Health Hazards for Auto and Aircraft Engine Workers
As long as there are people who wish to travel and items they wish to move from one place to another, fast and easy transportation will continue to be a human necessity. Global air travel alone accounts for 44,000 flights a day. Add to that number all the road vehicles in use and it equals a staggering number of engines from planes, cars, and trucks that need to be tested, maintained and repaired every day by workers. Workers who need to be protected from possible air quality problems stemming from engine exhaust.
It is no secret that fuel emissions are a major source of air pollution. (1) Government agencies and private companies alike exert great effort in developing cleaner fuels, reducing smog, and strengthening emission standards to lessen the negative environmental impact on our planet. But what about how they affect indoor air quality? Aircraft and automotive engine exhausts are major contributors to indoor air pollution in airplane hangars and vehicle repair workshops. Combustible substances abound and if not contained, carry the threat of fire and explosion. (2)
But the danger of compromised indoor air quality is not limited to spontaneous combustion; there are occupational health risks, as well.
And it’s no wonder. Engine exhaust emissions do not materialize from one single source – there are thousands of varieties of molecules possible and millions of varying chemical combinations. Contaminants abound. Depending on the fuel used and the type of engine, carbon particles and soot from the likes of Benzene, PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), or VOCs (volatile organic compounds) (3, 4, 5) can, without warning, make people sick.
Here is a list of some, but not all, of the elements found in gas, diesel, and jet fuels:
Gas exhaust (6):
• Carbon monoxide
• Hydrocarbons (Benzene)
• Sulphur dioxide
Diesel exhaust (7):
• Carbon monoxide
• Carbon soot
Jet Fuel (8):
• Carbon monoxide
• Nitrogen & sulfur oxides
When an engine is run, these fuels are burned, then mixed with air which creates a complex combination known commonly as exhaust. If air cleaning measures are not properly in place, these fine particles and gases become suspended in the air and enter a person’s breathing space. Workers who spend the majority of their waking hours in airplane hangars and automotive garages are literally walled in, breathing fumes emitted from running engines.
In the short term, directly inhaling large quantities of exhaust fumes may cause nausea, dizziness, and irritation of the eyes, nose and throat. These effects will usually go away after contact ends. But very high and/or prolonged exposure to exhaust fumes may cause ongoing health problems. Respiratory symptoms such as coughing, chest tightness, and difficulty breathing, particularly in persons who are naturally predisposed to or have a history of asthma or other lung problems, may not be reversible. (5) In addition, ultrafine particles from aircraft and diesel engine exhausts have proven to cause cancer, heart disease, blood clots, brain hemorrhage and airway diseases, thereby increasing the risk of serious work-related illnesses and premature deaths. (4)
Both the auto and aerospace manufacturing industries must comply with OSHA regulations and standards but often, the minimum standards are not enough to protect workers from harm. Failure to control exhaust at its source can turn deadly. Most employers do their part. But extra caution can mean a healthier, safer, and more productive workplace.
Beyond meeting minimum regulatory requirements, there are steps that can be taken to implement stricter internal standards to ensure worker safety. For example, products such as our exhaust blowers and fume extraction arms together provide a safe and easy means of removing harmful particulate matter and toxic fumes.
At Air Systems, Inc., we serve our customers in the aircraft and auto industries by providing indoor air quality management solutions in addition to our stellar air-cleaning products. Contact us today for a free estimate from one of our highly skilled clean air specialists.