Peroxygens

Hydrogen peroxide and peracetic acid are powerful oxidizing agents that under controlled conditions can be used as steri-lants. They are readily biodegradable and, in normal concentrations of use, appear to be less toxic than the traditional alternatives, ethylene oxide and glutaraldehyde.

Hydrogen Peroxide The effectiveness of hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) as a germicide depends in part on whether it is used on living tissue, such as a wound, or on an inanimate object. This is because all cells that use aerobic metabolism, including the body's cells, produce the enzyme catalase, which inactivates hydrogen peroxide by breaking it down to water and oxygen gas. Thus, when a solution of 3% hydrogen peroxide is applied to a wound, our cellular enzymes quickly break it down. When the same solution is used on an inanimate surface, however, it overwhelms the relatively low concentration of catalase produced by microscopic organisms. ■ catalase, p. 89

Hydrogen peroxide is particularly useful as a disinfectant because it leaves no residue and does not damage stainless steel, rubber, plastic, or glass. Hot solutions are commonly used in the food industry to yield commercially sterile containers for aseptically packaged juices and milk. Vapor-phase hydrogen peroxide is more effective than liquid solutions and can be used as a sterilant.

Peracetic Acid Peracetic acid is an even more potent germicide than hydrogen peroxide. A 0.2% solution of peracetic acid, or a combination of peracetic acid and hydrogen peroxide, can be used to sterilize items in less than 1 hour. It is effective in the presence of organic compounds, leaves no residue, and can be used on a wide range of materials. It has a sharp, pungent odor, however, and like other oxidizing agents, it is irritating to the skin and eyes.

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