Press Release

California Assembly to Consider Legislation to Reduce Toxic “Plumes”

Legislation that would require the state to adopt rules to reduce toxic airborne contaminants, also known as “surgical plumes,” that pose a significant health hazard to patients and health care personnel in surgical settings has been reintroduced in the California Assembly.

AB 402, authored by Assembly member Tony Thurmond, and sponsored by the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United, advanced through the legislature last year before being vetoed by Gov. Brown following opposition by the state’s hospital industry.

The first hearing on this year’s bill is set for March 15 before the Assembly Labor Committee.

Surgical 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.

They can pose a significant hazard to patients, nurses, and other health professionals in surgical settings, nurses note.

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 402 would direct California’s Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board to develop a strict standard to evacuate noxious airborne contaminants, surgical plumes in health facilities.  

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