thesynergist | NEWSWATCH
EPA Proposes to Ban All Uses of Trichloroethylene
On Oct. 31, EPA issued a proposed rule that would ban most uses of the solvent trichloroethylene (TCE) within one year and establish a workplace chemical protection program for limited uses to be phased out over a longer period of time. TCE is a volatile organic compound used mostly in industrial and commercial applications such as vapor degreasing, the manufacture of certain refrigerants, and the production of battery separators. The solvent is also used by consumers in cleaning and furniture care products, spray coatings for arts and crafts, and automotive care products like brake cleaners and tire repair sealants. According to EPA, TCE causes liver cancer, kidney cancer, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Damage to the central nervous system, liver, kidneys, immune system, and reproductive organs are among other adverse health effects related to TCE exposure. The International Agency for Research on Cancer designated TCE as Group 1 or carcinogenic to humans in 2014. EPA’s proposal was issued through a new process that calls for the agency to evaluate and address the safety of existing chemicals regulated under the Toxic Substances Control Act, as amended by the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act in 2016. The proposal would prohibit the manufacture, processing, and distribution of TCE for most uses within one year. “For the majority of uses of TCE as a solvent, including consumer products, safer alternatives to TCE are readily available,” the agency’s press release explains. EPA is proposing longer phaseouts or time-limited exemptions for some uses of TCE to allow sufficient time for manufacturers and others to transition away from the chemical. For example, there are currently no alternatives to TCE in the production of battery separators, which are used in electric vehicles and other transportation, security, and defense systems. A proposed 10-year exemption from the TCE ban is intended to allow the industry to investigate and adopt alternative solvents. Uses of TCE with longer transition periods would be subject to EPA’s proposed workplace chemical protection program, which would include requirements to reduce inhalation and dermal exposures to TCE. As part of the program, EPA proposes an existing chemical exposure limit, or ECEL, for TCE of 0.0040 ppm (0.021 mg/m3) as an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA). According to EPA, this limit “would address the unreasonable risk of injury to health from TCE that is driven by inhalation exposures in an occupational setting.” EPA’s ECEL for TCE is significantly lower than the OSHA permissible exposure limit for the chemical, which is 100 ppm as an 8-hour TWA. NIOSH considers TCE to be a potential carcinogen. The agency has not yet determined an RML-CA (risk management limit for carcinogens) for TCE. More information is available from the NIOSH website. The American Chemistry Council, which represents the chemical industry, objected to the EPA proposal. “TCE has several important uses in packaging and formulation, and as a solvent, where small amounts are used,” ACC said in a statement. The proposed rule was scheduled to go into effect on Dec. 15. For more information, read the proposed rule in the Federal Register. EPA also maintains a webpage on risk management for TCE.
NIOSH Rescinds Three Respirator Approvals Issued to Walter Surface Technologies
NIOSH has honored the request of the company Walter Surface Technologies to voluntarily rescind three of its respirator approvals, the agency announced in a notice published in October. As of Sept. 29, respirators bearing the approval numbers TC-21C-0815, TC-21C-0838, and TC-21C-0881 are no longer approved by NIOSH and may no longer be used, manufactured, assembled, sold, or distributed. The agency directs individuals to contact Walter Surface Technologies for details about the decision to voluntarily rescind these approvals. NIOSH’s certified equipment list no longer includes the approval numbers TC-21C-0815, TC-21C-0838, and TC-21C-0881. The agency encourages respirator users and others to use this list to determine if respirators they are currently using or considering using are NIOSH-certified. The website of the agency’s National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory provides a list of additional guidance documents intended to inform users of respiratory protective devices.
OSHA Targets Silica Exposures from Engineered Stone Fabrication, Installation
A new initiative will bring OSHA’s enforcement and compliance mechanisms to bear on employers in the engineered stone fabrication and installation industries. The goal of the initiative, as described in a memo to the agency’s regional administrators, is to identify hazards and ensure prompt abatement in the targeted industries, where workers are potentially exposed to high levels of silica dust.
