September 26, 2019

NIOSH Investigates Potential Drug Exposures among Evidence Handlers

An employer’s concerns about potential worker exposures to illicit drugs in a county evidence room prompted an invitation to NIOSH to investigate the workplace in September 2018, according to a report (PDF) recently made available on the agency’s website. NIOSH personnel conducted interviews with employees at the county state’s attorney’s office and observed work processes. Workers handled evidence in two locations: a temporary storage area for drug, biological material, or DNA evidence, and a separate area for evidence from older or inactive cases. Drug evidence included marijuana, cocaine, opioids, and other illicit drugs.

The report characterizes the evidence rooms as repurposed office areas not originally intended for the storage of evidence. Both rooms were under negative pressure, but because neither had an independent HVAC system, recirculation of air to other areas of the building was possible.

Of 18 employees interviewed, ten reported experiencing eye irritation, headache, runny or stuffy nose, dry or sore throat, and cough over the previous six months. These symptoms could have been related to either workplace or nonworkplace sources, the report states.

NIOSH recommended that the employer implement separate HVAC systems for the two evidence rooms, in keeping with guidelines from ASHRAE and the International Association for Property and Evidence. The agency also recommended housekeeping measures such as removing the carpet from one of the evidence rooms, replacing it with a nonporous material that would be easier to clean in the event of a spill, and acquiring a vacuum with a high-efficiency particular filter for dedicated use in the evidence rooms.

The report is available as a PDF download from the NIOSH website.