An evaluation of the exposure of students and staff to formaldehyde vapour in the human anatomy laboratory of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Natal.
Oosthuizen, Jacques de Villiers.
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The aims of the study were to review the literature on the currently known adverse health effects of formaldehyde vapour exposure, to measure environmental formaldehyde levels before and after engineering controls were implemented, to measure symptoms of formaldehyde exposure when compared to non - exposed controls and to evaluate the effectiveness of engineering controls in reducing the symptoms associated with formaldehyde vapour exposure in anatomy students at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Natal. Pre and post intervention environmental monitoring surveys were conducted over the period July 1993 to September 1995 in the aforementioned Human Anatomy Laboratory using passive diffusion badges which were then analyzed by an approved laboratory in Johannesburg. Ambient air temperature, humidity and ventilation rates were measured simultaneously using appropriate instruments. Self-administered questionnaires, relating to the symptoms of exposure to formaldehyde vapours, were obtained from all anatomy students over a two year period before or after as well as during their exposure to the laboratory environment, as well as from all exposed staff members (including their control group). Nasal epithelial scrapings of staff members and a control group were subjected to cytological examination by the Cytology Department of the Provincial Pathology service, at the pre - intervention phase. The environmental monitoring data of 1993 and 1994 indicated that the ambient levels of formaldehyde vapour exceeded the American (ACGIH) Threshold Limit Value (TLV) and thus posed a potential health risk to students and staff, this was due to inadequate ventilation in the Human Anatomy Laboratory. An intervention in terms of ventilation controls was implemented and proved to be effective in reducing formaldehyde vapour levels and reported symptoms in the cohorts studied, comparing each group to themselves, however, the reported symptom levels did not drop significantly in the group exposed after the intervention compared to the group surveyed at the pre - intervention phase. Whether this reduction is sufficient to prevent long term health effects such as neoplasms and sensitization remains to be established. Hence it is recommended that alternative control methods should be considered.