Study: Combined Effects of Exposures Affect Nurses

Results of a first-of-its kind survey of nurses' exposure to chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and radiation on the job should be a call to action for nurses around the country, say researchers at the American Nurses Association, the Environmental Health Education Center at the University of Maryland School of Nursing, Health Care Without Harm, and the Environmental Working Group, who conducted the study. The groups surveyed 1,500 nurses from all 50 states and say results suggest links between serious health problems such as cancer, asthma, miscarriages, and children's birth defects and the duration and intensity of these exposures.

There are no workplace safety standards to protect nurses from the combined effects of repeated exposure to mixtures of hazardous materials that include residues from medications, anesthetic gases, sterilizing and disinfecting chemicals, radiation, latex, cleaning chemicals, hand and skin disinfection products, and even mercury escaping from broken medical equipment, the study says.

"For many of the toxic chemicals in hospitals, there are safer alternatives or safer processes. We must make these healthier choices for the sake of our patients, nurses, and all hospital employees," said Barbara Sattler, RN, DrPH, FAAN, professor and director of the Environmental Health Education Center.

The researchers note that while the detailed survey was not a controlled, statistically designed study, it is nevertheless a call to action for nurses to demand the use of safer products and protective measures to control exposure to hazardous agents in the workplace. Results of the survey are online at http://www.ewg.org/reports/nursesurvey.  

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