Chemical Emissions from Plastic Bottle Labeling and the Indoor Air Quality Occupational Risk to Bottle Workers

Plastic bottle labeling – not only the plastics for the bottles themselves but also the adhesives used to adhere paper to plastic or glass - created occupational risk for the bottle workers.

It may be difficult for Americans born in the last few decades to imagine a time when drinking beverages out of a plastic bottle, purchased from stores and vending machines, wasn’t commonplace. But before plastic, glass was the main material used in bottling goods. But that’s not all that has changed in the bottling industry. Consider the label on just about every bottle in your cupboards, refrigerator and medicine cabinet.

Back in the latter part of the 1880s, coated paper and color printing were introduced to America from Europe. Pastes and gums were applied to label backs, then to bottles. Advancements in all industries were being made and in 1935, the self-adhesive label was introduced. But it was in the 1960’s that new super adhesives were being applied to product labels, setting the stage for modern-day large-scale label applications to plastic bottles in automatic volume production facilities.

This system, still largely used today, uses separate labels that are affixed to the bottles after the fill process is complete. This system of labeling is an easier, less labor-intensive process, to be sure, but with the innovations came environmental changes, as well. Bottle labeling – not only the plastics for the bottles themselves but also the adhesives used to adhere paper to plastic or glass – created occupational risk for the bottle workers.

The coating, wetting, heating, or evaporation of adhesives can emit noxious fumes. Workers, then, can inhale the contaminated air and become ill.

Many key ingredients used in label adhesives contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs). (1) VOCs can be naturally occurring or manufactured and concentrations are nearly always higher indoors (up to ten times higher) than out-of-doors. (2) VOCs are found in hundreds commonly used products and exist in one form or another, in almost every indoor setting. (3) These organic compounds can turn from solids and liquids into vapors at ordinary room temperature. This conversion releases a large number of particles into the surrounding air. Many organic compounds are necessary in nature and play an important role in our environment. In fact, most odors and scents stem from VOCs. However, some VOCs can be harmful in high concentrations.

Take the chemicals emitted from the bottle labeling process, for example. In an uncontrolled facility, noxious emissions can present occupational hazards that vary from mild to serious. Health problems resulting from over-exposure will vary depending on the amount of time and level of contact. Short-term exposure can include symptoms such as: (2)

    • Dizziness
    • Eye, nose and throat irritation
    • Headaches and/or nausea
    • Fatigue
    • Coordination loss

And both high and long-term exposure can cause serious health problems such as liver, kidney and central nervous system damage. Even cancer.
So how do workers in the bottling industry avoid risk? Employers need to manage, mitigate and control emissions of toxic fumes. In addition, protective clothing in the form of goggles and/or facemasks is a must. As is installing adequate ventilation systems. But the final, and arguably most important action is source capture, according to the EPA. (1) Fumes must be eliminated before they can be inhaled.

At Air Systems Inc, our highly skilled specialists are experts in the field of indoor air quality (IAQ). Call us today for a free consultation and find out if our source capture air cleaning products are right for you.