[Pharmwaste] Hand Sanitizers and PFC

Catherine Zimmer zimme053 at umn.edu
Fri Oct 16 10:56:49 EDT 2009

Hospitals and healthcare facilities may get a real wakeup call on hand 
sanitizers when the greenhouse gas emission reporting rules go into 
effect.  The alcohol based foaming hand sanitizers contain 
perfluorocarbons.  PFC are GHG with global warming potential 
significantly higher, read 100s to 1000s times higher than carbon 
dioxide.  Not only are PFC potent GHG but they are also persistent in 
the environment lasting tens of thousands of years.  So, while CDC may 
guide the use of hand sanitizers, healthcare facilities are better off 
with just alcohol gels, rather than persistent--triclosan, tricarban and 

Catherine Zimmer
Health Care Specialist

Minnesota Technical Assistance Program
University of Minnesota
612.624.4635, 800.247.0015

Helping Minnesota businesses maximize resource efficiency, increase energy efficiency, reduce costs, and prevent pollution

Suhr, Marcus W. wrote:
> The two studies the rep displayed statements from were (Kramer A et al.
> (2002) from the Lancet 359:1489-1490, and Rupp ME et al. (2008) from
> Inf. Cont. Hosp. Epid 29:8-15.  
> I thought it odd that the rep would discuss studies which seem to
> undermine his points about improving hand hygiene by utilizing
> sanitizers more.  A couple of excerpted conclusion statements from
> Kramer were that "tested alcohol hand-gels may be insufficient to
> prevent the spread of pathogens" and "should be considered a retrograde
> step for hand hygiene... not first choice agents".  The Rupp study
> concluded "improvement in the hand hygiene adherence rate was not
> associated with detectable changes in the incidence of
> healthcare-associated infection."
> I don't profess to read clinical research articles on a regular basis
> and I don't know Rupp or Kramer, but the Medline rep made it sound like
> they were respected researchers.  I have long held the belief that
> sanitizers were developed to supplement a standard hand hygiene program
> based on a myriad of reasons.  What I am hearing and seeing is, hand
> sanitizers are starting to dominate as a primary technique and creating
> more headaches because the other considerations (flammability,
> occupational misuse, disposal) are not being fully discussed, not to
> mention alternatives to hazardous components. 
> I am well aware, you can make a study say almost whatever you want it to
> say by designing it a certain way, but some facts are uncontrovertible.
> There is question about whether hand sanitizers are truly effective in
> reducing nosocomial infections.  There is no question about the
> flammability of most of these alcohol based products.
> Marcus Suhr, CSP 
> Industrial Hygienist 
> Christiana Care Health Services 
> Occupational Safety Department, Office L840J 
> 4755 Ogletown-Stanton Road 
> Newark, DE 19718 
> 302-733-3787 (office)
> 302-573-7662 (pager) 
> 302-733-3771 (fax) 
> MSuhr at christianacare.org
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> Subject: Pharmwaste Digest, Vol 48, Issue 11
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