NEW YORK NURSE: November 2009
Chemicals are everywhere in the environment, but do nurses and other healthcare personnel have a greater risk of exposure to harmful substances in clinical care settings?
A biomonitoring study released last month was a first step in answering this question. Researchers tested 20 healthcare professionals in ten states for 62 chemicals in six categories. All of the chemicals are used in products common to the healthcare setting, such as hand sanitizers, IV bags and tubing, medical gauges, and stain-resistant clothing.
The report, Hazardous Chemicals in Health Care, revealed that all 12 doctors and 8 nurses had four of the six major types of chemicals in their bodies, including bisphenol A, phthalates, polybromated diphenylethers (PBDEs), and perfluorinated compunds (PFCs). These compounds are associated with chronic illnesses such as cancer and endocrine malfunction.
Thirteen participants tested positive for an additional two categories, mercury and triclosan. Triclosan is a synthetic, broad-spectrum antimicrobial agent used in healthcare settings as a hand sanitizer. Triclosan can be converted to dioxin when it is exposed to sunlight or heated. Its health implications are still being explored.
Barbara Crane, a member of the NYSNA Board of Directors and president of the National Federation of Nurses, agreed to be tested for the study. She spoke at a news conference announcing the study results held during Convention in Saratoga Springs.
“Just being a citizen of a developed country exposes me to unimaginable chemical intruders,” Crane said. “I guess I always believed that our health would be protected by government or by environmental policy and practice. I have since come to realize that nothing is further from the truth.” Crane tested positive for five out of the six categories of harmful chemicals.
The study was conducted by the Physicians for Social Responsibility in partnership with the American Nurses Association and Health Care Without Harm. It was co-authored by Kathy Curtis and Bobbi Chase Wilding of Clean New York.
Curtis and Wilding stressed that the federal Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) has not been updated since its passage in 1978. “Only five chemicals have been banned over the past 30 years and none since 1990,” Wilding said.
The report recommends that TSCA reform should: