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California looks to protect health care workers from surgical smoke

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Photo: ciseren/iStockphoto

Sacramento, CA – Lawmakers in the California Assembly on May 19 approved a bill intended to improve protections for health care workers and patients exposed to toxic fumes in surgical settings.

According to the California Nurses Association, which sponsored A.B. 2272, the bill would require the state to adopt rules to reduce the toxic fumes, also known as “surgical plume,” which are a byproduct of laser or electrosurgical procedures that take place in hospital operating rooms or surgery centers. A NIOSH publication states that surgical plume can contain toxic gases and vapors such as benzene, hydrogen cyanide and formaldehyde; bioaerosols; dead and live cellular material (including blood fragments); and viruses. “At high concentrations the smoke causes ocular and upper respiratory tract irritation in health care personnel, and creates visual problems for the surgeon,” the publication notes.

As part of A.B. 2272, health facilities would be required to use “smoke evacuators” that catch and neutralize at least 95 percent of the smoke at its site of origin before contacting workers or patients.

“California can become a leader in reducing surgical site infections and improving health and safety standards for patients and caregivers alike,” CNA co-president Malinda Markowitz said in a press release.

Assembly member Tony Thurmond (D-Richmond) authored the bill.

“A.B. 2272 is a bill that aims to protect our doctors, nurses and patients from noxious, carcinogenic surgical plume in the operating room,” Thurmond said after the vote, according to a press release. “This workplace health and safety bill is designed to ensure that health care workers and patients are not unnecessarily exposed to the contagions that are carried by surgical plume. A fair balance of implementing adequate training and proper protocol with plume excavation is a simple solution to health risks that doctors and nurses face daily.”

At press time, the bill remained in the state Senate.

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