Infection control going green: oncoming reality – Part 2

April 1, 2009
Last month's infection control column provided a brief discussion on the increasing health care awareness and activity in the area of “green” infection control.

by John A. Molinari, PhD

For more on this topic, go to and search using the following key words: health care awareness, eco-friendly, paperless, recyclable disposable items, Dr. John Molinari.

Last month's infection control column provided a brief discussion on the increasing health care awareness and activity in the area of “green” infection control. Hospitals and clinics have already applied a number of basic principles into their infection- control protocols and patient-care practices. The impact of these early medical successes has not been lost on dentistry. Efforts are already well under way to apply environmentally sensitive concepts in dental facilities.

One major accomplishment for clinical facilities is the increasing shift from paper charts and patient records to “paperless” information stored in computers. While this may be somewhat of a difficult change from the thick folders to which many clinicians have been accustomed, more and more schools, clinics, and practices have made a commitment and are making the transition. Congratulations to those of you who are working on this eco-friendly innovation. You have already saved more than a few trees.

As mentioned in last month's column, most practitioners are probably not aware of just how much they have done to become more eco-friendly. A prime example is the profession's adaptation and conversion to digital radiography. When you have a chance, look at how much you are saving in time and cost for radiographs, developer, and fixer.

The need for lead foil and a silver-containing radiographic fixer is eliminated. The multiple infection-control steps that are somewhat cumbersome and difficult to comply with can also be substantially reduced, along with the cost for removal of spent chemicals by licensed waste haulers.

As you attend local, state, and national educational conferences this year, spend some time in the commercial exhibit areas and look for innovative “green” infection-control applications. More manufacturers and distributors of infection control supplies are developing and offering eco-friendly alternatives to replace previous products.

One area involves disposables that are marketed as single use. Although the increased use of disposable covers, tips, traps, instrument wraps, pouches, and other items has helped make infection control less time consuming in practice settings, clinical consumers often have commented about the large amounts of clinical waste generated.

Research into the manufacture of recyclable disposable items appears to be accelerating. The hope is that what was once destined for deposit in landfills may now be recycled and used again, similar to the way aluminum cans are reprocessed. The initial cost for research and development of these recyclable materials probably will be placed on the consumer, but hopefully this is only a temporary issue.

Advances also are being made in instrument reprocessing and environmental surface disinfection. Cleaning solutions used with contaminated instruments prior to heat sterilization are being modified to be more biodegradable and to introduce less harmful chemicals into ground water. Even the relatively recent application of environmental surface-disinfectant solutions and wipes is seeing continued progress toward the reduction of chemical waste.

Tuberculocidal disinfectant preparations that are advertised as less harmful to the environment, and possibly even biodegradable, are being developed. Some already may have been introduced into the market.

In addition, as more people look for approaches to reduce plastic waste, be prepared for the availability of disinfectant wipe packets that are manufactured as refills in reusable plastic containers.

The fact that a concerted effort is under way to develop and promote more “green” disinfectants should be included when a practice considers purchasing a new product of this type. Thus, we now can modify the list of traditional desirable features for an ideal disinfectant:

  • broad and fast-acting antimicrobial spectrum
  • not affected by physical organic matter (i.e., blood, saliva)
  • nontoxic and nonallergenic
  • not compromise equipment integrity
  • have a residual antimicrobial effect on treated surfaces
  • easy to use and odorless
  • economical
  • eco-friendly

The next few years should prove to be exciting as this worthwhile goal continues to gather momentum.

Dr. John A. Molinari received a PhD in microbiology from the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine. Currently, he is professor and chairman of the Department of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Dentistry. Contact him via telephone at (313) 494-6632, cell phone (248) 231-5864, or e-mail at [email protected].

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