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December 3, 1960


Author Affiliations

Clinical Research Division Eli Lilly and Company Indianapolis 6.

JAMA. 1960;174(14):1883. doi:10.1001/jama.1960.03030140105031

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To the Editor:—  The article by Allen and Murphy in The Journal, April 16, page 1759, on the use of beta-propiolactone for sterilizing surgical instruments and the comment by Wisely and Falk in the issue of July 9, page 1161, concerning the carcinogenicity of beta-propiolactone have prompted several queries to us in regard to its possible toxicity in biological products. This letter is intended to correct some popular misconceptions concerning beta-propiolactone as it is used in these products.The beta-propiolactone molecule remains stable only in the absence of water. In this state it is a caustic vesicant and is capable of producing chemical burns in the tissue in which it is placed. Of great importance is the fact that, in aqueous solutions, beta-propiolactone is rapidly and completely decomposed into hydracrylic acid, a molecule differing from lactic acid only in the position of the OH group. In the presence of aqueous

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