Contributed by Dr. Mahlet Garedew & Dr. Hanno Erythropel, Center for Green Chemistry & Green Engineering at Yale University
“I’m pregnant!” After receiving the big news, one of the next questions for those working in chemical laboratories is, “Is it safe for me to continue to work in a lab environment?” These were the same questions that Ph.D. candidate Mary Kate Lane and Postdoc Dr. Mahlet Garedew from the Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering at Yale had when they learned they were expecting. In a broader context, these questions are also relevant in the context of gender equality, as studies show that women scientists leave full-time STEM employment positions much more frequently after the birth of their first child than men.
To find answers to some of their questions, Mary Kate and Mahlet led a team of several researchers from the Yale Center and compiled a review focusing on the topic of the safety of pregnant researchers in a chemical laboratory. The open access review, “What to Expect When Expecting in Lab: A Review of Unique Risks and Resources for Pregnant Researchers in the Chemical Laboratory ” was recently published in ACS Chemical Research in Toxicology.
Most institutions have guidance documents for pregnant researchers to develop an individualized plan. However, much of the work of identifying and assessing specific laboratory hazards usually falls back to the researcher, and such information is usually scattered and generally not readily available. Therefore, the goal of the review paper is to serve pregnant researchers as a starting point for their own risk assessment, and to provide as much relevant data about hazards and risks in one place.
The review tackles the question of risk to a pregnant researcher as a function of hazard (an inherent property of a chemical), exposure (how, when, and how much of the chemical a person is exposed to), and importantly, vulnerability windows (referring to timeframes of susceptibility to the effects of a chemical) during pregnancy and beyond (see Figure 1). The author team, led by Drs. Julie Zimmerman and Paul Anastas, assembled and analyzed relevant literature with a special focus on particularly problematic compound classes including solvents, heavy metals, engineered nanomaterials, and endocrine disruptors, but also included equipment-generated ionizing and non-ionizing radiation as well as the physical stressors noise, heat, and psychosocial and physical stress. Knowledge of these topics is presented in detail and discussed in the context of hazard, exposure, and vulnerability (see Figure 1). For example, the review provides summary tables with a list of 49 common solvents and 29 heavy metals along with their reproductive and developmental toxicity profiles based on information found in the literature and in online databases.
The review is open access and can be found at https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.chemrestox.1c00380.
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