The OSHA memo applies to regions 1 through 8, essentially the entire country east of Idaho, Nevada, and Arizona. These regions have the highest concentration of establishments in the targeted industries, according to OSHA. Each of the agency’s local offices in these regions is required to conduct at least five inspections of engineered stone fabrication and installation establishments over the next 12 months.
The initiative follows reports of silicosis among fabricators and installers of engineered stone countertops. Manufactured primarily from quartz rock, engineered stone is lighter than products made from natural stone such as granite or marble, and production costs are lower. Engineered stone can contain as much as 90 percent crystalline silica content, far higher than the 10 to 45 percent typical with granite.
Workers in the engineered stone industry who are afflicted with silicosis are relatively young. Research published by JAMA Internal Medicine in July describes a study of 52 silicosis patients among engineered stone workers in California whose median age was 45. Twenty of these patients had progressive massive fibrosis, the most severe form of the disease. Of the ten who passed away, the median age at death was 46. As of early November, California was considering an emergency temporary standard to address the problem.
For more information, refer to the OSHA memo and related news release.
Report Faults OSHA’s Efforts to Protect Warehouse Workers
A review of OSHA’s efforts to address high injury and illness rates at warehouses before and during the COVID-19 pandemic criticizes the agency for not conducting enough inspections and not collecting enough data. The Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) analyzed relevant data for the period from Oct. 1, 2016, through Dec. 31, 2021. An OIG report notes that the sharp rise in online shopping during the pandemic led to increased pressure on warehouse workers to meet production quotas. In 2021, warehouse employees suffered injuries and illnesses at a rate of 5.5 per 100 employees, which was twice the national rate for all industries. But OSHA inspected only 4.1 percent of warehouses in the United States, and most of those inspections were prompted by complaints. Under-reporting from employers limited the amount of injuries and illness data available to OSHA. In OIG’s judgment, the data that OSHA did collect was not detailed enough for the agency to identify trends or determine where serious injuries were likely to occur. OSHA’s response to OIG’s findings argues that industry-wide injury rates are a “limiting lens” through which to judge enforcement efforts. Other factors that determine the allocation of enforcement resources include the seriousness of injuries and legal limitations, OSHA notes. OIG also did not consider the need for frequent inspections in relatively low-injury workplaces like those in the petrochemical industry, which nevertheless possess high potential for catastrophic events, according to OSHA. For more information, read the OIG report (PDF).
CDC: Lung Donations Were Likely Source of Pennsylvania Legionella Transmission
Two individuals who received a lung from the same donor in May 2022 and later developed legionellosis were likely infected by the transplanted organs, according to CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The donor was a man in his thirties who had drowned in a river. One of the patients experienced multiple post-operative complications and passed away approximately six months after the transplant surgery.
The two patients were infected by different strains of the bacteria, which suggests river water as the origin since multiple species of Legionella are known to live in fresh water.
Legionella transmission is usually associated with human-made water systems. But the Philadelphia-area hospital where both transplants occurred was found to have a well-functioning water management plan, and no other cases of legionellosis from the facility were reported in the six months before and after the incident.
For more information, visit the CDC website.
Toxicological Profile Published for Beryllium
A new toxicological profile for beryllium is available from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. ATSDR toxicological profiles are peer-reviewed documents that characterize the toxicology and adverse health effects information for hazardous substances.
Beryllium is a metal that is used in applications in the defense, aerospace, and electronics industries as well as in the medical and dental fields. Workers in the beryllium manufacturing, fabricating, or reclaiming industries are at high risk of exposure to the metal, and most significant beryllium exposures occur in the workplace, according to ATSDR.
Common adverse health effects associated with beryllium exposure include beryllium sensitization, an immune response that can lead to serious health problems; chronic beryllium disease (CBD), a lung disease caused by inhaling airborne beryllium; and lung cancer. Another potential health effect associated with exposure to beryllium is acute beryllium disease, which OSHA describes as “a rapid onset form of chemical pneumonia that results from breathing high airborne concentrations” of the substance. But inhalation is not the only exposure route of concern, as skin contact with beryllium may also lead to sensitization.
