Cancer is Manufacturing’s Silent & Deadly Occupational Hazard

Cancer is Manufacturing’s Silent & Deadly Occupational Hazard 1

Cancer. The word evokes many feelings in people, sadness, and fear top the list. It’s no wonder. On a global scale, nearly 13 million people are diagnosed with cancer every year. Cancer is the leading cause of death in developed countries, including the United States. (1)

This group of diseases is caused by the division of abnormal cells, which causes malignant growths (or tumors) in specific parts of the body. A malignancy can increase in size, spreading the disease throughout the body. This often results in death.

Carcinogens in the Workplace

Many causes play a role in the growth of malignancies. A person’s risk of developing any given cancer is influenced by a combination of factors. For the purposes of this article, we will focus on exposure to cancer-causing agents in the workplace. In most instances, exposure is due to poor indoor air quality (IAQ).

Millions of U.S. workers are exposed to substances that have been tested and deemed carcinogenic. Based on research studying a link between cancer and occupational exposures, the CDC has reported these findings:

It has been estimated that 3-6% of all cancers worldwide are caused by exposure to carcinogens in the workplace. Using cancer incidence numbers in the U.S, this means that in 2012 (the most recent year available), there were between 45,872 and 91,745 new cancer cases that were caused by past exposure in the workplace. Cancers that occur as a result of exposures in the workplace are preventable if exposures to known or suspected carcinogens can be reduced. (1)

Our science and medical communities have cautioned industries about specific substances that cause cancer (such as benzene, styrene, and asbestos, for example). In addition, the government has imposed indoor air quality regulations. Despite this, occupational exposures to carcinogens continue to exist. Researchers at the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified more than one hundred carcinogens of physical, biological, or physical nature. Experts continue to discover new carcinogens, many of them occupationally related. (2)

Education and Outreach

Occupational exposure to cancer-causing material is thought to account for about 4% of all cancers in the US. Though such exposure has decreased greatly over the past several decades (due to stricter government standards), current statistics may reflect historical exposures that are only now being identified.

Though knowledge and strict regulations exist for certain cancer-causing compounds, dusts, and particulates in the workplace, potential exposure can still occur through accidents, regulation violations, or unknown hazards. (3)

Educational outreach and dissemination of information has been consistent, but workers may still be unaware they are at risk. Factory production workers, in addition to manufacturing laborers, are particularly vulnerable. Production workers often repeat the same set of tasks for every product that comes down the assembly line. The repetitive nature of the process allows workers to become highly efficient at their assignments. (4) It also means that if carcinogenic exposure is present, they will be exposed day-after-day, week-after-week to toxic, disease-causing agents.

Many occupations hold a threat of contact with cancer-causing pollution, but some industries top out the list for cancer rates and exposure risks. Consider the following:

Occupations With The Highest Incidence Of Cancers Reported

Paint-Related Manufacturing – Bladder, Kidney, Lung, Lymphoma

Rubber-Related Manufacturing – Bladder, Larynx, Leukemia, Lung, Lymphoma

Plastics-Related Manufacturing – Kidney, Larynx, Liver (3)

In the paint industry, for example, there are thousands of chemical compounds used. Pigments, extenders, binders, additives, and solvents contain known cancer-causing agents such as toluene and xylene. Paint manufacture workers are potentially exposed to the chemicals found in the products they manufacture (5), as are laborers in the manufacture of rubber. Rubber workers handle raw materials in day-to-day operations. Production workers in both groups are exposed to dust and fumes via inhalation and dermal contact. (6) This exposure translates to a significant risk of contracting the occupational illness, even cancer.

Working in these industries needn’t be a cancer threat, however. The EPA recommends eliminating indoor air pollutants through air cleaning source control and ventilation. (7)

At AIR Systems Inc., we serve our customers by identifying areas of potential risk. We supply stellar products that will properly ventilate work areas and remove air-impurities. Contact us today to schedule a free estimate with one of our skilled and experienced clean air specialists.

Indoor Air Quality from Morgue to Funeral Home, the Danger of Formaldehyde Exposure

Formaldehyde Can Prove Deadly For Indoor Air Quality

Preserving the Dead

They are called funeral directors, morticians, undertakers, mortuary custodians, and funeral service professionals. Those soft-spoken individuals who counsel grieving family members and help plan the service after a loved one dies are likely also the ones who handle the technical aspects of preserving the deceased so that family and friends can say goodbye in a less clinical setting than a hospital or nursing home. Unfortunately, part of this job – the embalming part – can create toxic fumes that pose health hazards for the professional.

