Remove Indoor Air Quality Occupational Risk For Plastics Industry Workers

Workers are exposed to a variety of fumes as part of heating and molding  processes in the plastics industry during plastics manufacturing.

As a versatile material, plastics is used to make packaging and containers, to ensure quality smartphone manufacturing and for a variety of other applications. There are over 1.1 million employees in the plastics industry, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

These workers commonly come into contact with chemical fumes that are emitted during raw material manufacturing and plastics processing. As plastics come in the form of granules, powders or pellets, there are certain ways to mold or shape these materials into products. For the plastics manufacturing process, the material has heat or pressure applied to the plastic or the plastic resins are combined with additives, including fillers and pigments, according to Health and Safety Executive.

Sources of Plastics Fumes

One of the main plastic-making processes employed by manufacturers is thermoplastic injection molding, which heats plastic pellets until they are melted so they can be shaped by a mold to form products. As workers perform these manufacturing procedures, they are at risk for being exposed to fumes from the plastics either from the machines used for manufacturing or the plastics materials themselves.

“The primary sources of emissions at plastic products manufacturing facilities are the pieces of equipment (e.g., extruder hopper, die head, sander) used to handle raw materials and produce the final product,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency. “These are typically the locations where chemical reactions occur, liquid solvents and solvent blends are exposed to the atmosphere, solid resin is heated and melted, and additives are introduced.”

The level of fume exposure during the process varies but it is usually dependent on the type of operating procedure and the material that is being produced. Workers may find themselves exposed to different kinds of fumes during plastics processing, including hydrogen chloride from PVC plastic and formaldehyde from acetals. When heat is applied to it, pure PVC breaks down to form hydrochloric acid gas. Fumes from plastics can irritate the lungs and are even thought to be cancer-causing.

Types of Emissions From Plastic Manufacturing

Employees can also come into contact with plastics fumes while handling thermoforming resins, which could generate volatile organic compounds (VOC) and hazardous air pollutant (HAP) emissions. These are byproducts of the chemical reactions of heating resins and are also emitted by additives, a secondary material in the process. In addition to VOCs and HAP emissions, particulate matter can also form while workers handle raw materials through grinding or cutting or other finishing procedures for plastic production.

To help control the presence of fumes, HSE recommends implementing local exhaust ventilation (LEV). This engineering control can include fume extraction equipment such as extractors, which can be effective in case plastic film sticks and overheats or other instances where heating processes can endanger workers. Aging machines can also pose a risk to workers if their processing controls are unpredictable.

OSHA also recommends adequate ventilation and fume extraction systems so workers do not inhale gases that could cause long term health effects.

Industrial and manufacturing news brought to you by Air Impurities Removal Systems, Inc.

HEPA vs. ULPA Filtration: What’s the Difference?

HEPA versus ULPA Filtration: What’s the Difference? 1

It’s difficult to imagine a time when clean air was the exception rather than the standard in places such as factories, hospitals, distilleries, and doctors’ offices. But before commercial air filtration was invented, workers were exposed to all manner of indoor air pollution (IAP). As a result, illnesses such as asthma, blood poisoning, even cancer, were not uncommon occupational hazards. The need for worker protection was great.

It wasn’t until 1942 that the first step toward safeguarding indoor air quality (IAQ) was taken. During WWII, a small band of research and development scientists working on a top-secret nuclear program were tasked with finding a way to control the spread of minuscule particles of radioactive matter in order to protect their fellow government workers. Due to their efforts on that classified post, code-named “The Manhattan Project,” the atomic bomb was developed. So, too, was the first HEPA filter.

But that one effort wasn’t the end of development of air filtration products to improve IAQ for workers.

In any industrial setting, there are multiple sources of IAP, most of which are a complex mix of substances which can vary in their potential health risks. Pollutants can originate from both biological and non-biological sources. (1) Biological contaminants include mold, dust mites, and rodent feces and dander. Non-biological include emissions from VOCs, smoke, and chemical vapors. In businesses such as healthcare, where no manufacturing occurs, the threat of infection is the main exposure risk.

Major IAQ Inventions That Led Up To ULPA filtration:

1823 – “Smoke Helmet”: protected firefighters from harmful coal and soot.

1854 – Gas mask: powdered charcoal was used as the filtering agent.

1908 – Electrostatic precipitator: collected and eliminated fumes and mists in factories and vineyards.

1942 – The HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filter: based on the gas masks worn by soldiers which were made from a filter paper containing asbestos and cellulose fibers.

