Green Solutions for the Operating Room

27 Jan 2014
In 2013, the Association of Women Surgeons sponsored its second Green Solutions for the Operating Room Contest in a partnership with Practice Greenhealth.  We received many innovative and creative approaches to reducing the environmental impact of the operating room.  Today we are featuring a submission from Michelle Hoadley, a 4th year medical student at William Carey University College of Osteopathic Medicine.  Many thanks to Michelle and the rest of the contest participants!

The Use of Steam in Preoperative Preparation of the Operating Room
Michelle Hoadley
I became interested in “going green” because it is my parents business. My parents started up their own company that specializes in commissioning and green building services. Because I have worked many summers at my parent’s office, I have gotten an inside look at the green building process. As a result, I began to see things differently and developed a keen eye for evaluating how to make things more environmentally friendly. I also learned that making things environmentally friendly often times involves small changes or changing things most people do not even think about. One of these things includes the way we clean. Most disinfecting agents carry high levels of Volatile Organic Compounds, aka VOC’s. VOC’s are of particular concern because they are a source of indoor air pollution and are known to cause a variety of health issues with exposure. However, as I began my rotations during 3rd year I noticed that these same harmful chemicals were being used to in not just cleaning the hospital, but also in cleaning the operating room.

Eliminating the toxic chemical exposures in the hospital and the OR is important to the health of everyone involved, from physicians to staff and even patients. So I started to evaluate the best way to clean the OR without unnecessary VOC exposure. The cleaning method would also have to be affordable and easily implementable into a small hospital as well as large university hospital. What came to mind is steam cleaning—maybe  because I recently purchased one for my home and absolutely love how easy it is to use. Cleaning with steam at home also means I minimize the level of VOC’s my family is exposed to. Why not transfer how I clean my home to how we clean the operating room? Especially since steam is far superior in disinfecting and sterilizing then most of those toxic chemicals currently being used. I also incorporated into my steam cleaning proposal a method to the cleaning process. This method includes cleaning top to bottom and then back wall to the door, which would reduce contamination. In order to improve the disinfecting capabilities even more as well as improve efficiency, one could  add a microfiber cloth attachment to the steam cleaning process.

In conclusion, using steam cleaning in the operating room as well as the hospital in general would eliminate the high levels of VOC’s produced by the toxic disinfecting cleaners in current use. As a result, the indoor air quality would improve. With an improvement in the indoor air quality the health risks associated with the now eliminated toxic fumes would also improve. It’s a win-win situation. To take this one step further, paints, floor waxes, and other sources of high VOC release compounds should be switched to low or no VOC alternatives. We often overlook the pollution caused by our everyday chemicals and cleaners, as well as dismiss the health risks associated to their exposure, which includes respiratory issues and even cancer. It is because VOC exposure is so easy to overlook that I wanted to write about it and bring its health risks to the attention of others by submitting my proposal to the “Greening the OR” competition.
Michelle Hoadley is a 4th year medical student at William Carey University College of Osteopathic Medicine. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from Mercer University in women and gender studies with a minor in chemistry. Michelle also holds a Master’s of Science from Mississippi College in biomedical science. Michelle is a current member of the Association of Women Surgeons, has held leadership positions in the Student Osteopathic Medical Association, and is an active instructor in WCUCOM’s suture clinic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *