Sterilization changes net $35,000 in savings

Pasteurization eases EO environmental concerns

Treating semicritical equipment with pasteurization disinfection technology rather than ethylene oxide (EO) sterilizers can reduce processing costs without increasing risk to patients, reports Dorothy McLaughlin, RN, infection control professional at Children's Hospital in Boston.

Diverting some 6,000 semicritical items per month from EO to pasteurization reduced processing costs by at least $35,000 over a six-month period, she says. The 349-bed pediatric facility reviewed the issue, calculating the costs of sterilization/disinfection technologies, including peracetic acid, hydrogen peroxide, EO, ozone, and pasteurization.

It was found that diverting as many semicritical items as possible from EO or chemical sterilants to pasteurization would provide the greatest cost benefit with increasing risk, an approach supported by Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pneumonia guidelines.1

Pasteurization processing proves effective

Thus the pasteurization processing now includes respiratory therapy and anesthesia equipment, which formerly were designated for EO sterilization only at the hospital. Though expressing concern with straying from the EO ’gold standard” for equipment processing, McLaughlin says the pasteurization process is proving effective at keeping microbial levels down. Before and after the change in sterilization technology, she prospectively tracked the presence of nosocomial gram-negative rods.

’[I] cannot find an increase in any enteric or nonenteric gram-negative rod,” she says. ’We are almost one year into the process right now and there’s not an increase there.”

Another intent of the project was to minimize pollution and health care risks associated with use of ethylene oxide, which has been used as a technology since the 1950s despite its long recognized flammability and toxicity, she says.

EO named as dangerous air pollutant

In that regard, the Washington DC-based federal Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Act identified EO as one of 129 hazardous air pollutants, raising the possibility that hospitals may eventually have EO emissions regulated, she adds.

EO is still used at the hospital, though one large sterilizer has been removed, and the overall level of emissions is down. In addition to the cost savings, benefits include enhanced worker safety and higher satisfaction with a shortened turnaround time for many pieces of equipment, she says.

McLaughlin presented the study in Atlanta in June at the annual conference of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control in Washington, DC.