental spills

Recognized Controls and Work Practices

Limit exposure to glutaraldehyde through engineering controls, administrative controls, work practices, and personal protective equipment (PPE), including:

  • Store glutaraldehyde-containing products in closed containers, in well-ventilated areas.
    • Ensure that air-tight containers are available.
    • Post signs to remind staff to replace lids after using product.
  • Ensure that rooms in which glutaraldehyde is used are well-ventilated and large enough to ensure adequate dilution of vapor.
    • Install local exhaust ventilation, such as properly functioning laboratory fume hoods (capture velocity of at least 100 feet per minute), to control vapor.
    • Keep glutaraldehyde baths under a fume hood where possible.
  • Use only enough glutaraldehyde to perform the required disinfecting procedure.
  • Use specially-designed, mobile, compact, disinfectant soaking stations to facilitate sterilization of heat-sensitive equipment such as endoscopes, or GI scopes. These soaking stations provide an enclosed area for sterilizing trays, and they remove vapors from glutaraldehyde and other disinfectants.
  • Provide and ensure the use of appropriate PPE, including:
    • Gloves that are impervious to glutaraldehyde such as those made of Butyl Rubber, Nitrile, and Viton®, which have been shown to provide full-shift protection from glutaraldehyde.
      • For shorter exposures, you can use gloves made of polyethylene. Do not use Neoprene and PVC gloves because they do not provide adequate protection against glutaraldehyde and may actually absorb it.
      • When feasible, limit the use of latex gloves as much as possible, as latex gloves present their own hazards (e.g., dermatitis, sensitization, and allergic reactions).
    • Lab coats, aprons, or gowns made of appropriate materials, such as polypropylene, to provide additional protection.
    • Splash-proof goggles and/or full face shields to protect eyes.
      • Use eye-wash fountains and emergency showers if there is skin contact with glutaraldehyde. Flush area with water for at least 15 minutes to remove chemical.
  • Change into clean clothes if clothing becomes contaminated.
  • Clean up spills immediately.
  • Do not eat, drink, or smoke in any area where glutaraldehyde is handled or stored.
  • Use a vacuum or wet method to reduce dust while cleaning up pure glutaraldehyde. Do not dry-sweep.
  • Use less toxic products if feasible and available, or other processes, for sterilization.
  • Minimize exposure to glutaraldehyde by keeping the chemical in a contained process. For example, automate the transfer of pure glutaraldehyde, or pump liquid glutaraldehyde from drums or other storage containers to appropriate containers and operations.

Requirements under OSHA’s Personal Protective Equipment Standard, 29 CFR Part 1910 Subpart I

Following the hierarchy of controls (e.g., 29 CFR 1910.134), use appropriate PPE to control the hazard, including:

  • Gloves
  • Splash-proof goggles and/or full-face shields when working with glutaraldehyde to protect eyes
  • Respirator requirements are found in the OSHA Respiratory Protection Standard. [29 CFR 1910.134]

Other OSHA Requirements

  • Provide suitable facilities for quick drenching or flushing of the eyes and body (e.g., eye-wash fountains) within the work area for immediate emergency use. [29 CFR 1910.151(c)]
  • The Hazard Communication Standard [29 CFR 1910.1200] ensures that the hazards of all chemicals are evaluated and classified, and that information concerning the classified hazards is transmitted to the employees by means of a comprehensive hazard communication program that includes labeling and other forms of warning, safety data sheets, and employee training.

Additional Information