Ethylene oxide is a very efficient sterilizing agent. It is a bactericide, a sporicide and a viricide. It has a very favourable diffusion coefficient and can be used for thermo-sensitive or very delicate materials.
Generally sterilization with ethylene oxide in the pharmaceutical industry has been restricted given the risk it entails due to its high mutagenic and carcinogenic properties. GMP’s specify that this type of sterilization should only be used when there is no alternative sterilization technology.
Nevertheless, the advantages of sterilization with ethylene oxide are still greater than those of any other system in the hospital single-use product industry. The leading companies in this sector still rely on ethylene oxide for the terminal sterilization of syringes, probes, catheters, pace makers, etc. The complex design of these types of medical devices makes the penetrability of the sterilizing agent one of the most critical aspects. It is in this area where ethylene oxide is far superior to any of the alternatives: hydrogen peroxide, peracetic acid, etc.