“Workers exposed to beryllium are at risk for developing acute beryllium disease and sensitized people are at risk for developing chronic beryllium disease,” ATSDR explains.
For more information, read the profile for beryllium and an associated information sheet. New profiles are also available for chloromethane and the flammable, colorless liquid methyl tert-butyl ether. A full list of toxic substances with published profiles is available on the ATSDR website.
NIOSH: Training Needed to Protect Railway Inspectors from HazMat Exposures
A health hazard evaluation report available from NIOSH describes visits by agency personnel to railyards in the Midwest United States to observe the work practices in place for inspections of railway shipping containers. Agency personnel observed inspections of railway tank cars and intermodal shipping containers that contained butadiene, chlorine, hydrochloric acid, and many other hazardous materials. The inspectors were often required to climb on top of tank cars and open housings to evaluate the condition of valves. Inspectors were generally careful to stand upwind of the housing and to allow vapors to dissipate. In one instance, a valve threading had been stripped, resulting in exposure to hazardous vapors. Cars that contained inhalation hazards were not always clearly labeled.
A union representative had suggested that hazmat inspectors use 4-gas meters to evaluate the air around tank cars before beginning their inspections, but NIOSH found that the devices did not prove useful in this context. Four-gas meters can detect oxygen, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, and lower explosive limit concentrations, but they are typically used for entering confined spaces. In the open air at the top of tank cars, substances were likely to become so diluted that they would not be detected even when present. Some inspectors wore a 4-gas meter with a photoionization detector, or PID, which detects certain volatile organic compounds, but NIOSH personnel observed that the alarms on the instruments did not sound even in the presence of a noticeable leak of ethanol.
NIOSH noted that no device can detect every type of hazardous material to which an inspector may be exposed. NIOSH recommended increased training in hazard communication, anticipating the types of hazardous materials with which the inspectors may come into contact, and preplanning emergency response scenarios.
Read the report from the NIOSH website (PDF).
NIOSH Publishes Recommendations for Responding to Chemical Suicide Attempts
Emergency responders entering an area of a suspected chemical suicide attempt should wear self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) or a combination SCBA and Type C supplied-air respirator with a full facepiece, according to an advisory from NIOSH. The agency recommends that responders treat the area as the site of a hazardous materials incident and assume it is IDLH (immediately dangerous to life or health) until a hazard assessment can determine which PPE and support tools are necessary during each phase of the response.
Chemical suicide incidents typically involve the mixing of consumer products or household chemicals to produce hydrogen sulfide, hydrogen cyanide, or carbon monoxide. The Chemical Hazardous Emergency Medical Management database indicates that these hazardous vapors are typically released in a confined space such as a car, bathroom, or closet. NIOSH states that documented injuries to first responders have resulted from inhalation and transdermal absorption due to “inconsistent” PPE usage.
Download the advisory from the NIOSH website.
NIOSH Looks to Sports for Better Safety Helmet Designs
Ongoing research into more effective safety helmets for construction workers includes studies by NIOSH and its partners of helmet designs and testing methods like those used for outdoor and contact athletics, according to a new page on the agency’s website.
Safety helmets are essential for preventing work-related traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). Helmets used in construction are designated as either Type I, which reduce wearers’ risk of injury from blows to the top of the head, or Type II, which protect wearers from injuries caused by blows to the top or sides of the head. But NIOSH reports that some construction workers have begun using helmets like those typically worn for mountain climbing or ice hockey, which have been found to be more protective.
The agency aims to design safety helmets with better shock absorption properties through more effective testing methods, in part by looking to athletics. A NIOSH study published in January 2023 (PDF) used dummy crash tests like those used for motorcycle, bicycle, and football helmets to more realistically evaluate the performance of four Type I helmet designs.
