Atlanta

Surgical smoke may be putting nurses’ health at risk

ATLANTA — Some Georgia nurses say the operating rooms they work in every day are making them sick.

They say the surgical smoke in the air they breathe in those ORs is full of harmful chemicals and particles that can cause respiratory problems and even cancer.

“I love nursing. It’s been my life,” Angel Hohn told Channel 2 investigative reporter Justin Gray.

She spent 40 years as a nurse in operating rooms. Hohn was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer in March 2020.

Hohn is a daily runner who has never smoked. Her oncologist told her smoke from the operating room may have caused her cancer.

“We’re going into a work environment that we feel safe in, that we’re giving safe care, but we did not realize we’re being at risk,” Hohn said.

House Public Safety Chairman J. Collins has introduced a bill that would require hospitals to install systems to filter out surgical smoke.

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“Some of the studies I’ve looked at show the average daily exposure is the same as smoking a pack of cigarettes, which is a substantial risk. Without anything to mitigate the exposure to that surgical team that surgical smoke is posing a health risk to a lot of people,” Collins said.

Smoke evacuation technology only costs a few thousand dollars per operating room.

But the Georgia Hospital Association opposes the legislation, calling it an unfunded mandate.

GHA said many Georgia hospitals already have the technology anyway.

Brenda Ulmer from the Georgia Council of Perioperative Nurses says their survey found that 82% of Georgia hospitals have the technology, but many don’t use it for most surgeries.

The proposed bill would require they do.

“These people have gone to work every single day in the operating room taking care of their patients without asking what it was going to do to them and their families. And something as simple as this is not too much,” Ulmer said.

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