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Call for Government to protect thousands of healthcare workers exposed to toxic plume

A woman who claims she suffered chronic respiratory problems following years of exposure to a toxic plume created during surgical ablation, has launched a petition to urge the government to re-consider the laws around ventilation in the operative environment.

Kathy Nabbie, a retired theatre nurse from London, has teamed up with Harrogate-based Association for Perioperative Practice to petition for the use of local evacuation ventilation systems to be compulsory during routine surgical procedures, in a bid to protect the half a million healthcare workers exposed to the plume each day.[i]

Diathermy plume is a toxic gaseous by-product produced during routine surgical procedures such as electrocautery, laser surgery or the use of ultrasonic scalpels, and is known to contain mutagenic properties, toxins and carcinogens similar to those found in cigarettes.[ii]

Research has shown that just 1g of tissue ablated during these procedures, creates a plume which has the same mutagenic effect as smoking six unfiltered cigarettes.[iii]

Persistent exposure to this plume is thought to trigger the onset of a range of serious medical conditions, from acute and chronic inflammatory respiratory diseases to headaches, dizziness and viruses.[iv]

Kathy claims that her chronic respiratory issues were the direct result of being exposed to this plume and could have been prevented by the correct use of ventilation systems.

Local evacuation ventilation systems capture the contaminants generated by the plume, but whilst many authorities and researchers recommend their use, the lack of evidence-based research surrounding the true hazards of diathermy plume, means they are not yet compulsory in the UK.

Association of Perioperative Practice member Kathy Nabbie said: “For almost three decades we have known about the hazards of diathermy plume, yet nothing is being done to prevent exposure.

“Two states in America; Colorado and Rhode Island, already have laws, with others following closely behind.

“We have the technology available in the UK, but we fail to use it. It is about time we utilised this technology and followed the US by making the use of evacuation systems mandatory.”

President of the Association for Perioperative Practice Tracey Williams said: “We owe it to our patients, ourselves and our colleagues to make smoke evacuation mandatory.”

“No-one should be exposed to inhaling toxic smoke as part of their working day.”

The online petition has already been signed by nearly 5000 people, however for the government to respond, they require 10,000 signatures before the 12 July 2019.

Anyone inside or outside of the healthcare industry can show their support by signing the petition at https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/237619.

[i] https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/updates/upd-11-03-15.html

[ii] Hill D, O’Neil J, Powell R, Oliver D (2012). “Surgical smoke – a health hazard in the operating

theatre. A study to quantify exposure and a survey of the use of extractor systems in the UK

plastic surgery units”. Journal of Plastic, Reconstructive & Aesthetic Surgery; 65 (7), pp.911-916.

[iii] Moot A.R., Ledingham K.M., Wilson P.F. Composition of volatile organic compounds in

diathermy plume as detected by selected ion flow tube mass spectrometr. ANZ J Surg.


[iv] Pierce J, Lacey S, Lippert J, Lopez R, Franke J (2011). “Laser-generated air contaminants from

medical laser applications: A state of the science review of exposure characterization, health

effects, and control”. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene; 8 (1), pp.447-466