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Do veterinarians need ethylene oxide?

Do veterinarians need ethylene oxide?

Ethylene oxide (EtO) is a gas used widely to sterilize surgical equipment that can't tolerate steam sterilization. In the past, its use has been linked to high rates of miscarriage (SN:1/22/83, p.54) and subtle white-blood-cell chromosome changes in exposed hospital workers (SN:3/26/83, p.202). Now environmental epidemiologist John I. Freeman, with the North Carolina Department of Human Resources in Raleigh, has challenged its use in veterinary practices.

Based on a written survey of his state's veterinary clinics, he found that only about 14 percent found a need for this sterilant. More important, site visits to nine clinics that did use it showed that five were exceeding the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's "action level' for the chemical of 0.5 parts per million (ppm) in air when they used it. Although employers are supposed to monitor pollutant levels and keep employee exposure records when EtO levels exceed the action level, Freeman found that the North Carolina establishments he visited did not. Moreover, three of those clinics' EtO levels clearly violated OSHA's permissible-exposure limit of 1 ppm.

Freeman says that as a result of his findings, announced at a state veterinary meeting last year, "I think most [veterinarians] in North Carolina have quit using it.' Most, he found, had used EtO to sterilize common household drills for use in orthopedic surgery. They can avoid the problem by buying different drills or by using steam-sterilized metal drill-bit extenders to avoid contaminating an animal with a nonsterile drill. Alternatively, he says, they can use the chemical under a ventilation hood.
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Publication:Science News
Date:Aug 9, 1986
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