Cincinnati, OH: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, HETA 2003-0102-2921, 2003 Dec; :1-18
On December 9, 2002, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) received a request from the Graphics Communications International Union to conduct a health hazard evaluation (HHE) at Bemis, in West Hazelton, Pennsylvania. Employees were concerned that work conditions in the bag, press, and extrusion departments were contributing to sinus infections, coughing, sneezing, sore throat, and eye irritation. On March 24-25, 2003, NIOSH investigators conducted a site visit at Bemis. Following an opening conference with management and union representatives, NIOSH investigators toured the facility. On March 25, personal and area air sampling was conducted for ozone and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the extrusion department, VOCs in the press department, and VOCs, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, acrolein, and particulates in the bag department. Twenty one employees were interviewed from all areas of the plant. Every tenth employee was selected from a list of 290 employees who worked the day shift. Interviews covered employees' work history, past medical history, smoking history, and current symptoms, complaints, and concerns. The concentration of formaldehyde ranged from 0.04 to 0.09 parts per million (ppm). This exceeds the NIOSH Recommended Exposure Limit (REL) of 0.016 ppm, but is below the Occupational Safety Health Administration (OSHA) and American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists' (ACGIH) criteria. Concentrations of acrolein, acetaldehyde, ethanol, isopropanol, 1-propanol, ethyl acetate, propyl acetate, butyl acetate, and toluene were below all recommended and regulatory criteria. Particle size characterization indicated that 99.9% of the particles were in the respirable range, with a concentration of 0.32 milligram/cubic meter (mg/m3). This is below the OSHA Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) of 5 mg/m3 and the ACGIH's recommended value of 3 mg/m3 for respirable particulates. A majority (57%) of interviewed employees reported upper respiratory or mucous membrane irritation, which they associated with smoke in the bag department. The haze is a result of emissions during the bag manufacturing process. Chemicals used in the manufacturing process of the bags, such as formaldehyde, acrolein, acetaldehyde and VOCs, are likely to be found in the haze. It is possible that low levels of exposure to these chemicals can result in irritative effects. Air sampling results indicate the presence of a variety of chemical substances in the press, bag, and extrusion departments. However, quantitative measurements of most of these substances indicate that airborne concentrations are below those believed to result in chronic health effects, though some irritative symptoms might occur with minimal exposure. The airborne concentration of formaldehyde exceeded the NIOSH REL. Recommendations are included in this report to further improve the air quality in the bag department by introducing dilution ventilation in addition to the local exhaust ventilation currently in place. Following the ventilation changes, the concentrations of formaldehyde and particulates should be monitored again.