Medical students and anatomy staff suffer toxic effects of formalin-treated cadavers

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New research suggests that chronic exposure to formalin-treated cadavers is significantly associated with systemic disorders and disruption of the haematopoietic system.

The study of almost 500 medical students and staff at Alexandria University in Egypt identified a range of formalin-related toxicities in students and staff exposed to formalin, including excessive lacrimation, skin disorders, respiratory tract irritation and work-related asthma. More importantly, white blood cell counts were abnormally high or low in formalin-exposed staff, and red blood cell and platelet counts were significantly lower.

The research follows a high number of deaths and life-threatening diagnoses among faculty at Alexandria University’s anatomy department. In the last decade, there have been four deaths among staff, including one from pancreatic cancer and another in a young member of staff with multiple myeloma. In addition, three female staff have been diagnosed with breast cancer, another has been diagnosed with lymphoma and another with pulmonary fibrosis.

This latest study adds to a growing body of evidence demonstrating the cumulative toxic effects of formalin exposure and suggests a need for re-evaluation of the concentration of formalin and working conditions at anatomy departments.