It’s not exactly breaking news that certain kinds of dust are hazardous to workers, either because they cause lung diseases when inhaled or they’re combustible. (Click here for more information on the hazards posed by combustible dust.) But sometimes safety professionals need a reminder of how serious this hazard can be.
Polyacrylate Power Sickens Workers
The NIOSH Science Blog recently noted that the Indian Express reported a “new” occupational lung disease and implicated exposure to a polyacrylate powder as its cause. The article was based on an investigation published by the Peoples Training and Research Center, a voluntary organization raising awareness and providing OHS training.
The article discussed a cluster of five cases of workers with severe pleural and pulmonary disease, which developed within 10–12 months of working at a factory that manufactures and processes polyacrylate and other polymers for use in pharmaceuticals.
The workers reportedly laboured under highly unsafe conditions. For example, the report describes how unprotected workers were exposed to high levels of dust while operating grinding and sieving machines, bagging final products and handling filled bags of the ground polymer in a 10–12 work-hour day. They were given “ordinary masks,” aprons and plastic shoes. By the end of the day, they were covered with dust.
Some manufacturers of polyacrylate powders recommend on their MSDSs handling them as eye and respiratory tract irritants, providing local exhaust ventilation and wearing safety glasses, impervious gloves and, when necessary, respirators with a high efficiency filter in order to reduce exposure.
The size distribution of dust particles inhaled by the Indian workers is unknown, so it’s not possible to determine if inhaled nanoparticles produced by the grinding process played a role in their disease. (Click here for more information on the hazards posed by nanoparticles.)
Regardless of the role of nanoparticles in this cluster of occupational lung disease in India, NIOSH correctly points out that the outbreak highlights the ongoing dangers to workers handling finely powdered materials in the workplace and the critical importance of implementing adequate protective measures.