News Releases

School of Nursing Key Player in Movement to Reduce Workplace Exposure to Dangerous Chemicals

December 12, 2007

Baltimore, Md. — The University of Maryland School of Nursing has been involved in the first national survey of nurses' exposure to chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and radiation on the job. Results suggest 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 included 1,500 nurses from all 50 states.

Results of the survey by the Environmental Working Group, the Environmental Health Education Center at the University of Maryland School of Nursing, the American Nurses Association, and Health Care Without Harm are available online at (link no longer available). The survey is extremely detailed and is the first of its kind, but it was not a controlled, statistically designed study.

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.

"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 survey is a call to action for nurses around the country to demand the use of safer products and protective measures to control exposure to hazardous agents in the workplace.

"Through an initiative spearheaded by the School of Nursing called 'Maryland Hospitals for a Healthy Environment', Maryland hospitals have taken the lead in creating viable solutions," said Sattler.

She and others will continue to work on this project with key environmental and nursing groups both locally and nationally.

Video from a Dec. 11 news conference concerning the survey can be seen by clicking here or on the image below (link no longer available). (Real Player is required.)