Study Finds Cancer Center’s Patient and Staff Bathrooms Contaminated by Chemo Agents

October 7, 2020

Recent study results demonstrated that there was contamination of popular chemotherapy agents in both patient and staff bathrooms of a cancer center.

While chemotherapy drugs are powerful in fighting various types of cancer, they can be hazardous if an individual is exposed to them outside of the realm of treatment. Recent study results presented at the 2020 Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) Bridge virtual conference demonstrate that these kind of drug encounters may very likely occur in hospital or clinic bathrooms.

Nurse researchers at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance started a quality improvement project that analyzed the degree of contamination in both the patient and staff bathrooms at an ambulatory comprehensive cancer center. Specifically, they were testing for the two most common chemotherapy agents: 5FU and oxaliplatin.

“We did this project back in October and November of last year, and we had a couple of goals in mind. One was to take a look at the amount of contamination. We assumed that we were going to see some in patient bathrooms. Then as a parallel, we also wanted to see if we had any contamination in a staff bathroom that was locked behind a security door,” lead author Seth Eisenberg, RN, OCN, BMTCN, professional practice coordinator, infusion services at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, said in his presentation.

The researchers tested the bathrooms by wiping the surfaces and then analyzing the swabs for chemotherapy contamination. This occurred each morning before the patients arrived and then again at the end of the day, between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m.

There was measurable contamination in the patient bathrooms every day of testing. One day had a major spike in hazardous drugs found.

“We looked at reasons for why there might have been such a huge spike there, [since there were no patient falls and no reported spills,” Eisenberg said. “So, we can assume that it was related to the fact that there was some more urine on the floor area.”

Contamination was also found in the staff bathrooms – which are located behind a security door that only staff members can enter – and there was an increase of contamination on the same day.

Although the researchers are not entirely sure why there was a bump of chemotherapy contamination in the staff bathroom that day, they did reach two conclusions. One, these drugs are excreted through urine; and two, they are difficult to clean.

Eisenberg said that more research should be done on this topic to improve the cleaning of staff and patient bathrooms, thus making a safer environment for everyone.

“We’ve actually got a different product that we’re going to try here soon, once things are back to normal [after the COVID-19 pandemic], and we will evaluate whether or not that product made a change in the amount of exposure we saw on the floors,” Eisenberg said.

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A version of this article originally appeared on OncNursingNews.com as, “Drug Contamination Present in Patient and Staff Bathrooms.”


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