Preserving a body after death is a temporary measure used to slow decay for wakes and funerals that precede a burial. For optimal results, funeral professionals need to inject at least 3 gallons of embalming fluid into a cadaver’s arterial system and body cavity. Embalming fluids are made of strong chemicals, often containing a combination of formaldehyde (up to 50%), methanol or ethanol, and water. Among these chemical substances, it’s the formaldehyde that poses the greatest threat.

Formaldehyde is colorless, flammable, and pungent. In addition to its use as a preservative in labs and funeral homes, it is widely used as an industrial disinfectant and germicide. It is also a common element in construction materials such as insulation, plywood, and fiberboard. (1) You only need to pick up an item and read the ingredient list to realize that formaldehyde is commonly found in household products such as glues and adhesives, permanent-press fabrics, and paper product coatings.

Formaldehyde also occurs naturally in the environment. It is created in small amounts by most living organisms as part of normal metabolic processes. (2) But it is not the moderate amounts found in everyday products, nor organically formed formaldehyde, that should give cause for concern. It is elevated levels of formaldehyde – even a little bit too much – that can be a dangerous thing.

Formaldehyde Can Prove Deadly for Indoor Air Quality

Unsafe formaldehyde exposure occurs most often in an occupational setting through inhalation. In liquid form, it can be absorbed through the skin. According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, formaldehyde is typically present at low levels in both indoor and outdoor air (2) and the primary route of exposure for the average person is by breathing air containing off-gassed formaldehyde. (3)

Workers, however, may come in contact with formaldehyde at much higher levels than the average person. During the normal course of the workday, healthcare workers, lab techs, teachers who handle biological substances, or morticians who handle embalming fluids, can inhale elevated doses of formaldehyde gases or vapors. (4)

The negative health effects can include mild irritation such as itching or burning of the eyes, nose, and throat, or more concerning symptoms such as coughing, wheezing and nausea. (3) (4) Some people are very sensitive to formaldehyde, whereas others have no obvious reaction to the same level of exposure. (1) But at the highest levels, that of embalmers, for example, the hazard of most concern is the threat of cancer.

The following medical research groups – both government and independent – have deemed formaldehyde “a known carcinogen”:

The National Toxicology Program (NTP) is formed from parts of several different US government agencies, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is part of the World Health Organization (WHO). IARC has concluded that formaldehyde is “carcinogenic to humans” based on higher risks of nasopharyngeal cancer and leukemia.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maintains the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS), an electronic database that contains information on human health effects from exposure to various substances in the environment.

National Cancer Institute researchers have concluded that, based on data from studies in people and from lab research, exposure to formaldehyde may cause leukemia, particularly myeloid leukemia, in humans. (2)

Despite all the research indicating formaldehyde is a cancer-causing substance, it is still the chemical of choice for those in the business of preserving bodies. And those with the highest exposure to the substance, will, of course, have the highest risk for contracting the deadly disease. To this point, Science Daily published findings that indicate specificity as to the type of cancer that poses the greatest risk to embalmers:

The number of years of embalming practice and related formaldehyde exposures was associated with statistically significantly increased mortality from myeloid leukemia, with the greatest risk among those who practiced embalming for more than 20 years. (5)

Formaldehyde Risk Reduction

So long as funeral professionals continue to use formaldehyde as their main source of chemical preservation, risk reduction methods beyond personal protective gear seem advisable and the implementation of practical engineering and work practice controls will greatly reduce worker exposure. (4)

While most businesses that work with formaldehyde-based embalming fluids currently comply with OSHA’s recommendations on safe work measures in the form of protective clothing, not all go a step further and install source capture equipment and/or ambient air-cleaning systems. This additional precaution is one more way to prevent indoor air pollution and eliminate any health risks for workers.

At Air Systems Inc., we serve our customers in the funeral service profession by providing indoor air quality management solutions in addition to our stellar air-cleaning products. Contact us today for a free air quality assessment with one of our skilled and experienced clean air specialists.