Metal casting has been an essential necessity since iron was first discovered around 2000 BC. As individual and community need for metal parts grew, commercial manufacturing emerged. America’s first iron foundry was established near Lynn, Massachusetts in 1642 and since then, the industry has grown to nearly 3,000 foundries, employing more than 200,000 workers. American foundries have seen much change over time, namely in the introduction of mixed and varied metals, foreign competition, technological advancements and government regulation.
The foundry industry fulfills a fundamental national need and in order to stay competitive with other nations must run clean, productive and safe enterprises. One of the industry’s biggest challenges is to continue to produce competitively priced products while employing rigorous safety measures to protect the health and well-being of their workforce.
Worker safety can be compromised in a variety of ways. Volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) from resins and adhesives, particulates such as metal dust and chemical vapors, as well as other hazardous air pollutants can be emitted into the indoor environment and inhaled. One of the most worrisome of these emissions is benzene.
Benzene is one of the twenty most commonly used chemicals in the US. It is a colorless, flammable liquid that is used as a starting material for many other chemicals. Outdoors, benzene is present as a by-product of fossil fuel usage. Indoors, it is created during the production of plastics, pesticides and metal casting, to name only a few manufactured commodities. During the foundry casting process, benzene is created from the combustion that occurs when molten iron interacts with sand mold.
Short-term (acute) inhalation and exposure may cause headaches, drowsiness, dizziness as well eye and skin irritation. Long-term (chronic) exposure can cause reproductive problems, blood disorders, and cancer. The EPA has classified benzene as a known carcinogen. In both acute and chronic situations, unconsciousness and even death can occur if benzene gases are at elevated levels.
It is no surprise, therefore, that our government has diligently regulated hazardous chemicals in manufacturing and stipulated that companies ensure worker safety by employing indoor air quality measures for the production, treatment and handling of liquid metals, all of which generate potentially dangerous dust and fumes. The obvious first line of defense is emission prevention – capturing before release. There are three principal methods to improve air quality in the foundry industry: source suppression, local containment and remote extraction.
Foundries have long been a vital part of our national labor force and should continue to manufacture their goods with a clear conscience and eye for employee safety. At Air Systems inc, we are seasoned experts in indoor air quality. Contact us today for a free IAQ analysis to ensure your workers are safe and breathing clean air.