teratogen exposure

klier at cobra.uni.edu klier at cobra.uni.edu
Wed Feb 1 22:26:48 EST 1995


Since I'm getting tired of the latest iteration of the flap over
"why women-in-bio?" (the charter of this group was to help reduce
isolation among female biologists, and to discuss interests and concerns
of female biologists), I'll propose a new question for, uh, discussion.

Many of us teach lab classes where, in order to prepare our students
for what they may do in a professional setting, we wind up exposing them
to various chemical and biological nasties.  Gone are the days where
we blithely slopped xylene and toluene around without fumehoods, and
instead we have MSDS sheets and "right to know".  I think most lab
teachers and research mentors try to foster lab safety and understanding
what you work with for all our students, but are also aware of a need to 
be especially careful with teratogens.

Last year, a male colleague who taught an electron microscopy class
came to me to ask my advice:  one of his students informed him she
was pregnant.  The class was using small amounts of chemicals that
hadn't been checked for teratogenicity as far as he could tell, but
he suspected they might be teratogens.  Should he advise her to drop 
the course this term?  Have her do the lecture material, but not lab?  
Have her talk to her doctor?  

My suggestion was that he give her the MSDS notebook, noting the
chemicals he thought might be of particular concern, explain why
he was concerned, ask her to talk with her doctor about it, and
make some decisions from there.  She chose to continue the last
few weeks of the course on a lecture-only basis, with a "come
back after the baby and we'll do the hands-on part".

Should we be paying more attention to the possibility that some 
of our students may be pregnant, or become pregnant, while enrolled
in a lab course?  I teach plant systematics and economic botany
labs, so this isn't a problem I've given much thought to (my
safety sermons are more on the line of "Please stay out of the
poison ivy and don't carry unwrapped razor blades in your pocket!")

If we make particular mention of teratogens and pregnancy in the usual
safety lectures we give, are we somehow giving the message that
"science is too dangerous for women who want kids"?  

Comments?  Suggestions?

Kay Klier    klier at cobra.uni.edu




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