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Originally published Saturday, July 10, 2010 at 10:03 PM

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Exposure may have killed author of safety guidelines

Bruce Harrison, an oncology pharmacist since the late 1970s, spent much of his career trying to change attitudes about the risks faced by his fellow health-care workers who mix and prepare hazardous drugs.

Bruce Harrison, an oncology pharmacist since the late 1970s, spent much of his career trying to change attitudes about the risks faced by his fellow health-care workers who mix and prepare hazardous drugs.

Harrison for years was a clinical pharmacy specialist with the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in St. Louis. He was also one of the authors of the strictest set of voluntary guidelines, issued in 2004 by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, for the safe handling of chemo and other hazardous drugs by health-care workers.

Those practices, had they been in place throughout his career, might have saved his own life.

Harrison died at age 59 in St. Louis in August of a rare form of oral cancer. He had never smoked, never chewed tobacco. He had no known risk factors, except that in his career as a pharmacist he had mixed a lot of chemo for other people.

He discussed it with his doctor.

"There was no way they could prove it, but the two of them decided it could be related," said his widow, Kathy Harrison.

She's grateful her husband had a long career doing something he loved. She's also sad, and frustrated, that it may have cost him his life.

And she worries it will cost others theirs.

"What frustrated him the most, there was not enough done — not enough studies done to prove it was the danger it was," Harrison said. "I think there needs to be more done to provide more providers with safe handling techniques.

"It doesn't exist in enough places," she said. "There's not enough education about it. Education and training and right equipment are key."

— Carol Smith

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