Bleach is not very chemically compatible with formaldehyde and its derivatives. everal noxious gases are liberated in the reaction of bleach with formaldehyde, in addition to deactivating the disinfection potential of bleach. This fact alone makes the choice of bleach less than desirable in embalming situations. With these problems and limitations in mind, let us begin our discussion of bleach and its use in embalming rooms.
WHAT I BLEACH? Bleach is essentially an aqueous solution of sodium hypochlorite in a dilution of 3-6% typically. trictly, by definition, bleach should be 5.25% NaOCL in water. This is the dilution that is available to the public as Clorox or other brands of bleach in grocery stores, etc. Commercial or industrial bleach is available also and typically is 10-12% NaOCL aqueous solution. Concentrated powders of calcium hypochlorite (more stable than sodium hypochlorite) in the 60-70% range are also available for special uses and where concentrated bleaching or disinfecting power is required. Bleach, of course, is a hazardous chemical and must be treated as such when used in embalming rooms. A M D (material safety data sheet) must be on file in addition to a protocol for safe use and spill control that must be in your employee safety and training manual. Bleach is caustic and corrosive and evolves chlorine gas in addition to hydrogen chloride gas during use. Inhalation can cause burning and labored breathing of the airways, skin contact causes burns, pain and blisters. Accidental eye contact causes serious burns and ingestion causes burns, shock, vomiting and unconsciousness. Careful use of protective clothing and gear is essential along with irrigation of usage areas and good ventilation when in use. Bleach is recognized as a cardiovascular or blood toxicant, neurotoxicant and a skin/sense organ toxicant. Bleach is on 2 federal regulatory lists and is listed as more dangerous than most chemicals in 1 out of 3 environmental scoring systems. Its uses are mostly industrial bleaching but it is also used as a pesticide.
Bleach is chemically reactive with formaldehyde and generates several gases when mixed. Chlorine gas in addition to formic acid are formed during reaction -- both evolving considerable noxious fumes. Chlorine oxides are formed and BCME (bis-chloromethylether) which is a very neurotoxic gas is possible also. In fact, the typical lab synthesis of BCME involves formaldehyde reacting with a bleach type chlorine species. Phosgene (Cl2CO) is not produced, as has been occasionally reported elsewhere. uffice it to say that formaldehyde and bleach are not recommended to be used together on a regular basis. Unfortunately, in modern embalming rooms the reverse is true -- large quantities of formaldehyde and bleach end up being used together on a daily basis.
Bleach is also incompatible with ammonia based cleaners that are popular and useful in embalming rooms. Mixing bleach and ammonia generates a vigorous reaction that evolves HCL(hydrochloric acid), NH3 (ammonia gas), chloramines (a noxious gas), chlorine gas and hydrazine (NH2NH2). The chemical exposure from this mixture is overwhelming and very dangerous. Chloramines, in the lungs, liberate ammonia, hydrochloric acid and oxygen free radicals which induce severe deep lung damage. Numerous examples of near deadly exposures to this mixture has been reported with emergency tracheotomy being performed with massive edema from corrosive lung damage.
Bleach is highly corrosive, this is one of the major drawbacks in its use in disinfection. Corrosive action occurs on most surfaces, instruments, embalming equipment, rubber parts and plastic goods that are used extensively in funeral service and embalming. The continual use of bleach is unadvisable in embalming rooms due to this highly corrosive action on most of the equipment in embalming rooms.
An official publication of the Research and Education Department, The Champion Company
pringfield, OH 45501