UBC Home Page -
UBC Home Page -
UBC Home Page UBC Home Page -
News Events Directories Search UBC myUBC Login
- -
UBC Public Affairs
UBC Reports
UBC Reports Extras
Goal / Circulation / Deadlines
Letters to the Editor & Opinion Pieces / Feedback
UBC Reports Archives
Media Releases
Services for Media
Services for the Community
Services for UBC Faculty & Staff
Find UBC Experts
Search Site

UBC Reports | Vol. 49 | No. 5 | May 8, 2003

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 it’s not just because she successfully completed her MSc in Occupational and Environmental Hygiene last month.

The findings from Rideout’s master’s 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 hasn’t 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 isn’t 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 disinfectant’s effects on employee health.

Rideout’s accomplishment is impressive considering that three years ago she hadn’t 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 (NSERC) scholarship.

“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 people’s 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 UBC’s website.”

Rideout admits the leap from nutritional studies was a big one, but she credits the school’s tight-knit group of students and faculty members for giving her the support she needed to succeed.

- - -  

Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

to top | UBC.ca » UBC Public Affairs

UBC Public Affairs
310 - 6251 Cecil Green Park Road, Vancouver, BC Canada V6T 1Z1
tel 604.822.3131 | fax 604.822.2684 | e-mail public.affairs@ubc.ca

© Copyright The University of British Columbia, all rights reserved.