Archive November 2018 XIX, No. 11

Safety: My Personal Plea to Ban Surgical Smoke

Don't wait for lawmakers to make your ORs smoke-free.

Janelle Casanave

Janelle Casanave, RN


BREATH OF FRESH AIR "I was knowingly exposing my unborn child to toxins known to cause health risks," says Janelle Casanave, RN, with 11-month-old Scarlett Green.

I always considered myself to be a health-conscious person. I eat a plant-based organic diet, meditate in the morning and try to work out at least 5 times a week. However, when I became pregnant last spring, I started to realize I might not be as healthy as I thought. Every day I went to work I was inhaling smoke — not from cigarettes, but from surgical smoke in the operating room. Since I started my career as a perioperative nurse in 2012, I had been exposed to surgical plume from electrical surgical units and lasers every time I stepped into the OR.

Surgical smoke is created by surgical instruments that cauterize or vaporize tissue, spreading toxins, carcinogens and vaporized tissue through the air. Like tobacco smoke, surgical smoke contains dangerous carcinogens like formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and benzene — a full day of exposure to surgical smoke carries the same cancer risk as smoking up to 30 unfiltered cigarettes.

According to a study in the Journal of Hospital Infection, surgical smoke can spread HIV, hepatitis, HPV and other infections. Moreover, an estimated 500,000 surgical workers are exposed to these deadly airborne toxins on a daily basis. Most disturbing of all: There are no laws or mandates against the deadly plume in my home state of California.

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