1970s – ULPA (Ultra Low Penetration Air) filter: was born after years of trying to create a higher level of indoor air cleaning, one that blocked even the smallest particles from reentering worker’s breathing space.

Today, both HEPA and ULPA filters are designed to catch airborne particulates and operate in a similar fashion. The filters are made up of minuscule strands of crossed and pleated glass fibers. When air is forced through the fine mesh filter, particles become trapped and are unable to reenter the atmosphere. But their similarities end here.

What researchers learned over the years is that a one-size-fits-all air cleaner isn’t suitable for all applications and that the size of the particles needing to be captured should determine the kind of filtration used. Fine particles need one kind of filtration, coarse particles, usually another.

Submicron Particulate

Fine particles or particulate matter (PM) is the sum of all liquid and solid airborne emissions 2.5 microns or less. Coarse particles fall between 2.5 and 10 microns.

A micron is a unit of measurement; 25,000 microns per inch. In industry, PM can be smoke and fumes from chemicals burning, or dust from metals and wood. In healthcare, smoke and dust are not as much a concern as are fine particles from viruses, bacteria, and mold.

In order to meet the minimum standard as set by the Department of Energy, HEPA filtration must trap at least 99.97% of all particles larger than 0.3 microns. (2) ULPA filters, on the other hand, are required to be 99.999% efficient and able to remove particles smaller than .12 microns in diameter.

To illustrate the size of particles, envision a strand of human hair. The average is somewhere between 50-70 microns. Dust, pollen, and molds are usually less than 10 microns in diameter. And fine particulates, such as viruses, usually measure under 2.5 PM. (3) This generally includes dust like pollen, mites, and pet dander. But airborne chemicals such as VOCs and mists from bacteria and viruses are too small to be caught by HEPA filters and pass right through. ULPA filtration was invented specifically for this purpose.


HEPA filters can remove fine PM as well as some coarser particulates. ULPA filtration traps the finest of PM – the ones that go right through a HEPA filter. But there are other considerations beyond capture capacity to be made before deciding what product to use for your office, lab, or facility.

Efficiency measures the ability of the filter (over the life of the product) to remove airborne particles. Since the ULPA traps more of the smallest particles than does the HEPA, it is considered more efficient.

And, resistance refers to the airflow capacity of matter as it moves through the filter. Since the ULPA filter media is denser, airflow is lower than a comparably sized HEPA filter, resulting in lower air circulation plus higher power use required by the unit blower to move air through the filter. This affects the life and longevity of the filter, making the ULPA less economical.

Industries and Applications

HEPA filters were designed for most industrial, military, and government applications, particularly in types of manufacturing where airborne particulate matter is constant. HEPA popularity has grown and is now common for home use ranging from bedroom air purifiers to vacuum cleaners.

ULPA filtration is used in situations where a more efficient means of capturing the smallest PM and preventing the spread of airborne bacterial and viral pathogens is important. ULPA filters are best suited for more critical applications in fields such as medical and healthcare, pharma research and manufacturing, biomedical labs, airline cabin purifiers, clean rooms, electronics, nuclear and aerospace industry applications.

When deciding between HEPA and ULPA filtration, one should start with safety. If both types of filtration methods can meet your particulate capture needs for a safe and healthy workplace, then take into consideration a unit’s efficiency and resistance.

To reduce the risk to manufacturing and healthcare workers, experts recommend a multi-layered approach to achieving a safe and healthy IAQ. This includes indoor air filtration. (4)

At Air Impurities Removal Systems, Inc., we protect our manufacturing and healthcare customers by providing them with high-quality products and IAQ expertise. Contact us today to speak to a clean air specialist.

Clearing the Air About Workplace IAQ

A Basic Overview Of “Indoor Air Quality”

Clearing The Air About Workplace IAQ 1

The energy crisis during the 1970s created a need for environmental reform.  Among other topics, indoor air quality became a line item on the agenda for change.  Today, workplace IAQ broadly refers to the quality of air in any place of employment. Business owners, building administrators, company management and employees all hold a responsibility in seeing that the quality of air in the place in which they conduct business is clean and contaminant-free.  This is important not only for the welfare of the building occupants but for their guests and patrons, as well.

