Date: Sat, 2 Aug 2003 15:59:35 -0600
Reply-To: Kelleigh McCutcheon <kelleigh**At_Symbol_Here**SHAW.CA>
Sender: DCHAS-L Discussion List <DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**LIST.UVM.EDU>
From: Kelleigh McCutcheon <kelleigh**At_Symbol_Here**SHAW.CA>
Subject: Re: Pregnancy policies follow-up questions

Sorry, this is a long one.................

I manage the Chemistry and Biology Laboratories at a small community college. My son just turned one on July 15th. From the moment I found out I was pregnant in October of 2001 I did not set foot in my laboratories without the use of a respirator (Why is explained below). However, I was approximately 7 weeks pregnant when I found out so I was exposed to chemicals (methylene chloride being the most used chemical during that time period of course :)) during the critical 4-6 week period. My son does not have any abnormalities that we know of so far unless you count being too smart for Mommy to keep up with :)

When I took over the labs in May of 1999 I found the ventilation and fumehoods grossly inadequate. I repeatedly asked for testing (which had never been performed on the 22 year old facilities) to be done and was repeatedly turned down by our facilities department. The director believed it was not necessary and I was just being annoying. When I found out that I was pregnant I informed my boss that I was not going to be working in the laboratory any longer and presented him with a doctor's note indicating that I was not to work with or near chemicals until the ventilation at the college was tested and repaired. I was promptly put into an office for the duration of my pregnancy.

The fumehoods, when the department finally agreed to testing, were found to operate at 40 fpm not 100 fpm and my prep room hood was actually vented right above my head while working. The room air exchanged at best 2 time per hour. There were countless other deficiencies. I don't even want to think about what would have happened to my baby had I not insisted on being removed from the lab. Facilities still not believe anything needed to be done about this and so I threatened to go to OH&S. Facilities brought in other testers (their choice) and we found about even more deficiencies in the labs. Finally they agreed that renovations needed to be done.

While I was on maternity leave the renovations were completed. New hoods, VAV boxes the whole kit and caboodle. But.....facilities took the project on themselves after receiving the architects plan and ductwork and blowers were installed incorrectly, cabinets were not vented etc. Again they are refusing to get testing done. But I think I'm winning. Currently my assistant is pregnant and has been relocated to an office outside the laboratory.

It is standard practice in our department that pregnant students not enrol in organic chemistry. But a few years back we did have a pregnant student enrol in inorganic chemistry and Cell Biology. Even though we substituted chemicals for her and excused her from labs involving ether, methylene chloride, phenol-chloroform and ethidium bromide; her 3 year old son has unexplained vision problems that may or may not have not been rooted in her exposure to the chemicals in the inadequately ventilated laboratory (i.e. as a result of improper ventilation she was exposed to the same chemicals she would have been if she had taken the organic chemistry course as the two courses share the same laboratory).

The bottom - If you have pregnant staff or students you need to make sure without doubt that your facilities are operating properly and safely before they make the decision to stay in the environment. Most people assume that the facilities they are working or learning in are safe.

Thank you for reading my rant.
Kelleigh McCutcheon

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