Health hazard evaluation report: HETA-2006-0006-3039, Environmental Protection Services, Inc., Wheeling, West Virginia.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) received a confidential employee request for a health hazard evaluation (HHE) at Environmental Protection Services (EPS), Inc. Wheeling, West Virginia. The request asked NIOSH to evaluate exposures to dust, smoke, and fumes generated while recycling transformers, some of which contained polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). During an initial site visit to the EPS facility on February 15-16, 2006, we observed the transformer recycling processes, looked at potential worker exposures, and randomly selected eight persons for confidential interviews to discuss their concerns about work exposures and adverse health outcomes. On July 10-13, 2006, we took personal breathing-zone (PBZ) and area air samples for PCBs and metals, collected surface wipe samples and bulk samples of transformer oil for PCB analysis, and ash from incinerated materials for PCB and metal analysis. We found that a worker sorting and baling metal was exposed to copper and lead over the NIOSH recommended exposure limit-time weighted average (REL-TWA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) permissible exposure limit (PEL) -TWA of 1 milligram per cubic meter (mg/m3) and 0.05 mg/m3, respectively. One PBZ air sample collected on a worker in the PCBXSM trailer was above the NIOSH REL for PCBs of 0.001 mg/m3. Some workers were wearing respirators inappropriately and had not been fit tested. Some work surfaces were contaminated with PCBs above 100 micrograms per square meter (µg/m2), a guideline used by NIOSH investigators based on the results of previous evaluations. We observed several unsafe work practices including lifting gas cylinders by the valve cap, working beneath an energized overhead shear without lockout/tagout, and storing sodium ingots near a water source. We did not find any health effects suggestive of PCB exposure. At one time all EPS employees were tested for serum PCB but currently only workers in the enclosed decontamination area are tested. EPS management referred one person with an elevated serum PCB level for medical evaluation. Our review of the EPS OSHA 300 Logs of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses did not identify any health effects suggestive of PCB or metals exposure. NIOSH investigators determined that a health hazard exists for some employees from exposure to lead, copper, and PCBs; improper use of respirators; and unsafe work practices. Recommendations are provided for engineering controls and modification of work practices to reduce employee exposures to metals and PCBs. NIOSH investigators also recommended that EPS management review procedures for handling gas cylinders, storing and handling sodium ingots, and working on energized equipment.