NIOSH Evaluates Respiratory, Noise Exposures at Steel Pickling Plant
Many employees reported work-related irritant symptoms at a steel pickling plant where NIOSH recently conducted a health hazard evaluation. Employees at the plant stored, cleaned, and pickled steel coils to remove surface impurities from the metal. Symptoms reported by employees included cough, sore throat, and nasal congestion that improved away from work. NIOSH staff visited the company after an employer representative contacted the agency regarding concerns about workers’ respiratory exposures to electrostatically-applied oil, diesel exhaust, and airborne particulate. NIOSH later learned that employees also had concerns about exposures to hydrochloric acid and noise. The agency’s industrial hygiene assessment included full-shift personal air samples for oil mist; diethylene glycol monobutyl ether, or DGME, a chemical in the oil used for pickling; hydrochloric acid; and elemental carbon. NIOSH staff also collected full-shift area air samples for those substances, excluding DGME. Other components of the health hazard evaluation included taking a variety of noise measurements and checking ventilation in the facility. NIOSH’s assessment did not determine specific causes for the workers’ reported symptoms, but agency staff suggested that a combination of exposures to diesel exhaust, HCl, and electrostatically-applied oil may have contributed to them. NIOSH’s evaluation identified overexposures to noise on the pickling line. Workers’ time-weighted average noise exposures exceeded both the NIOSH recommended exposure limit of 85 dBA and the OSHA action level of 85 dBA, both as 8-hour TWAs. The agency’s report urges the employer to require the use of hearing protection to reduce these exposures. NIOSH’s full report is available as a PDF.