Policy on Pregnant Students in the Teaching Laboratory
The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry realizes that no absolute standard exists on any level as to what constitutes a hazard-free chemistry laboratory environment. With this in mind, we strive to maintain the safest environment possible using any and all information sources, official guidelines, and existing state and federal directives. Students are informed of safety procedures and give their written acknowledgement of this information.
While there are many suspected human teratogens, currently a limited number of chemical agents are known to produce teratogenic effects in humans. Our search of databases and health safety publications suggests that studies are inconclusive as to adverse effects for pregnant women and fetuses. For these reasons it is difficult to produce a definitive list of dangerous substances and provide absolute protection in all laboratory situations.
According to state and federal law, pregnant students may not be denied access to laboratory courses merely because they are pregnant. However, all students, including pregnant women may request a comprehensive list of the chemicals to be encountered in a lab course for which they are registered. (Note that this may be an amended list if the course requires the analysis and identification of unknowns.) Pregnant students are encouraged to consult with her physician or other professional versed in risk assessment to decide whether or not they will request an exemption from, or delay of, completion of the laboratory course. The faculty will decide what experiences may be used in lieu of actual participation in lab.
Department of Chemistry Pregnancy Policy
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.
I recently got an email from a colleague asking:
"Our department is looking for model policies for students with medical conditions which might limit their participation in the laboratory (such as asthma, pregnancy, allergies, etc.). We=E2=80™re getting a suggestion from "on high" to have a caveat emptor policy where we just refer students to the SDS's and tell them that they have to make their own decisions in consultation with their physician.
Do you know of any models we might look at for review, consideration, and/or adoption?"
David C. Finster
Professor, Department of Chemistry
University Chemical Hygiene Officer
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