UBC Reports | Vol. 49 | No. 5 | May
Lowering the Risk for Health-Care Workers
Grad student discovers the dangers in disinfectants.
By Michelle Cook
Karen Rideout is breathing a little easier these days --
and its not just because she successfully completed
her MSc in Occupational and Environmental Hygiene last month.
The findings from Rideouts masters thesis could
benefit health-care workers worldwide currently using highly
toxic chemicals known to cause respiratory problems, to clean
endoscopes and other medical instruments that are too delicate
to be disinfected with heat.
An asthma sufferer herself, Rideout was interested in examining
the health risks for B.C. health-care workers exposed to glutaraldehyde,
a chemical disinfectant that has been in wide use for 40 years,
as well as two disinfectants (Cidex OPA and Compliance) that
have recently come onto the market and are billed by their
manufacturers as safer.
Up to 26 per cent of people who use it [glutaraldehyde]
develop some sort of respiratory symptoms, including asthma,
and about 40 per cent develop skin problems such as dermatitis
and allergic reactions, but there just hasnt been anything
to replace it, Rideout says.
In the first survey of its kind to be done in the province,
Rideout worked with the Occupational Safety and Health Agency
for Healthcare to canvas B.C. hospitals about their choice
of disinfectants. She also studied the federal regulatory
process for getting chemical disinfectants approved.
She found that current regulations focus more on whether
a chemical will serve its intended purpose than on protecting
the health of the workers who use it. She also found that
while the newer products appear to be safer choices, there
still isnt enough data to prove this. Among her thesis
recommendations is a call for stricter requirements at the
regulatory level that would take into consideration a chemical
disinfectants effects on employee health.
Rideouts accomplishment is impressive considering that
three years ago she hadnt even heard of occupational
and environmental hygiene.
Originally from Newfoundland, Rideout, 31, earned a BA in
Music from Wilfrid Laurier University before deciding that
her professional interests lay in nutrition. She got a BSc
in Applied Human Nutrition from Mount Saint Vincent University
and then headed west.
She was working for a plant science journal in Victoria when
she received a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council
The scholarship encouraged me to think about what I
really wanted to do; I wanted to use the opportunity to work
toward making a difference in peoples lives, Rideout
says. I knew I wanted to be working with people and
in the health field and then I discovered the School of Occupational
and Environmental Hygiene on UBCs website.
Rideout admits the leap from nutritional studies was a big
one, but she credits the schools tight-knit group of
students and faculty members for giving her the support she
needed to succeed.