[Histonet] Pregnant in histo lab. Am I safe?

Morken, Timothy Timothy.Morken at ucsf.edu
Tue Jan 21 10:23:15 CST 2020

The problem with xylene is that the acceptable air level in the lab is 100ppm but humans can detect it by smell at the 5 - 20ppm range. So it seems like it is "everywhere" but it could still be at a very low level. What level is safe for a pregnancy?  CDC has some info on this:


Tim Morken
Supervisor, Electron Microscopy/Neuromuscular Special Studies
Department of Pathology
UC San Francisco Medical Center

-----Original Message-----
From: Val L via Histonet <histonet at lists.utsouthwestern.edu> 
Sent: Saturday, January 18, 2020 10:02 AM
To: Eck, Allison <aeck at dh.org>; histonet at lists.utsouthwestern.edu
Subject: Re: [Histonet] Pregnant in histo lab. Am I safe?

Sadly I have already been exposed to xylene several times as I cannot avoid the smell. It’s everywhere. There are not enough vents in the lab. I don’t know if it’s ignorance or malice but my manager and coworkers are not quite informed about the dangers that a pregnant woman face in a histology lab.
They feel that if the lab passed a xylene vapor tests and give me a general purpose respirator then that’s enough for me to be safe and I can do the same work as everybody else. There is a negligent attitude regarding safety in this laboratory. Also there has been a negative attitude towards pregnant women like if they were are a burden in the lab.  It makes me nervous to work here. I don’t think is a healthy work environment.

On Saturday, January 18, 2020, Eck, Allison <aeck at dh.org> wrote:

> Valerie
> I have worked in histo with both of my pregnancies with my most recent 
> one just three months ago. Embedding and cutting and even grossing are 
> fine to do while pregnant. Under no condition, even with Ppe, should 
> you be changing stainers or processors or dumping waste or mixing 
> chemicals. A pregnant woman should not be near powder chemicals as 
> they are inhalation hazards and xylene in general is an absolute no 
> no. It is a reproductive toxin and you should have no contact with it.
> Please reach out if you have any other questions but your employer mst 
> make accommodations for you while you are pregnant.
> Allison
> Allison Eck HTL(ASCP)cm, QLS
> ________________________________________
> From: Valerie Laughlin via Histonet 
> [histonet at lists.utsouthwestern.edu]
> Sent: Saturday, January 18, 2020 7:21 AM
> To: histonet at lists.utsouthwestern.edu
> Subject: [Histonet] Pregnant in histo lab. Am I safe?
> Hello everyone. I am currently in the last weeks of my first trimester 
> of my pregnancy.
> I have asked this question to my Ob-Gyn, family and general pregnancy 
> forums but I wanted to ask people who understand the field of 
> Histotechnology better.
> I have been very concerned about the side effects of the chemicals 
> that might have on my baby.  The lab works with the typical stuff 
> (formaldehyde, xylene, alcohol of different percentages, glacial 
> acetic acid, stains etc) They make the fixative from scratch.
> I had to inform my supervisor and manager. I didn’t get the most 
> positive reaction from them but I don’t care as this is my personal 
> business and I have rights like everybody else.
> I gave them a letter from my doctor informing my pregnancy and that I 
> should be kept away from the chemicals for my own safety.
> They acknowledged the letter but still decided to buy a respirator 
> mask for me which is fine. It’s good to have protective equipment no 
> matter the circumstance.
> I told them that I can do the same tasks I do every day such as 
> grossing but with a mask, embedding, cutting and filing but that I 
> don’t feel comfortable changing the chemicals of the tissue processor 
> and slide stainer, and mixing chemicals. Also that I can’t dump the 
> chemicals in the biohazard room as there is not enough ventilation.
> Literally an hour after I informed this a nurse who was working in a 
> rojom close to the biohazard room had a negative reaction and had to 
> be sent to the ER where she was there for days. She blamed the 
> chemicals  from the biohazard room. Other nurses who work close to 
> that room had reported negative side effects as well. This situation 
> made me more uncomfortable specially when my coworkers think the 
> nurses are over reacting and it has to be some other cause because they don’t get the same reactions.
> My biggest concern is that despite the letter of my doctor and what 
> ocurred in the past weeks with the nurse I am still feeling pressured 
> by my coworkers to work with the chemicals as they feel that a mask, a 
> lab coat and gloves is enough protection. I am unsure about this.
> I didn’t get a proper fit test for my respirator by the way. I have 
> worked for another corporation where they did that right after getting hired.
> I have read that chemicals can be absorbed through the skin too.
> I just want to know the opinion of pregnant  lab techs and supervisors 
> who have worked with them.
> I have read older threads about this in this forum before and 
> everybody had positive and negative experiences. Some workers were 
> completely removed from the lab while others kept performing the same 
> tasks. Some say their babies turned out healthy while others blame the 
> job for causing short and long term
> health issues  for the babies.
> Most of the employers protected the pregnant worker from the chemicals 
> to avoid any risks which I feel that’s the direction my employer should take.
> There are 3 other histotechs in the lab and they don’t seem happy to 
> have that extra task in their hands, despite being the one who changed 
> the processor most of the time this past year besides the supervisor.
> Thank you for your help. This has caused a lot of distress in me and I 
> just want to be safe.
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