April 24, 2012
Medical personnel come into contact with a complex variety of deadly toxins. Contact comes from industrial cleaners, sterilization products, radiation, medications, and mercury. Side effects of these toxic materials are known to lead to a variety of cancers, miscarriages, asthma, birth defects and metabolic syndromes. Government agencies have been negligent in protecting healthcare workers from exposures to these materials. There has never been a government-funded study of these materials and their impact on health and the environment; however independent studies have shown higher rates of disease in healthcare professionals and their children. According to Environmental Working Group (2007), of the 82,000 chemicals in record only around one hundred and eighty have been tested. Thousands of pollutants can be found in any medical setting yet only six have government workplace safety standards. Exposure standards fall to individual facilities to regulate, and vary wildly depending on facility understanding of these toxins. Continued training is recommended when new chemicals and equipment are changed. Healthcare facilities should also be tested on a yearly basis to identify areas of contamination to the employee and patient.
Toxin, hazards, occupational disease
In 1970 President Nixon and Congress instituted OSHA to create a safe working environment and NIOSH (The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) to research workplace hazards. While OSHA and NIOSH have clear guidelines for common biohazard procedures, almost nothing exists for chemical and toxin exposures. From doctors and nurses to janitors and mail delivery, anyone who comes into contact with these toxins is at risk. The nature of the nurse or doctors exposure is two fold; consumer contaminates from home and industrial contaminates from work. Illnesses reported by medical personnel range from chronic skin dermatitis and asthma to acute life threatening conditions; rare cancers, spontaneous abortions, metabolic syndromes and birth defects. The importance of studying the multigenerational human impact of these contaminates is not only to help the lives of the medical employee, but would result in helping to determine the effects on the population as well. Individuals that work in health care should be aware of workplace exposure to hazardous materials found in the medical industry to better protect themselves. While the government plays catch up with science individuals must be proactive in learning about the dangers and what they can do to make their workplace safer.
Locating the Danger
It is no surprise that toxins can be found in a medical setting. What does surprise experts is that there are not more regulations and education on how to handle them. There is no question of the impact that these contaminates have on medical personnel and their families. Environmental Working Group (EWG) conducted a survey in 2007 to examine exposure and its effects regarding nurses. Fifteen hundred nurses were asked in a survey to list exposure to eleven common toxins found in a medical setting and health problems seen in their children and themselves. The data is staggering. Organizations around the world have conducted their own investigations into workplace exposure and have found the same results. The conclusion is a global pandemic of cancer, miscarriages and illness never before seen in any other workplace.
Figure 1 (Environmental Working Group, 2007)
An article by Carol Smith (2010) presents InvestigateWests examination into the regulations surrounding medication exposure regulations and chronicles the impact they pose by following the illness of pharmacist Sue Crump. Ms. Crump at the time of the interview was in the end stages of pancreatic cancer. Crump had spent 23 years...