What is considered “good” IAQ?  According to OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, good IAQ has the following qualities: (1)

  1. Comfortable temperature and humidity
  2. Proper indoor ventilation
  3. Adequate supply of fresh outdoor air
  4. Pollutant control from both inside and out

Common Pollutants

Most industries are diligent about providing a clean and unpolluted environment for their workers.  But pollution has a way of existing without ever being seen.  Here are some common causes of unclean air in the workplace: (2)

  1. Improperly maintained HVAC systems
  2. Office/workspace overcrowding
  3. Gas fumes/toxins
  4. Moisture/dampness
  5. Presence of workplace created contaminants
  6. Presence of external pollutants

The types of pollutants are variable and depend on the workplace and the activities produced therein.  Common pollutants generally fall into one (or more) of three main categories: biological, chemical, and particulate.  (3) These pollutants are caused by a myriad of job-related activities that can produce the release of fumes and vapors, particle discharge, and humidity fluctuations.  In addition, faulty equipment, the growth of molds and bacteria, remodeling or restoration efforts, and all day-to-day actions of people at work further affect the environmental atmosphere.  (4)

Many jobs deal with and produce toxins and particulate matter as a matter of course.  Manufacturers create and come into contact with contaminants non-stop.  Some of the most dangerous IAQ offenders are – but are not limited to –

Asbestos – from insulation and ceiling and floor tiles

Carbon Dioxide & Carbon Monoxide – from improperly functioning utilities and piping

Formaldehyde – and other chemical fumes from items like carpeting, particleboard and furniture

VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) – such as gases from fragrances, solvents and paints 

Identifying Poor IAQ

Failure to identify potential IAQ offenders and clues of contaminated air will eventually result in health problems for the people who work inside the buildings.  Recognizing symptoms is the first step in combating the problem.

Signs of illness usually start gradually.  Some workers may complain about workday symptoms – like headaches or confusion – that clear up when they get home.  Other indicators like fever, respiratory discomfort, and chronic cough may linger and be indicative of a more serious problem.  But the symptoms related to dirty air are variable and depend on the health of the worker, the contaminant they are in contact with and the amount of time spent with said pollutant.

Knowledge is power for the American worker and having all the facts is required to maintain a clean indoor environment.  Federal organizations such as OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (a division of the CDC) exist for the sole purpose of educating the workforce about occupational hazards and for creating and implementing standards to keep workers safe while doing their jobs.  To that end, both organizations recommend a proactive approach to addressing indoor environmental concerns.  Failure to act quickly when IAQ problems present themselves, can lead to additional and potentially more serious problems.

At AIR Systems Inc, we serve our customers by providing indoor air quality management solutions in addition to our stellar air cleaning products.  Call us today for a free air quality assessment with one of our skilled and experienced indoor environmental specialists.  (5)

Equipping Every Workplace with Air Filtration Solutions

Equipping Every Workplace with Air Filtration Solutions:

Poor indoor air quality can impact the productivity and health of workers across the nation no matter the workplace. To protect employees from contaminants specific to their work facility – from auto plants to hospitals – employers should consider investing in air filtration solutions that will replace air impurities with clean air.

Here are ways various workplaces can reduce occupational safety risks:

Air Filtration Solutions For Automotive plants

Problem: Auto plant workers often have to work with metalworking fluids that could endanger worker health by causing them to develop problems with their skin, allergies, or respiratory systems.

Solution: To capture these hazardous contaminants at the source, oil and coolant mist collectors operate using multi-stage air filtration solutions that will effectively extract air impurities before they reach workers’ breathing space.

Commercial laboratories

Problem: Lab workers may inhale dangerous chemicals and outside contaminants may threaten the integrity of their experiments.

Solution: Bench-top fume extractors and downdraft systems are standard in protecting laboratory workers and maintaining a safe and sterile workspace necessary to cultivate scientific innovation.

Hospitals Can Provide Their Workers With Air Filtration Solutions 

Problem: Health care workers and patients may be exposed to chemicals and impurities that could cause them to have adverse health effects and hospitals must follow clean room regulations.

Solution: Healthcare administrators have a variety of air filtration solutions to choose from to comply with regulations and maintain outstanding indoor air quality, including mobile fume extractors, ambient air cleaners and bench-top fume extractors.

Food Processing Facilities

Problem: Food producers often have to worry about the possibility of contamination from multiple sources, including the air.

Solution: Companies could install air purification and other air filtration solutions like bench-top fume extractors and downdraft systems to avoid the build-up of contaminants in ambient air that touch food as it is being produced.

Air Filtration Solutions For Government Facilities

Problem: Buildings owned by the federal, state, or local governments often contain valuable objects that may be affected by air impurities.

Solution: Facilities could implement ambient air cleaners and mobile fume extractors to preserve precious historical documents or artifacts for the long haul.