(Beyond Pesticides, May 6, 2008) Pregnant veterinarians who have occupational exposures to pesticides, anesthetic gases or radiation may have twice the risk of miscarriage, according to a new study published in the May 2008 issue of the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
The study, “Maternal occupational exposures and risk of spontaneous abortion in veterinary practice,” looked at the experiences of 1197 female veterinarians working in clinical practice, who graduated from Australian veterinary schools between 1960 and 2000, responding to a questionnaire-based survey. There was a twofold increase in the risk of miscarriage in women veterinarians who use pesticides at work.
The researchers found that there was also a twofold increase for those exposed to anaesthetic gases for more than an hour a week without using equipment to remove the gas from the air, and an 80 percent greater risk of miscarriage in those who performed more than five x-ray examinations per week compared with those who performed five or less. Veterinarians are often unable to leave the room whilst performing an x-ray because they have to hold the animal being x-rayed in order to restrain it.
Adeleh Shirangi, Ph.D., author of the research from the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at Imperial College London, said, “Prior to our study, there had been very little research looking at female vets’ exposures to occupational hazards and how this affects their health. We found that many of the vets surveyed either didn’t have the safety equipment in their practices, or they had the equipment but weren’t using it correctly. We hope that our research will make vets aware of the need to fully protect themselves whilst they are working, especially if they planning to have a baby.”
Laurel Kaddatz, V.M.D., vice chair of the American Veterinary Association Council on Veterinary Science (CoVS) and owner of Pound Ridge Veterinary Center in New York, said the recent Australian study keeps precautions foremost in people’s minds. “For me, looking at this study as a practitioner, it reaffirmed the safety measures we take in our hospital,” he said. “We have active scavenging systems for anesthetic waste gases; personnel aren’t in the X-ray room during film exposure; and we don’t do any topical pesticide application here, either.”
On the recommendation of the CoVS, the AVMA last updated the information and language of the “AVMA position on veterinary facility occupational risks for pregnant workers” in late 2004. The policy starts by stating, “Although scientific data concerning the reproductive health effects of many occupational exposures is limited, the goal of creating a safe work environment for pregnant workers can be facilitated by awareness of inherent risks and then adopting procedures to minimize risk exposure.” The policy lists radiologic, biologic, and chemical exposure as areas of concern for pregnant workers. The policy states that pregnant workers ideally should avoid exposure to X-rays, anesthetic gases, and pesticides.