The peroxygen compounds, hydrogen peroxide and peraceticacid, have high killing activity and a broad spectrum against bacteria, spores, viruses, and fungi when used in appropriate concentration. They have the advantage that their decomposition products are not toxic and do not injure the environment. They are powerful oxidizers that are used primarily as disinfectants and sterilants.
Hydrogen peroxide is a very effective disinfectant when used for inanimate objects or materials with low organic content such as water. Organisms with the enzymes catalase and peroxidase rapidly degrade hydrogen peroxide. The innocuous degradation products are oxygen and water. Concentrated solutions containing 90% weight per volume H2O2 are prepared electrochemically. When diluted in high-quality deionized water to 6% and 3% and put into clean containers, they remain stable. Hydrogen peroxide has been proposed for disinfection of respirators, acrylic resin implants, plastic eating utensils, soft contact lenses, and cartons intended to contain milk or juice products. Concentrations of 10–25% hydrogen peroxide are sporicidal. Vapor phase hydrogen peroxide (VPHP) is a cold gaseous sterilant that has the potential to replace the toxic or carcinogenic gases ethylene oxide and formaldehyde. VPHP does not require a pressurized chamber and is active at temperatures as low as 4°C and concentrations as low as 4 mg/L. It is incompatible with liquids and cellulose products. It penetrates the surface of some plastics. Automated equipment using vaporized hydrogen peroxide (eg, Sterrad) or hydrogen peroxide mixed with formic acid (Endoclens) is available for sterilizing endoscopes.
Peracetic acid (CH3COOOH) is prepared commercially from 90% hydrogen peroxide, acetic acid, and sulfuric acid as a catalyst. It is explosive in the pure form. It is usually used in dilute solution and transported in containers with vented caps to prevent increased pressure as oxygen is released. Peracetic acid is more active than hydrogen peroxide as a bactericidal and sporicidal agent. Concentrations of 250–500 ppm are effective against a broad range of bacteria in 5 minutes at pH 7.0 at 20°C. Bacterial spores are inactivated by 500–30,000 ppm peracetic acid. Only slightly increased concentrations are necessary in the presence of organic matter. Viruses require variable exposures. Enteroviruses require 2000 ppm for 15–30 minutes for inactivation.
An automated machine (Steris) that uses buffered peracetic acid liquid of 0.1–0.5% concentration has been developed for steriliza-tion of medical, surgical, and dental instruments. Peracetic acid sterilization systems have also been adopted for hemodialyzers. The food processing and beverage industries use peracetic acid exten-sively because the breakdown products in high dilution do not produce objectionable odor, taste, or toxicity. Because rinsing is not necessary in this use, time and money are saved.
Peracetic acid is a potent tumor promoter but a weak carcino-gen. It is not mutagenic in the Ames test.