Health hazard evaluation report: HETA-2000-0374-2998, Engineered Fabrics Corporation, Rockmart, Georgia.
On July 26, 2000, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) received a confidential request for a health hazard evaluation (HHE) from employees of Engineered Fabrics Corporation (EFC) in Rockmart, Georgia. EFC manufactures aircraft fuel cells. The employees reported headache; dizziness; fatigue; memory loss; and respiratory, nasal, and skin problems believed to be related to solvent exposures (toluene, acetone, and methyl ethyl ketone [MEK]) used in the Large Spray (LS) and Small Spray (SS) fuel cell departments. NIOSH personnel conducted an initial site visit September 28-29, 2000, and interviewed several employees who reported dermatitis and acute neurological symptoms potentially related to exposures in their work environment. To determine if worker symptoms were related to solvent exposure, NIOSH personnel returned to EFC the week of February 27, 2001, to conduct environmental exposure monitoring and administer questionnaires to LS, SS, and plaster (PL) workers. (Plaster workers were selected as the comparison group because they have minimal solvent exposure.) Although airborne exposures to MEK, toluene, and acetone were well below current occupational exposure limits (OELs), we observed a significant potential for dermal exposure to solvents in LS and SS workers. Questionnaire responses from 142 LS and SS workers indicated that work-related eye, nose, and throat irritation and neurological symptoms were occurring in this workforce. Eighteen EFC participants had skin rashes; nine were consistent with work-related dermatitis (six LS, two SS, and one former SS employee). Based on these findings, we planned further assessment of solvent exposures using biological monitoring. During the week of July 30, 2001, NIOSH investigators collected baseline and end-of-shift (EOS) urine samples in conjunction with baseline and EOS questionnaire data from 90 consenting employees (72 LS and 18 PL). Solvent exposures were assessed by collecting full-shift personal breathing zone (PBZ) air samples. In addition, eight LS participants were selected to evaluate glove breakthrough of MEK using a commercially available sensor. Inhalation exposures to all sampled solvents were higher in LS than in PL; however, all PBZ air sample results were below relevant OELs. MEK was detected on the inside of all eight workers' gloves after they donned new gloves and worked with solvents. Breakthrough times ranged from 60 to 295 minutes. EOS urine sampling revealed 10% of LS workers with MEK concentrations at or above the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists' (ACGIH®) Biological Exposure Indices (BEI®) and 16% with o-cresol (a metabolite of toluene) concentrations at or above the BEI. None of the PL workers' levels exceeded the BEI. Six percent of LS and 13% of PL workers had EOS urine concentrations of hippuric acid (another metabolite of toluene) at or above the BEI. LS employees were significantly more likely than PL employees were to report neurological symptoms in the month prior to the evaluation. Workers with an MEK level at or above 1.0 µg/mL (half the BEI) had a significantly greater chance of having symptoms of fatigue, incoordination, and muscle weakness. No significant relationship between EOS urine o-cresol levels and EOS symptoms was found. NIOSH investigators concluded that a health hazard from excessive exposure to MEK and toluene existed among EFC employees at the time of our evaluation. Overexposures to MEK and toluene were predominantly due to dermal absorption rather than inhalation. LS workers reported significantly more neurological symptoms than PL workers did. This report details recommendations to reduce solvent exposure including engineering, administrative, and personal protective equipment controls.
Region-4; Hazard-Confirmed; Toluenes; Neurological-reactions; Neurological-system; Skin-exposure; Biological-monitoring; Xylenes; Hexanes; Dermatitis; Respiratory-system-disorders; Pulmonary-system-disorders; Solvents; Eye-irritants; Skin-irritants; Respiratory-irritants; Engineering-controls; Control-technology; Protective-clothing; Personal-protective-equipment; Personal-protection