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Workplace Regulations: Clean air systems

Air quality in the workplace must abide by a series of strict, well-defined standards enforced by OSHA. These standards exist to ensure a safe working environment for employees in facilities where harmful fumes and particles create potential health risks. Employers who don’t abide by these regulations are breaking the law, and run the risk of being fined or sued.

OSHA has a responsibility to ensure that all workplaces are free of risks to employees that could potentially cause death or illness. In manufacturing facilities, these risks most often come from the fumes that are produced when welding metals. These weld fumes can cause serious health risks, such as prolonged, flu-like illness, and can even cause cancer if not properly regulated and controlled.

To prevent workers contracting serious illnesses such as these, OSHA has defined set amounts of fumes, called permissible exposure limits (PELs) that are acceptable in a workplace. Limits on metals such as cadmium, hexavalent chromium, lead, nickel, and manganese ensure that workers won’t contract illness from toxic fumes from these metals. The permissible amount of toxins in the air is constantly getting lower as well, and employers should keep in mind that their acceptable levels of toxins today may not be acceptable tomorrow.

If a facility finds that its emissions are exceeding OSHA regulations, there are several steps it can take to reduce fumes. The problem may be as simple as a poor manufacturing process, which only requires changes to that process to fix. It may be something as simple as a toxic weld surface, which can be easily switched out.

However, the problem is often more complicated than that and requires a dedicated solution. A capture system is usually utilized in these situations to collect toxic particles and fumes before workers breathe them in. These systems can use source capture, which manages local fumes in a specific area, and ambient capture, which is installed throughout the entire manufacturing facility and create an airflow within the building which captures and expels dangerous fumes. Which system a facility should install depends on the size and needs of that facility. Which one is more cost-effective depends and should be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Before picking an air filtration solution, a facility should first have its air tested to determine if it needs filtration in the first place and if so, what dangerous particles are in the air. In order to test this, it’s necessary to bring in an experienced third-party industrial hygienist to perform an air audit. This not only produces a credible record of air quality to show inspectors, but it also indicates what areas the facility should improve on should OSHA decide to lower the acceptable toxin limit in the air.

Clean air is an essential element of everyday life and is even more important in the workplace. By staying aware of OSHA rules and hiring inspectors to ensure that air quality is acceptable, manufacturing facilities can foster employee goodwill and keep their workers safe.

What are PCBs?

PCBs are polychlorinated biphenyls, or a compound that links chlorine, carbon, and hydrogen atoms. These man-made chemicals were used in a number of products before being found to be severely toxic in the 1970s. Among the main uses of PCBs included in surface coatings of buildings, adhesives, paint, and electrical equipment. Because of the commonality of the use of PCBs, at least 10 percent of PCBs produced after 1929 are still in the environment today. This has occurred due to the poor disposal methods in place for PCBs. For example, when PCBs are incinerated or stored in landfills, the chemical releases more harmful toxins that can seep into the water, land, and air.

PCBs have a highly stable molecular structure that causes them to persist in the environment. This persistence affects the health of the plants and animals exposed to the dangerous chemical. In the 1970’s, it was found that PCBs are cancerous and can cause deformities and other serious health complications. This becomes hazardous when the irresponsible disposal of PCBs places the chemicals in direct contact with water, crops, and animals that are later consumed by humans. Consuming poultry, fish, and other contaminated meat is the primary cause of humans having higher levels of PCBs in their bodies.

Monsanto was the sole manufacturer of PCBs in the United States until the manufacturing of PCBs was made illegal. The main facility this took place at was outside of St. Louis, Missouri. This area currently has the highest rate of fetal death and immature births in the state due to the proximity of the PCB manufacturing plant. Other Monsanto PCBs are directly linked to pollution and contamination of entire cities such as San Diego, California and Anniston, Alabama. These contaminated spaces leave thousands of men, women, and children exposed to potentially fatal diseases.