Glutaraldehyde, or 1,5-pentanedial, is a colourless oily liquid with a pungent odour and is slightly acidic in its natural state. It is soluble in water and in organic solvents.
The largest single use of glutaraldehyde is as an antimicrobial, bactericide, fungicide and a virucide. It is used to sterilise hospital and veterinary equipment, and to disinfect surfaces in hospitals, veterinary hospitals, nursing homes, and food processing plants. It is used to prevent bacterial growth in water supplies for washing air, cooler systems, logging ponds, and pulp and paper water systems. Smaller uses are as an embalming fluid, as a fixative for tissues, for film processing and leather tanning.
Sources of emission
- Industry sources: The primary sources of glutaraldehyde are the industries that use it. Some of the industries that use it are crude oil and natural gas extraction, beverage manufacturers, hospitals and x-ray processing. These emissions mainly are to the air and water.
- Diffuse sources: Other possible emitters of glutaraldehyde are medical offices, veterinary clinics, water in cooling systems, food processing facilities, tanneries, household disinfectants and agriculture sanitising.
- Consumer products: Agricultural chemicals, disinfecting, sterilising,sanitising, household disinfectants, and furniture polish.
Routes of exposure
The major routes of exposure to glutaraldehyde are:
- skin absorption,
- skin and/or eye contact
Contact with liquid and vapour can severely irritate the eyes, and at higher concentrations burns the skin. Exposure to glutaraldehyde can cause nausea, headaches.
Short-term exposure to high levels of glutaraldehyde may result in sudden headaches drowsiness, and dizziness. Breathing glutaraldehyde can irritate the nose, throat, and respiratory tract, causing coughing and wheezing. It causes strong irritation to the eyes and ingestion may result in abdominal pains, cramps, vomiting, diarrhoea, and or a burning sensation in the chest. At very high doses vascular collapse and coma have occurred.
Glutaraldehyde is a sensitiser, this is where after repeated exposures an allergic response occurs. 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 difficult 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.
The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) has classified glutaraldehyde as A4 (Not classifiable for human or animal.)
Glutaraldehyde is mutagenic for mammalian somatic cells. It is also mutagenic for bacteria and yeast.
Glutaraldehyde is classified as a suspended reproductive toxin in females.
First Aid Measures
- Eye Contact: Check for and remove any contact lenses. In case of contact, immediately flush eyes with plenty of water for at least 15 minutes. Cold water may be used. Get medical attention immediately.
- Skin Contact: In case of contact, immediately flush skin with plenty of water. Cover the irritated skin with an emollient. Remove contaminated clothing and shoes. Cold water may be used. Wash clothing before reuse. Thoroughly clean shoes before reuse. Get medical attention.
- Serious Skin Contact: Wash with a disinfectant soap and cover the contaminated skin with an anti-bacterial cream. Seek immediate medical attention.
- Inhalation: If inhaled, remove to fresh air. If not breathing, give artificial respiration. If breathing is difficult, give oxygen. Get medical attention immediately.
- Serious Inhalation: Evacuate the victim to a safe area as soon as possible. Loosen tight clothing such as a collar, tie, belt or waistband. If breathing is difficult, administer oxygen. If the victim is not breathing, perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
WARNING: It may be hazardous to the person providing aid to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation when the inhaled material is toxic, infectious or corrosive. Seek immediate medical attention.
- Ingestion: If swallowed, do not induce vomiting unless directed to do so by medical personnel. Never give anything by mouth to an unconscious person. Loosen tight clothing such as a collar, tie, belt or waistband. Get medical attention immediately.
Exposure Controls & Personal Protection
Provide exhaust ventilation or other engineering controls to keep the airborne concentrations of vapours below their respective threshold limit value. Ensure that eyewash stations and safety showers are proximal to the workstation location.
Personal Protective Equipment
The following personal protective equipment is recommended when handling glutaraldehyde:
- Splash goggles;
- Laboratory coat;
- Vapour respirator (be sure to use an approved/certified respirator or equivalent);
Personal Protective Equipment in Case of a Large Spill:
- Splash goggles;
- Full suit;
- Vapour respirator;
- A self-contained breathing apparatus should be used to avoid inhalation of the product.
- Suggested protective clothing might not be sufficient; consult a specialist BEFORE handling this product.
Safe Work Australia: Safe Work Australia has established a time weighted average (TWA) concentration for glutaraldehyde of 0.1ppm over an eight-hour workshift.
- ACGIH: the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists has adopted a ceiling threshold limit value (TLV-C) of 0.05ppm for glutaraldehyde. A TLV-C represents an airborne concentration that should not be exceeded during any part of the work shift.
- NIOSH: the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has established a recommended exposure (REL) limit of 0.2 ppm, as a ceiling limit, for glutaraldehyde.
- OSHA: the Occupational Safety and Health Administration had also established a permissible exposure limit (as a ceiling level) of 0.2 ppm in 1989, but this was vacated in 1993 for legal reasons.
- From WorkSafe Victoria: A Guide to the Safe Use of Glutaraldehyde for Cold Disinfection of Medical Instruments [pdf]
Glutaraldehyde in NSW Public Health Facilities (Policy and Guidelines for Safe Use)
Note: Policy status was changed to "obsolete" on 20 November 2013 as it was decided it was no longer required as a policy, as it is adequately covered under PD2013_005 Work Health and Safety: Better Practices and Procedures. The obsolete policy can still be downloaded for information.
- Glutaraldehyde - CDC Workplace Health and Safety Topics. This page has lots of other US resources
Last amended July 2017