Health hazard evaluation report: HETA-98-0072-2762, Allgrind Plastics, Inc., West Portal, New Jersey.
In January 1998, the State of New Jersey, Department of Health and Senior Services (NJDHSS), requested technical assistance from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in investigating a possible health hazard at the Allgrind Plastics, Inc., milling facility in West Portal, New Jersey. Allgrind Plastics is primarily engaged in size reduction of various plastics using attrition mills, knife mills, and hammer mills. In general, the company does many small jobs and thus over time has processed many types of plastics. Within the last few years, the company has also been processing organic materials, primarily shark cartilage, into fine powders for use as natural remedies for various diseases. The request was prompted by the death of a 38-year-old employee of an acute asthma attack while at work on April 19, 1997. Prior to his death, the employee had attributed acute asthmatic symptoms to shark cartilage dust on a number of occasions. On May 26-28, 1998, an industrial hygienist and two medical officers from NIOSH, and an industrial hygienist from the NJDHSS, visited Allgrind Plastics. They conducted a walk-through evaluation of the plant, met with all current workers, and reviewed pertinent company records. Subsequent to the visit, former employees were contacted by telephone and questioned regarding work-related symptoms. Also, bulk samples collected at the worksite underwent laboratory analysis. In addition to the site visit noted above, personnel from the NJDHSS conducted a prior site visit on November 14, 1997, and conducted industrial hygiene evaluations, with air sampling of selected processes, on March 12 and April 22, 1998. Personal samples in the shark grinding areas measured 44.7 and 26.4 milligrams per cubic meter of air (mg/m 3 ) total dust and 5.14 and 0.92 mg/m 3 respirable dust on March 12, 1998. During the sampling on April 22, 1998, the personal samples measured 12.3 mg/m 3 total dust and 1.97 mg/m 3 respirable dust, and concentrations of 2.94 mg/m 3 total dust and 0.34 mg/m 3 respirable dust were measured on samplers worn by an operator milling plastic. Area samples for total dust did not exceed 0.43 mg/m 3 , and area respirable dust samples remained below 0.24 mg/m 3 during both days of sampling by NJDHSS. Endotoxin concentrations of bulk samples of shark cartilage did not exceed 1.6 endotoxin units per milligram (EU/mg). It was found that unique exposures exist at Allgrind Plastics due to the production of dusts from materials not normally inhaled. Air monitoring showed that certain processes generated significant airborne concentrations of these dusts. Limited medical experience exists to predict the health effects of many of these dusts after inhalation. However, medical findings noted during the May 1998 site visit were consistent with a significant burden of work-associated respiratory symptoms in current and former workers, many of them irritative in nature. In addition, three workers were identified as being likely to have developed true occupational asthma after working at Allgrind Plastics for a period of months to years. An additional worker was identified with urticaria and angioedema induced by a material in the workplace (ethylene diamine acid phosphate). These findings strongly suggest that a sensitizing substance or substances are present in the workplace and capable of inducing disease. Two materials were identified as particular problems by workers. Shark cartilage dust was the material most frequently identified as troublesome by current and former workers. Ethylene diamine acid phosphate was the second most frequently cited material. Dusts of both appear to be irritating. Ethylene diamine is a well documented sensitizer and has been reported to cause asthma. Shark cartilage has not previously been reported to cause immunologic sensitization but in theory it could. Although dusts generated from both of these materials are regulated under a "particulates, not otherwise classified or regulated (PNOC/R)" standard, this standard is likely not fully protective against the effects of poorly studied but potentially more injurious dusts such as those encountered here. Various industrial hygiene measures are recommended to control dust exposures, not only to the respiratory tract but also to face, eyes, and skin. In addition, worker education, environmental monitoring, and medical surveillance measures are recommended for prevention of disease, as well as for early identification and prevention of disease progression. NIOSH investigators conclude that dusts produced by industrial processes at Allgrind Plastics are a significant health hazard. Many workers have symptoms when exposed to these dusts. Several workers have developed asthma while working at the plant. Two materials, shark cartilage dust and ethylene diamine acid phosphate dust, appear to pose a significant health hazard. The "Recommendations" section of this report provides suggestions for ways to decrease problems caused by these dusts. These include ways to decrease exposure, worker education, ways to detect early illness, and what to do if a worker gets sick.