Nurses are reporting that respi­ra­tors and face masks at WSNA repre­sented Provi­dence facil­i­ties are being collected for repro­cessing using ethylene oxide to decon­t­a­m­i­nate. The EPA 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 issues cease and desist demands and files complaints with Depart­ment of Occupa­tional Safety and Health (DOSH)

WSNA sent a cease and desist demand to Provi­dence facil­i­ties where our members work, 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 is preparing complaints to be filed with the Washington State Depart­ment of Occupa­tional Safety and Health, highlighting this workplace hazard.

WSNA believes that the reuse of face masks or respi­ra­tors cleaned with ethylene oxide violates the employer’s legal duty to ensure that nurses and other health care workers are afforded a safe and healthful working environ­ment. While hospi­tals have long used ethylene oxide to clean certain surgical equip­ment, it should not be used to decon­t­a­m­i­nate face masks or respi­ra­tors, through which nurses and other health care workers must breathe for many hours at a time.

Inade­quate prepa­ra­tion is not an excuse to put nurses in harm’s way

WSNA recog­nizes that hospi­tals are confronting challenging short­ages of face masks, respi­ra­tors and other personal protec­tive equip­ment. But in order to care for their patients, nurses should not be forced to breathe through face masks or respi­ra­tors cleaned with toxic chemi­cals.

The ethylene oxide cleaning process has NOT been approved by the Food & Drug Admin­is­tra­tion for emergency use to clean filtering facepiece respi­ra­tors, and the Centers for Disease Control & Preven­tion state that Ethylene oxide is not recom­mended as a crisis strategy [for cleaning face masks and respi­ra­tors for reuse] as it may be harmful to the wearer.” The CDC warns that ethylene oxide is carcino­genic and terato­genic, and that inhala­tion of ethylene oxide has been linked to neuro­logic dysfunc­tion and may cause other harmful effects to the wearer.”

Prolonged exposure to ethylene oxide can hurt eyes and lungs, harm the brain and nervous system, and poten­tially cause lymphomas, leukemia, and breast cancer. This extremely hazardous toxic chemical poses a severe risk to human health.

If you believe that your hospital is reusing or expecting nurses to wear face masks or respi­ra­tors cleaned with ethylene oxide, you may have to make a decision about accepting an assign­ment involving abnor­mally dangerous condi­tions that pose an imminent risk to your safety and health, and could poten­tially cause serious injury or death. You should promptly fill out an Assign­ment Despite Objec­tion (ADO) to document that you are accepting an assign­ment despite objec­tion.

You can also read more about nurses facing abnor­mally dangerous patient care assign­ments at https://​www​.wsna​.org/​n​e​w​s​/​2​0​2​0​/​n​u​r​s​e​s​-​f​a​c​i​n​g​-​a​b​n​o​r​m​a​l​l​y​-​d​a​n​g​e​r​o​u​s​-​p​a​t​i​e​n​t​-​c​a​r​e​-​a​ssignments.

Questions? Contact WSNA Nurse Repre­sen­ta­tive Jayson Dick at jayson.dick@wsna.org.