Chemical Waste: Disinfectants and Sterilants

EPA-registered intermediate-level hospital disinfectants include chlorine-containing products, quaternary ammonium compounds with alcohol, phenolics, and iodophors.20 FDA-registered sterilants/high-level disinfectants include glutaraldehyde, glutaraldehyde with phenol, hydrogen peroxide, and hydrogen peroxide with peracetic acid.20 Chemiclaves may use formaldehyde. Some of these chemicals are P- or U-listed while others may be characteristic hazardous wastes.

Information to determine if a chemical (including disinfectant and sterilant) is hazardous can be obtained from the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) provided by the supplier of the product.8 In some jurisdictions disposal into a sanitary sewer system is permitted if a product is first treated, for example Cidex OPA, an aldehyde, treated with glycine. To minimize the environmental effects of disinfectants and sterilants, follow best management practices (Box F).

Box F. Best management practices for the use of and disposal of chemical disinfectants and sterilants.8,20
  1. Ensure office personnel have read the SDS for all chemicals (including the SDS for chemical disinfectants and sterilants) used in the oral healthcare facility and are trained to handle hazardous chemicals.
  2. Avoid the use of chemical disinfectants and sterilants, especially halogenated products (i.e., those containing chlorine or iodine), and glutaraldehydes) when other alternatives are available.
    • Follow manufacturers’ recommendations on treatment and disposal of waste disinfectants and sterilants.
      • DO NOT POUR CHEMICAL DISINFECTANT AND STERILANTS INTO A SEPTIC SYSTEM.
    • Paper or cloth products impregnated with disinfectants and sterilants may be disposed of as non-hazardous office waste.
    • Rinse empty disinfectant and sterilant containers with water, remove or deface labels to indicate the container no longer contains hazardous chemicals, and discard as non-hazardous office waste.
  3. Use steam and dry heat to sterilize heat-tolerant instruments and devices.
    • Replace chemiclaves with autoclaves to avoid the use of formaldehyde.