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Ann Occup Hyg. 2005 Oct;49(7):603-10. Epub 2005 Jun 17.

Exposure to antineoplastic drugs in two UK hospital pharmacy units.

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Health and Safety Laboratory, Buxton UK.



To carry out an environmental and biological monitoring study in two UK hospital pharmacy units involved in the preparation of antineoplastic drugs.


The two units studied used isolators for drug preparation. One used isolators operating at positive pressure relative to external atmospheric pressure, whereas the other used negative pressure isolators. Monitoring utilized the measurements of methotrexate, ifosfamide, cyclophosphamide and platinum reflecting the platino-coordinated drugs, such as cisplatin and carboplatin. Personal and static atmospheric and floor wipe samples were collected together with preshift and post-shift urine samples over a 4-day consecutive monitoring period. During the study period both units operated to their normal procedures.


Measurable amounts of cytotoxic drugs were detected on the floors of both units and on the disposable gloves worn by staff preparing the drugs. There was also evidence in both units of some very low-level drug absorption from urine measurements, using the most sensitive analytical technique of platinum analysis. The absorption of platinum containing drugs in the unit using negative-pressure isolators was significantly higher, even though less platinum containing drug was prepared per day. Urine measurements in both units were below the detection limit for the other measured drugs. Although the unit using positive-pressure isolators handled daily approximately five times the drug quantities handled with the negative pressure unit, the general levels of external contamination and urine measurements did not reflect this difference. Comparison of the relative levels of glove and floor contamination between the two units was not clear-cut and appeared to depend on the specific cytotoxic drug being monitored.


The levels of external contamination on the floor and gloves, and absorbed dose from urine measurements found in this study showed considerable improvement over many earlier, non-UK studies using comparable exposure measurements. These earlier studies were in facilities using laminar flow/microbiological safety cabinets and where staff were likely to be involved in both drug preparation and administration. Our data did not suggest that the differential pressure of the isolator to the pharmacy atmosphere was an overarching factor in the risk of operator exposure under normal operation. There remains a need to investigate the sources of the low-level drug contamination found in the pharmacies even when using isolators to prepare cytotoxic drugs. This study, and related studies of hospital oncology ward staff, appear to be the only recent UK studies of occupational cytotoxic drug exposure using environmental and biological monitoring techniques.

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