By Alison Sanders
New technology is providing healthcare facilities with convenient andeffective methods for the removal of plume produced by electrosurgical andsurgical laser procedures. Everyone has read the studies describing the manyhazardous contaminants that are found in surgical plume. Smoke generated throughthe use of lasers and electrocautery has been found to consist of benzene,carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, hydrogen cyanide, and other chemicals. Exposureto these chemicals is known to cause adverse health effects. In addition tothese toxic chemicals, surgical plume also has been found to contain biologichazards.
Two ophthalmologists are believed to have contracted idiopathicthrombocytopenic purpura (ITP) through exposure to surgical plume produced whileperforming photorefractive keratectomies with excimer lasers.1 ITP isa rare condition in non-HIV positive adults, in which the body's immune systemproduces antibodies that attack and destroy platelets. Since the incidence ofITP in the general public is rare, it seems unlikely that two laser surgeonsshould develop ITP after similar but separate exposures to excimer laserproduced surgical plume. There has also been one documented case of a lasersurgeon contracting laryngeal papillomatosis from a patient.2
Many agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),the American National Standards Institute, the Canadian Centre for OccupationalHealth and Safety, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health(NIOSH), recommend the use of surgical smoke evacuation systems to decreasepatient and staff exposure to surgical plume.3 The NIOSH guidelinestates, "During surgical procedures using a laser or electrosurgical unit,the thermal destruction of tissue creates a smoke byproduct. Research studieshave confirmed that this smoke plume can contain toxic gases and vapors such asbenzene, hydrogen cyanide, and formaldehyde, bioaerosols, dead and live cellularmaterial (including blood fragments), and viruses. At high concentrations thesmoke causes ocular and upper respiratory tract irritation in healthcarepersonnel and creates visual problems for the surgeon and surgical assistants.The smoke has pungent, unpleasant odors and has been shown to have mutagenicpotential." The first study examining potential dangers from surgical smokeconcluded that one gram of tissue generated the equivalent smoke condensatemutagenicity of three cigarettes for laser smoke and of six cigarettes forelectrosurgical coagulation.4
Compounding the seriousness of these studies illustrating the hazardouscontents of surgical plume, is the fact that researchers have concluded that asurgical mask is ineffective in filtering smoke particles (O'Grady & Easty,1996).
Studies show surgical nurses may be exposed to surgical smoke for up to 90%of their assigned work hours. Although surgical staff are well aware of thepotential hazards of breathing noxious surgical plume, their objections toutilizing smoke evacuation devices include disruptive noise, inconvenience,additional labor, and cost.
In the OR, technology is a way of life. Constant advances improve theefficiency and ease of performing life-saving and life-enhancing surgicalprocedures. Technological advances are now also available in smoke evacuationdevices, eliminating the objections to providing a safer OR environment. Theseadvances include:
A noticeable increase in surgical smoke evacuation interest is currentlybeing experienced even in the absence of enforceable regulations. Healthcarefacility administrators and safety officers are taking the first step towardproviding a safer work environment, rather than waiting for surgical staff todevelop permanent adverse health affects from exposure to surgical smoke.Hospitals are budgeting for smoke evacuation equipment in the OR. It isimportant that surgical staff voice concern for their health as well as that oftheir associates and patients, and request smoke evacuation equipment for yourOR.
Alison Sanders is the senior product marketing manager for STACKHOUSE,INC., a subsidiary of VIASYS Healthcare.