WSNA demands an end to the use of Ethylene Oxide (EtO) to reprocess masks 

Nurses at CHI facil­i­ties reported that respi­ra­tors and face masks were 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 demand and reported to the Depart­ment of Occupa­tional Safety and Health (DOSH)

WSNA sent a cease and desist demand to CHI 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 notified 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.

CHI agrees to discon­tinue plans to reprocess using EtO

Thanks to nurses reporting on CHI’s plans to reprocess masks and respi­ra­tors using EtO and the action taken by your union, CHI has assured us that they will not be using this harmful chemical process to decon­t­a­m­i­nate and reuse respi­ra­tors and masks.

Failure to prepare is never an excuse to put nurses in harms way

The failure of hospital systems and the govern­ment to adequately prepare for the COVID-19 pandemic by ensuring adequate PPE is avail­able to nurses and other health care workers does not give license to further jeopar­dize the health and safety of front line health care workers. 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 face masks or respi­ra­tors cleaned with ethylene oxide, you should contact your WSNA nurse repre­sen­ta­tive, Barbara Friesen, at bfriesen@wsna.org as soon as possible and you should promptly file an Assign­ment Despite Objec­tion (ADO) form, avail­able on the WSNA website.