Health Hazard Evaluation Report, HETA-98-0212-2788, Claremont Flock Corporation, Claremont, New Hampshire.
The Claremont Flock Corporation produces flock, from tow and cotton scrap fabric, and bags the products in four plants in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The management requested a health hazard evaluation (HHE) to get a better understanding of the respiratory hazards in the plants. 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 Claremont Flock had a diagnosis of the same illness. In November 1998, NIOSH conducted an investigation at the Claremont Flock plants consisting of a symptom and work history questionnaire and personal and area sampling, primarily for respirable dust (dust small enough to reach the deepest areas of the lungs) and fiber counts. About 81% 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.