The construction industry records the most TBIs among workplaces in the United States, according to NIOSH.
More information is available on the NIOSH website and from a November 2022 post to the NIOSH Science Blog.
NIOSH Highlights Lead Exposures during Water Pipe Replacement
NIOSH has released a new document that provides guidance for protecting workers from lead exposure when replacing old lead water pipes with new, lead-free lines. The document notes that workers may be exposed to lead when working in pits excavated for water line replacement, when cutting and handling lead pipes and equipment, or when disconnecting and removing lead pipes. They may also encounter lead-contaminated soil during excavation, both when using heavy equipment like backhoes and when digging with shovels. NIOSH advises employers and workers on actions they can take to limit exposures through engineering controls, training, housekeeping and hygiene practices, blood lead level (BLL) and surface testing, and the use of personal protection equipment. The document also provides an extensive list of relevant resources.
Lead exposure can potentially cause decreased nervous system function; weakness in the fingers, wrists, or ankles; and increased blood pressure. At higher levels, lead can damage the brain and kidneys, decrease fertility, and cause miscarriages.
The new document is available from the NIOSH website.
OSHA Heat Illness Fact Sheets Cover Hydration, Risk Factors, Pregnancy
OSHA has published three new fact sheets that address facets of heat illness prevention for workers.
“Keeping Workers Well Hydrated” (PDF) addresses the importance of ensuring workers drink enough water in hot environments. Employers’ responsibilities include educating workers on the importance of hydration and equipping all work areas with accessible, visible cool water.
“Personal Risk Factors and Heat Exposure” (PDF) is an overview of individual characteristics that may reduce some workers’ heat tolerance. Health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease may cause workers to be less likely to sense changes in temperature. Workers taking antihistamines, diuretics, and other medications may have decreased ability to feel heat, sweat, or retain water. Some workers’ physical characteristics, such as older age and lower physical fitness, may cause them to become dehydrated more quickly or limit their ability to cool themselves.
The third document, “Prevent Heat Illness Among Pregnant Workers” (PDF), addresses concerns specific to this group. “Pregnant workers are more likely to experience heat stroke or heat exhaustion sooner than non-pregnant workers because it is harder for the body to cool down during pregnancy,” the document states. Pregnant workers are also more likely to become dehydrated, which contributes to heat illness.
These and other heat illness resources are available from the OSHA website.
NIOSH Reminds Workers to “Leave Lead at Work”
As OSHA and some states consider regulations that would provide greater protections against workplace lead exposures, a new publication on the NIOSH website explains how workers can avoid exposing family members and others to lead. The document advises workers to change into different clothes at the end of their workday and to store a separate set of clothes and shoes in a dedicated locker at work. Lunch containers should also be left at work, the document says.
Other safe-lead practices described in the document include handwashing with soap designed to remove lead before meals; never eating, drinking, or smoking in areas where lead dust is present; correctly wearing required personal protective equipment; and using a high-efficiency particulate air vacuum or wet methods to clean areas that could be contaminated with lead.
According to the NIOSH Adult Blood Lead Exposure Surveillance (ABLES) program, about 90 percent of adults with known lead exposures and elevated blood lead levels (BLLs) are exposed to lead at work. An elevated BLL is 10 µg/dL or greater.
In June 2022, OSHA published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking for lead standards in general industry and construction that asked stakeholders to comment on reducing the current lead permissible exposure limit of 50 µg/m3 over an eight-hour time-weighted average or its action level of 30 µg/m3. The agency is also considering lowering the BLL at which workers are medically removed from work with lead.
Michigan promulgated a new lead rule in 2018 that requires workers to be removed when their BLL reaches 30 μg/dL. They cannot return to work involving lead exposure until their BLL falls below 15 μg/dL. Other states considering new lead regulations include California and Washington.
The NIOSH document “Leave Lead at Work” can be downloaded from the agency's website. For more information, see the NIOSH webpage on lead.