I have been confronted with this issue a number of times over the years and I always tell employees/students that if I felt the controls for minimizing exposure were not adequate for them then I wouldn’t consider them adequate for anyone. If they have done a proper job safety analysis/hazard indentification, are using appropriate engineering controls along with appropriate PPE (things I assist them with all the time) then I suggest that they take all this handling information with them to their next doctor’s visit and see what he/she has to say. I also offer them a consult with our contract Occupational Physician who can better address any specific chemical concerns. Because I am not a doctor, I don’t feel comfortable making the call on whether or not they can stay in their particular work environment. But my original statement stands, I don’t assume that because someone is pregnant their risk of exposure has somehow magically multiplied.
I would also be interested to know how other institutions handle this situation.
Rachel E. Harrington, MPH, CHMM
Director - Office of Environmental, Health, and Safety
LIFE IN DISCOVERY
Sent: Monday, August 09, 2010 1:55 PM
Subject: [DCHAS-L] pregnant student in chemistry lab
I am aware that a student who will be taking a general chemistry course this fall is pregnant. I am writing to the list to seek advice about how to best handle this circumstance (assuming that one of the options – not taking the course – is not a preferred option).
(I have checked the D-CHAS archives, and other sources, and found no particularly helpful answers to this question. This is not really a CHP matter since the student is not an employee – although we ordinarly use our CHP as the safety document for students, too.)
So far as I know (but I can check this to be certain) none of the chemicals used in our general chemistry labs are teratogens. Thus, my initial suggested course of action is that the student participate in all of the labs experiments (using all of the PPE at all times that is recommended for all students.) We rarely use chemical hoods in this particular course since most of the chemicals we use present no significant inhalation risk. (We use hoods when there is an inhalation risk.)
If there is some chemical that is, or is suspected to be, a teratogen, I would advise the student to skip that lab (and have the instructor determine how to do this without any penalty to the student).
The pathway suggested above seems reasonable and prudent to me. However, since we live in a world where the consideration of worst-case scenarios is wise and legally prudent, it seems to me that having the student consult with her physician (with a complete list of chemicals “in hand”) and having the physician and/or student “sign off” on some reasonable statement in advance seems smart. Since I would not expect a physician to be familiar with the teratogenic effects of “all chemicals”, I would also present the physician with a detailed list of the known or suspected effects of each chemical (extracted from TOXNET) with regard to being handled while pregnant.
The advice and experience of the D-CHAS group is welcome.
David C. Finster <
Professor of Chemistry
University Chemical Hygiene Officer
Department of Chemistry
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