The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries today issued a Hazard Alert prohibiting the use of ethylene oxide for cleaning of face masks, including N95s. This alert is a result of WSNA’s efforts to raise the alarms and advocate for the safety of our members.
Nurses at some WSNA represented facilities reported respirators and face masks being collected for reprocessing using ethylene oxide to decontaminate. The Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has concluded that ethylene oxide is carcinogenic to humans and that exposure to ethylene oxide increases the risk of lymphoid cancer and, for females, breast cancer. WSNA sent cease and desist letters demanding an immediate halt to the reusing of any face masks, including N‑95 and other respirators, that have been decontaminated by the ethylene oxide cleaning process. In addition, WSNA reported this hazard to Labor & Industries’ Division of Occupational Safety and Health.
As a result of our advocacy, L&I issued this DOSH Hazard Alert today with the following directive:
Hospitals and clinics are required to use their ethylene oxide (EtO) sterilizer systems for their intended and manufacturer-approved purposes. EtO sterilizer systems must NOT be used to sterilize masks, respirators, PPE or items worn by humans.
The failure of hospital systems and the federal government to adequately prepare for the COVID-19 pandemic by ensuring adequate PPE for nurses and other health care workers does not give license to further jeopardize the health and safety of frontline health care workers. WSNA applauds the issuing of this DOSH Hazard Alert that unequivocally states ethylene oxide is not to be used on PPE.