Read personal stories after exposure to toxic chemicals

Awakening Nurses

Are nurses really in the health industry or the sickness industry? And who is most likely to get sick?

Generally speaking Nurses tend to be well educated, independent women and men who have a strong instinct to care for and protect others.

Nursing is often seen as being unique, a rare dedication not seen often in our society.

This is reflected when every year nurses are seen as the profession worthy of peoples trust and respect.

Coming from this unique group of people, I have an inside understanding of what it takes to perform in this profession.

Over time I have watched as nurses have chased respect within the medical profession, taking on more and more responsibility, becoming, in some places, ‘mini Doctors’.

For years the nurses 'gut instinct' has been ridiculed and criticized because it is unscientific. So now we do study and research to prove that nurses are more than 'gut instinct'

Nurses today, more than at any other time in their history, have moved away from that 'gut instinct', to science.

As the hospital is more and more chemicalised, nurses accept whatever is on offer (because of this undermining of the nurse’s gut instinct), with little questioning despite the fact that alarm bells may be ringing for the nurse.

Nurses along with others in the hospital situation are blissfully unaware of the toxic environment they work in.

Most nurses would be aware of the obvious threats from their chosen profession:

Shift work

Contracting a disease

Nurses Back (chronic long term back pain)

Verbal and physical abuse

Hospital food (seriously, would you feed that to your family?)

What about the invisible health risks in the hospital?

No one talks about these. As a matter of fact, I believe there has been a campaign to ensure nurses do not become alert to the toxic environment they work in.

Studies are showing just how dangerous nursing has become. The hospital environment is not only toxic to the nurse but also to the patient, who, after all, has gone there already vulnerable.

Read personal stories by Nurses and others who have been exposed to chemicals.

Personal Stories


A recent study in the USA of 1500 nurses concluded

“that nurses with long-term and intense exposures to environmental hazards developed above-normal levels of cancer and asthma, had more miscarriages, children with birth defects, and other serious medical conditions”(1)

These environmental hazards are chemicals found in our hospitals. Currently in Australian hospitals the average number of chemicals to be found is 630. Out of this, 30 are believed safe, 300 have unknown toxicity and 300 are classified as hazardous.

So where are all these chemicals? How do so many end up in the nurses work environment? Below is a list of some of the sources for these toxic chemicals. While you read this list ask yourself this question: what is happening when these chemicals mix together in the environment and then our bodies?

“Toxic chemicals in use in hospitals include:-

• Industrial cleaners used by contracted cleaning staff.

• Chemical sterilizers, in particular glutaraldehyde, used for the sterilization of endoscopes and other equipment that cannot be steam sterilized.

• Tissue preservatives such as formaldehyde used to store and preserve body tissue prior to histopathology.

• Chemical reagents used in the hospital Pathology Laboratory.

• Cytotoxic drugs requiring preparation prior to parenteral administration to cancer patients.

• Processing chemicals for X-ray film development.

• Anaesthetic gases in the Operating Theatre.” (Bert Sadleir) (2)

This is a list of some of the Toxic chemicals, but not all. As well as the above list, there are many more chemicals that occur in our every day world but are no less harmful because they are common.

Solvents, insecticides (such as spraying for cockroaches), perfumes and toiletries used by patients, hand cleaning agents (sometimes used a 100 times a shift), chemicals found in linen products, antibiotics and drugs. These have all, thanks to scientific proof, been found to have nasty side effects.

Another source of chemical exposure in hospitals is the food. Food sourced from chemical farming is heavily contaminated with pesticides and herbicides, watered with contaminated water and then processed with added preservatives, colours and other additives just to make sure you get a good dose of nasty chemicals.

This of course is the case for many peoples food outside of hospital , unless, of course, they eat organic or grow their own without chemicals.

This source of contaminations is not included in the 630 chemicals previously referred to in this article.

When considering drugs as chemicals, we, as nurses, not only expose ourselves to their toxic properties , but we also promote them to our patients and because of the trust the community holds nurses in, many accept without question, that we, the nurse, would not give anything that would be harmful. I don’t need to tell any nurse out there how wrong this can be.

Once these chemicals are introduced into the hospital environment, where do they go from there?

Here is an example of what is found in the waste water from our hospitals

“The most important chemicals in hospital wastewater are antibiotics, cytostatic agents, anaesthetics, disinfectant, platinum, mercury, rare earth elements (gadolinium, indium, osmium) and iodinated X-ray contrast media. Other pharmaceuticals which have been found in wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) effluents include lipid regulators, analgesics, antibiotics, antidepressants, antiepileptics, antineoplastics, antipyretics, antiphlogistics, antirheumatics, ß-blockers, bronchiolytics, ß2-sympathomimetics, estrogens, secretolytics, vasodilators and X-ray contrast media.”(3)

If that is not worrisome enough, this extract below further highlights why changes must occur in our hospitals not just to protect the staff and patients but the whole community.

“Many of the chemical compounds are resistant to wastewater treatment and may end up in surface water where they may influence the aquatic ecosystem and interfere with the food chain. This may also pose a risk of human exposure through drinking surface water.”(3)

As well as what is flushed down the drain, toxic waste from our hospitals is burnt to be released into the atmosphere and if it is not burnt then sent to our landfills where it contaminates the surrounding environment and eventually will end up in the water ways and soil.

Who would choose to spend 8 hrs a day 5 days per week 52 weeks a year in such a toxic work environment?

This is what nurses do, sometimes for all of their working life, which can span over 40yrs.

What will nurses have to live (die) with, as a consequence of their choice?

Do people choose this environment knowing how hazardous it is? Like most people, nurses believe the myth that those in authority will protect us, that government and business will keep us safe.

Time and time again, this is proven to be wrong No government or business will protect you and those you love from the hazards of chemicals. Too much money is involved.

The Solution:

A new movement has begun in the USA called ‘Greening Our Hospitals’.

It is time Australian Nurses also demanded a safe and toxic free environment to earn a living in; this surely is the right of every Human being.

Surely nurses have the right to expect to live a long and illness free life, to know that their very livelihood will not result in the death of their unborn child or the birth of a child disadvantaged by birth defects.

Awaken, Nurses of Australia! Demand change in our hospitals, if not for yourself, then for your community.

Let’s create, well places, instead of sick places. Places where patients and staff stay and get well.

Research shows that hospitals are very hazardous places and long term exposure can only result in compromising the health status of individuals who choose this environment for their workplace.

I would love to hear your personal stories on how the hospital environment has affected your health and lifestyle.


(1) (2) Environmental and Occupational Health Issues in Hospitals Bert Sadleir (MB. BS., Dip Obs RACOG, FACRRM ) Director of Emergency Medicine, Mackay Base Hospital, PO Box 5388, Mail Center, Mackay QLD 4741. (3)Health Stream Literature Summary - Issue 46 - June 2007 The treatment of hospital wastewater: an appraisal Pauwels, B. and Verstraete, W. (2006) Journal of Water & Health, 4 (4) 405-416.