November 9, 2023

NIOSH Research to Address Surgical Smoke Exposures in Veterinary Settings

A new project proposed by NIOSH would examine occupational exposure to surgical smoke and related respiratory health effects in clinical veterinary settings. Surgical smoke exposure among health workers is an emerging concern in human operating rooms, according to the Federal Register notice describing the proposed project. But no research has yet characterized surgical smoke generated from animal tissue in surgical suites in veterinary clinics.

“Surgical smoke produced during tissue cutting and cauterizing tissues and blood vessels generates hazardous gaseous compounds and aerosols that are associated with cancer and respiratory irritation,” NIOSH explains. “Several states have either passed or are considering bills requiring surgical smoke evacuation systems in human operating rooms to mitigate this occupational hazard.”

NIOSH stresses that veterinary clinics often have multiple bay suites or less effective ventilation systems than those found in human operating rooms, which could potentially result in higher exposure levels among veterinary medicine and animal care workers. The agency’s proposed research would explore work-related factors that contribute to surgical smoke exposure in clinical veterinary settings, assess relationships between exposure to surgical smoke and respiratory health, and investigate barriers and aids to implementing surgical smoke extraction systems in these settings. NIOSH intends to use the findings of this study to help provide guidance on engineering controls to improve indoor air quality in veterinary medicine and animal care environments by reducing workers’ exposure to surgical smoke.

CDC is accepting public comment on this proposal until Jan. 2, 2024. More information about this study and instructions for submitting comments can be found in the Federal Register.

Related: A workplace hazard update issued by the Occupational Health Branch of the California Department of Public Health in 2019 warns that anesthetic gas may pose health risks to veterinary workers. The document focuses on isoflurane, an anesthetic gas commonly used in veterinary practice.