An Alberta union representing health care employees has received over 100 individual complaints of potentially unsafe exposure to chemotherapy drugs at four healthcare facilities in Edmonton and central Alberta.
From those 100-plus individual complaints gathered over the past four months, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) has filed five provincial health and safety complaints against facilities in Edmonton, Westlock, Cold Lake and Vegreville.
The complaints were sent to Occupational Health Services (OHS) under Alberta Labour.
“We’re looking to place our member’s health first,” Trevor Hansen, AUPE’s occupational health and safety representative, said in an interview. “If that means filing more complaints with the Alberta government, Alberta labour … we will certainly do that.”
Cytotoxic drugs are often used as a form of oral chemotherapy for cancer patients, but their use is on the rise to treat other disorders like diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. Chemicals inside the drugs damage cells and prevent their multiplication or growth.
Possible long-term side effects of exposure to cytotoxins include skin and eye irritations, vital organ damage, and possible pregnancy-related health issues, such as birth defects.
The medications are also known to cause some forms of cancer.
“We continue to receive complaints about exposure from members almost daily,” AUPE vice-president Carrie-Lynn Rusznak said in a press release Monday.
The complaints come from health-care professionals and the institution’s support staff, Rusznak said.
In one example, OHS received a complaint from a licensed practical nurse who crushed a cytotoxic pill into powder without gloves or any other protection on her hands. Hansen said the majority of the complaints are coming from employees that were not taught the risks of the drugs.
“There’s a lack of information available to everyone in the health-care world,” Hansen said.