Health hazard evaluation report: HETA-2004-0337-3051, US Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, Natchitoches, Louisiana.
On July 27, 2004, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) received a request for technical assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). The request called for assistance in evaluating potential exposures to chloramines in a poultry processing facility in Natchitoches, Louisiana. Inspectors from the USDA present on the evisceration line had repeatedly reported eye and upper respiratory irritation. FSIS industrial hygienists previously assessed chlorine exposures using traditional sampling and analytic methods, but typically found very low levels of chlorine in the air, none of which exceeded occupational exposure criteria. It was believed that chloramine compounds, including mono-, di- and trichloramine, may have been causing the symptoms, but due to the lack of an available method to measure chloramines in the air, this had not been investigated. On August 30-September 3, 2004, NIOSH investigators accompanied FSIS personnel during a site visit to investigate symptoms and potential exposures. While the FSIS conducted sampling for chlorine using traditional sampling methodologies, NIOSH investigators conducted personal breathing zone and area air sampling for chloramines using a draft NIOSH method. Interviews with USDA inspectors were conducted by NIOSH investigators over the course of three shifts to document work-related symptoms. Trichloramine levels were higher at the Maestro and Nu-Tech stations on the evisceration line (where chlorinated water was used) than in the offices or processing areas (where little or no chlorinated water was used). Levels of soluble chlorine compounds did not differ significantly between the Maestro and Nu-Tech stations and processing areas, but were lower in the offices. The respiratory symptoms reported in this study are consistent with findings among other poultry processing workers. The small number of participants in this study may have limited our ability to find statistically significant associations between work-related symptoms and trichloramine or soluble chlorine levels.