Health Hazard Evaluation Report, HETA-98-0238-2789, Spectro Coating Corporation, Leominster, Massachusetts.
The Spectro Coating Corporation applies flock to backing materials in one plant in Leominster, Massachusetts. The management requested a health hazard evaluation (HHE) to get a better understanding of the respiratory hazards in the plant. At the time of the request, an extensive HHE at another company's flocking facility in Rhode Island (NIOSH 1998) had uncovered a cluster of cases of a new occupational lung disease (flock workers' lung) [Kern et al. 1998]. In addition, one worker at Spectro Coating had a diagnosis of the same illness. In November 1998, NIOSH conducted an investigation at the Spectro Coating plant consisting of a symptom and work history questionnaire and personal and area sampling, primarily for respirable dust (small enough to reach the deepest areas of the lungs) and fiber counts. Approximately 87% of the workers participated in the survey. The results and conclusions of the survey are as follows: The same types of particles identified at the Rhode Island plant were also present in air samples collected at Spectro Coating. Even though the dust concentrations were lower compared to those in the Rhode Island plant, blow-down exposures at Spectro Coating were associated with respiratory symptoms in workers. Blow-down cleaning with compressed air and flock-loading resulted in the highest dust concentrations measured in this workplace. Blow-down exposures were associated with an excess of fever/aches and cough/phlegm. Decreasing exposures should lead to decreased symptoms and complaints. Gravimetric respirable dust measurement appears to be a suitable method for characterizing concentrations in this setting. Smoking alone and in interaction with the exposures from compressed air cleaning was associated with symptoms. Respirator use was sporadic, and many workers had not been fit-tested. The following are specific recommendations for this workplace: Reduce dust exposures with engineering controls. Until engineering controls are in place, limit the use of blow-downs and use personal respiratory protection to control dust exposures. Expend the annual medical examination to include a means for identifying workers with frequent fever, aches, cough, phlegm, wheezing, or other respiratory symptoms. Workers with any of these symptoms should receive a medical evaluation and an opportunity to reduce dust exposures by placement out of high exposure jobs. Periodically inform workers about work-related disease observed among flock workers and how to reduce or control their risk of disease. Implement a no-smoking policy at the plant (NIOSH 1991). If allowed at all, smoking at the plant should be restricted to designated, seperately-ventilated smoking areas. Workers should be encouraged to stop smoking altogether through an employer-sponsored smoking cessation program and education campaign. NIOSH investigators determined that a health hazard exists from occupational exposure to flock-associated dust This risk is characterized by the occurrence of physician-diagnosed interstitial lung disease in at least one worker, and by the results of a respiratory symptom survey that suggest an association of respiratory and systemic symptoms with conducting compressed air cleaning (blow-downs). The hazard is related to dust exposure and is found to be the greatest in the flocking room. Reduction of worker exposure to airborne dust is recommended to protect the health of the workers at this plant.