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While mercury and other harmful chemicals found in health care environments affect all employees in the facility, a recent study specifically addresses the effect these materials have on nurses’ health.
A national survey of nurses’ exposures to chemicals, pharmaceuticals and radiation on the job suggests there are links between serious health problems, such as cancer, asthma, miscarriages, and children's birth defects, and the duration and intensity of these exposures. The survey, which included 1,500 nurses from all 50 states, was detailed, but it was not a controlled, statistically designed study.
Health care employees confront low-level but repeated exposures 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 mercury escaping from broken medical equipment. No workplace safety standards exist to protect nurses and other employees from the combined effects of these exposures on their health.
The survey’s results were released online by the Environmental Working Group, the American Nurses Association, Health Care Without Harm and the Environmental Health Education Center at the University of Maryland School of Nursing.