When one looks back on the textile trade during the Industrial Revolution, images of sick and downtrodden fictional characters like Oliver Twist and David Copperfield often come to mind. Charles Dickens did much to bring attention to the plight of those who labored in factories and mills in his novels; factories of that time were dimly lit spaces of filth, dust, and deplorably poor ventilation. Thankfully, much has changed since then.
One of the oldest industries across the globe, the making of textiles employs more than 60 million people worldwide. The diversity of jobs includes weaving, dyeing and finishing, manufacturing and fiber synthesis (1). These endeavors generate the clothes you wear, the coverings for the chairs you sit in, the curtains you hang, even the luggage that you carry.
Each job in the textile industry has a distinct process for production, many of which pose some type of environmental risk. When dyeing and finishing, the threat of chemical exposure is present. Fabric weaving, converting and webbing create cotton dust, which can cause a variety of respiratory ailments, as the dust is fine and can enter airways easily and without notice. (2) Furthermore, the dust inhaled is often more than just fabric particles – it can include a mix of many substances including plant matter, soil, fungi, bacteria and other contaminants. (3)
Respiratory illnesses in the textile industry were first described centuries ago. During the period of Dickens’ novels, one such disease was called “Monday fever” due to the oddity of the condition being absent on the weekend, only to return on Monday morning, the beginning of the workweek. Today, we know this disease as “byssinosis”, an occupational lung disease caused by exposure to cotton dust, most often from working in the yarn and fabric sectors.
Symptoms of byssinosis are similar to asthma and include tightness in the chest, wheezing, cough and breathing difficulties. If you have a severe case, you may experience flu-like symptoms such as:
• muscle and joint pain
• a dry cough
Luckily, the symptoms of cotton dust inhalation are usually limited to a specific activity and cessation from the activity – and the accompanying dust – will lead to improved breathing. But sometimes, as in cases of long occupational exposure, lung function can be permanently impaired. (2) Therefore, it is imperative that safe working practices and preventative measures – such as protective clothing for workers, proper ventilation in work areas and additional clean air engineering – are employed so as to avoid any potential health threats to the laboring workforce.
To help our customers achieve their clean air goals, our Air Systems Inc. specialists are trained in indoor air quality (IAQ) analysis. Our patented particulate dust collectors and additional air cleaning products are an excellent – and cost effective – way to protect your workers before their health is compromised. Please contact one of our experts today.