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Workplace Safety

Long-Term Exposures to New Chemicals

By March 2, 2015No Comments
Asbestos was considered a great and safe discovery for all types of insulation applications.  Years later asbestosis and related cancers wiped away all the positives.
Lead made paints brighter and gasoline burn better.  Then the effects of lead on the development of children became better understood.
For every short-term gain, new chemicals or applications run the risk of long-term downsides.  Why?  Long-term studies cannot be completed in an economically feasible time before product launch.
So, what should be done with new chemicals?
Even the “green” cleaners, additives and solvents risk long-term effects.  It just isn’t predictable.  Under OSHA HAZMAT protocol, if you don’t know what contaminants you’re dealing with, the wisest approach is to use maximum protection:  positive pressure respirators and full skin protection.
In the case of short term exposures, like those on a construction site, respirators, gloves and protective eyewear should suffice.  In confined space or enclosed poorly ventilated areas, upgrade the respirators and use chemical suits.
It’s well worth getting workers OSHA HAZMAT training.  Products sold for specific building applications should not be feared, but long-term effects are never known in the short run.  Think about the number of concrete additives.  Have any tests been completed for vapor inhalation?  Yet, slabs in confined space (basements) use newly formulated chemicals.
Workers are exposed to them in vapor forms.
This warning is not meant to sound alarmist; however, the insurance industry is scared to uncover the “next asbestos” kind of claims.  They do spend a large amount of money studying the scenarios.  Their concerns focus on vapor intrusion scenarios and biological “Legionnaire’s” mutations.
Some of the more interesting and scary scenarios involve vapor intrusions from historical spills (old gasoline stations or heating oil spills) combining with and changing the newer chemicals used in modern construction.  Unlikely to occur in great numbers, probably not a large workforce concern, but this scenario could affect general liability policies in the long run.
Research the newer choices of chemicals and uses before jumping on the bandwagon.  From a hardline environmental view, nothing is non-toxic.  Remember, asbestos is a natural mineral; however, once changed, becomes a cancer causing material.
Research some of the older chemicals too.  Some long-term studies should be available for chemicals released ten years ago.
Finally, research the spill history, the historical environmental impacts on a site.  What are the possible combinations of vapor, and what can they do?
Be cautious rather than jumping in to the latest craze.