Press Release

Bill to Reduce Toxic Fumes in Surgical Settings Moves On

Legislation that would require the state to adopt rules to reduce toxic airborne contaminants, also known as “surgical plumes,” is headed to a vote on the floor of the California Assembly.

AB 2272, authored by Assembly member Tony Thurmond, and sponsored by the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United, passed the Assembly Appropriations Committee today and is expected to be before the full Assembly in the near future.

Despite the arcane sounding term, surgical plumes can pose a significant hazard to patients nurses, and other health professionals in surgical settings, nurses note.

The plumes are the smoke byproduct of laser or electro surgical procedures that result from the removal or burning (cauterization) of human tissue in a wide range of medical procedures that occur in hospital operating rooms or surgery centers.

While microscopic, the toxic gases, plumes, typically contain infectious particles with chemicals or biological agents that can cause cancer, infection with viruses that can result in acute or chronic pulmonary or skin disorders, including pneumonia, asthma, and other health hazards to the patient and all medical personnel in the room.

AB 2272 specifically would direct California’s Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board to adopt regulations to mandate removal of noxious airborne contaminants, surgical plumes in health facilities. It would require the use of smoke evacuators that capture and neutralize at least 95 percent of the smoke at the site of origin before it makes contact with patients or health personnel. 

Nationally the Occupational Safety and Health Administration estimates 500,000 workers are exposed to the fumes every year.

“California can become a leader in reducing surgical site infections and improving health and safety standards for patients and caregivers alike,” says CNA co-president Malinda Markowitz, RN.

Enactment of AB 2272 would continue the practice of California taking the lead on strengthening health and safety protections in the hospital setting as seen in the adoption of regulations to require safer patient handling and workplace violence prevention plans, as well as rules to require safer procedures in the face of epidemics such as Ebola. All three came as the result of legislation, or proposals sponsored by CNA.