Date: Mon, 9 Aug 2010 19:35:50 -0400
Reply-To: DCHAS-L Discussion List <DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**LIST.UVM.EDU>
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From: "Samuella B. Sigmann" <sigmannsb**At_Symbol_Here**APPSTATE.EDU>
Subject: Re: pregnant student in chemistry lab
In-Reply-To: <B1331E0BABBF2F41ADBB549EF89EA74A033492391CA6**At_Symbol_Here**>

Hi Dave - Below is the statement that I wrote, and we adopted for our department.  The statement was channeled through the university lawyers first.  It is my understanding that we cannot refuse to allow a pregnant student to attend lab if they choose to do so after weighing the risks to their child.  That being said, most of the time they opt out of lab after taking the book of MSDSs to their physician.  We do have a freezing pt lab that uses p-xylene (investigated as a reproductive effector and may cause teratogenic effects) and another lab that uses ethylendiamine (investigated as a mutagen).

If students wish to remain in the course, we offer the student either a computer based substitute or instructor generated data, depending on the experiment.

Subject: Pregnancy in departmental laboratories



Pregnancy introduces a special set of variables into the consideration of hazards in laboratory.  While the exposure levels to chemicals commonly encountered in a university laboratory setting pose no or low risk to an adult, they can pose a significantly higher level of hazard to the unborn fetus.  Many of these hazards are not well studied, and it is not known what exposure level is safe for an unborn child.  It is therefore prudent for pregnant women to limit the unnecessary exposure of a fetus to any chemicals.  This is especially true if the chemicals are mutagenic (causes damage to chromosomes) or teratogenic (causes birth defects and/or fetal death).

If you have recently become pregnant or you are anticipating becoming pregnant while you are taking laboratory courses, you should discuss the possible ramifications that working in a chemistry laboratory might have on the fetus with your instructor and your physician.  Your instructor can inform you of the specific chemicals that you will be using that are known or suspected to be reproductive toxins and your discussions will be held in strict confidence.

Don’t always believe what you think.

Samuella B. Sigmann, NRCC-CHO
Lecturer/Safety Committee Chair
A. R. Smith Department of Chemistry
Appalachian State University
525 Rivers Street
Boone, NC 28608
Phone: 828 262 2755
Fax: 828 262 6558
Email: sigmannsb**At_Symbol_Here** <mailto:sigmannsb**At_Symbol_Here**>

David C. Finster wrote:

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
Wittenberg University

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