Paracetic Acid Molecular StructureChemists always seem to come with up new chemicals and new uses. One that’s quickly gaining popularity is peracetic acid, or PAA. PAA is used to clean endoscopes in medical settings and is also found in meat, milk, and produce facilities, and in aseptic packaging.
Peracetic acid is a combination of hydrogen peroxide and acetic acid. Mixed and applied in the right concentrations, it is a very effective biocide. It leaves no residue on the product and breaks down to form water.

The issue with PAA, however, is that it is a strong oxidizer that can cause very serious side effects if inhaled, ingested, or absorbed via dermal exposure – including death. In fact, the American Conference of Governmental Hygienists (ACGIH) has deemed it necessary to apply a Threshold Limit Value (TLV) of 0.4ppm for PAA.

Peracetic acid is commonly sprayed on animal carcasses, food packaging and produce as a way to kill bacteria. If this spray is not adequately contained, human exposure occurs. Unfortunately, awareness regarding PAA’s potential (and proven) negative side effects is not widespread. Generally, the simplest answer for avoiding harmful exposure is ventilation that removes PAA mist and vapour, but the rising number of cases of exposure indicates that this isn’t always being done properly.

Clearly the best way to protect staff is to ventilate, and engineering calculations and measurements should be able to predict exposure to PAA. The reality is that even with the best of engineering things can change, so one should measure PAA concentration directly. There are also both portable and fixed PAA measurement systems available to guard against PAA exposure in any circumstance.

Several manufacturers make proprietary electro-chemical sensors that measure real-time parts per billion concentrations of PAA. These systems include all the normal datalogging, alarms and display functions, and provide the positive feedback that indicates staff is protected. They also let you know when it’s necessary to employ remedial steps.

If you need help determining a plan to protect your own workers against potential exposure to peracetic acid, contact us today.

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Paul Kroes, B.Sc.

Instrumentation Specialist

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