Survey: Chemical Exposure Can Harm Nurses’ Health
Nurses are being exposed to a range of chemicals during their daily duties that could affect their long-term health and that of their children, according to a survey released on Tuesday by the Environmental Working Group and Health Care Without Harm, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
The online survey of 1,500 U.S. nurses found that nurses who were exposed to the chemicals at least once weekly had higher rates of cancer, asthma and miscarriage. In addition, nurses who were pregnant and frequently exposed to sterilizing agents and anesthetic gases were seven to nine times more likely than their unexposed peers to have children with musculoskeletal defects, the survey found.
The survey examined nurses' exposure to 11 common health care chemicals, including:
- Cleaning agents and chemicals for sterilization;
- Devices that contain mercury;
- Gases for anesthesia;
- Hand disinfectants;
- Medications such as chemotherapy and antiretroviral drugs; and
- Personal care products.
Study co-author Jane Houlihan, vice president of research for the Environmental Working Group, said hospitals have few regulations governing chemicals used to sterilize facilities and treat patients. Houlihan noted that the survey results might not fully represent all nurses nationwide because some groups may have been less likely to participate.
Authors of the study said Bay Area hospitals tend to be ahead of national regulations on limiting nurses' exposure to chemicals, the Chronicle reports. For example, many Bay Area hospitals do not use latex gloves because they can cause allergic reactions in some people.
Several Bay Area hospitals also limit the amount of vinyl materials in floors, walls and medical devices because the chemicals in vinyl have been linked to cancer and birth defects. Stanford University Medical Center and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital also give new nurses a physical to examine the chemicals in their bodies (Allday, San Francisco Chronicle, 12/12).