Major win to prohibit use of carcinogen for PPE sterilization

Teaser alert 1

The Washington State Depart­ment of Labor & Indus­tries today issued a Hazard Alert prohibiting the use of ethylene oxide for cleaning of face masks, including N95s. This alert is a result of WSNA’s efforts to raise the alarms and advocate for the safety of our members.

Nurses at some WSNA repre­sented facil­i­ties reported respi­ra­tors and face masks being collected for repro­cessing using ethylene oxide to decon­t­a­m­i­nate. The Federal Food and Drug Admin­is­tra­tion (FDA) has concluded that ethylene oxide is carcino­genic to humans and that exposure to ethylene oxide increases the risk of lymphoid cancer and, for females, breast cancer. WSNA sent cease and desist letters demanding an immediate halt to the reusing of any face masks, including N‑95 and other respi­ra­tors, that have been decon­t­a­m­i­nated by the ethylene oxide cleaning process. In addition, WSNA reported this hazard to Labor & Indus­tries’ Division of Occupa­tional Safety and Health. 

As a result of our advocacy, L&I issued this DOSH Hazard Alert today with the following directive:

Hospi­tals and clinics are required to use their ethylene oxide (EtO) steril­izer systems for their intended and manufac­turer-approved purposes. EtO steril­izer systems must NOT be used to sterilize masks, respi­ra­tors, PPE or items worn by humans.

The failure of hospital systems and the federal govern­ment to adequately prepare for the COVID-19 pandemic by ensuring adequate PPE for nurses and other health care workers does not give license to further jeopar­dize the health and safety of front­line health care workers. WSNA applauds the issuing of this DOSH Hazard Alert that unequiv­o­cally states ethylene oxide is not to be used on PPE.