NIOSH Evaluates Employees' Exposure to Chemotherapy Drugs in an Infusion Center

Published May 7, 2014

NIOSH’s latest health hazard evaluation (HHE) report details the agency’s response to a request from an employer who was concerned about possible adverse health effects among employees who handle chemotherapy drugs in an outpatient cancer and infusion center. Reported health effects included burning and itchy eyes, itchy skin, hair loss, and metallic taste in the mouth.

NIOSH personnel found low but detectable levels of chemotherapy drugs, including platinum-containing drugs, in surface wipe samples collected throughout the center. The agency also noted inconsistent use of personal protective equipment among employees and found that procedures for handling hazardous drugs did not apply to all personnel who are exposed to chemotherapy drugs, specifically employees who receive shipments.

The agency’s report concludes that though NIOSH cannot definitively link the reported symptoms to chemotherapy drug exposures, many of the symptoms were consistent with those reported in the scientific literature.

To help protect workers from these exposures, NIOSH recommended that employees use chemotherapy gowns and gloves when handling chemotherapy or other hazardous drugs and that the employer implement a medical surveillance program for employees who directly handle chemotherapy drugs. NIOSH’s report also urges the employer to update the hazardous drug list and make it available for employees.

For more information, see NIOSH’s report. Other NIOSH HHE reports are available on the agency’s website.