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Chemotherapy drugs and sterilizing agents put nurses at risk—Medical Environment Update, May 2012

It’s no surprise that highly toxic chemicals, found in chemotherapy drugs and sterilizing agents used to clean medical devices, can be harmful to those who don’t take the proper precautions. What is surprising is that exposure to these chemicals continues to be an issue, and that is one of the feature articles of the May issue of Medical Environment Update. [1]

Here is an excerpt.

A study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology indicates that pregnant nurses who are exposed to these chemicals, as well as radiation from x-rays, have a greater risk for miscarriage. Nurse who are exposed to chemotherapy drugs are twice as likely to have a miscarriage in the first trimester, and nurses who are exposed to sterilizing chemicals are twice as likely to have a miscarriage in the second trimester.

Researchers surveyed nearly 7,500 nurses who had been pregnant between 1993 and 2002, asking them to recall how often they worked with particular chemicals and equipment. This created some weaknesses in the study since researchers could not accurately determine how long each woman came in contact with the hazardous chemicals, and nurses were asked to remember exposures as far back as eight years.

“With the chemotherapy drugs, we were not necessarily surprised to see the effect we found, but I guess the fact that we’re seeing it as late as 2001, when we submitted the questionnaire, is surprising,” says Christina Lawson, PhD, epidemiology team leader for NIOSH in Cincinnati and lead author of the study. “We have been working towards promoting safety precautions when working with these drugs, especially during pregnancy, but it seems like we still have more work to do.”

The underlying issue exposed with the publication of this study is not simply miscarriages from exposure to hazardous drugs, it’s the possible reasons those exposures occur in the first place.

“It could be that we need to do more education or more frequent education,” Lawson says. “It could be that people are educated but are not following the guidelines. Or it could be that the guidelines are not protective enough.”

The article also addresses:

Also appearing in May issue of Medical Environment Update:

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