Health hazard evaluation report: HETA-2007-0167-3078, evaluation of exposures in sculpture studios at a college art department, Brooklyn College, Brooklyn, New York.
NIOSH received a confidential employee request for an HHE at Brooklyn College in Brooklyn, New York. The request was to investigate health and safety concerns in the sculpture studios, including the ceramic, woodworking, and metalworking studios. Employees were concerned that degenerative nerve damage, lung cancer, sinus problems, allergies, and headaches were possibly related to work exposures. On October 22-24, 2007, NIOSH investigators conducted an initial evaluation that included an opening conference, a tour of the three sculpture studios, observations of work activities, and a review of relevant health and safety documents. We evaluated the ventilation in the studios, collected area and PBZ air samples for VOCs in the woodworking studio, and interviewed employees about their health. On October 24, we held a closing conference to provide preliminary recommendations. On March 28, 2008, we returned to collect area and PBZ welding fume air samples during a metalworking class. We observed inadequate electrical grounding, machine guarding, and spacing around power tools and machines; and poor housekeeping practices. Eating and drinking were allowed in the studios during classes, eye protection was not always used, and respirators were used improperly. Many of the existing health and safety rules and guidelines of the studios were not being enforced. The ventilation system did not mechanically provide supply air to the sculpture studios. PBZ air samples collected for VOCs showed that xylene (0.23 ppm) and toluene (0.04 ppm) were the only compounds measured at quantifiable levels, and their concentrations were well below the NIOSH REL (100 ppm for both xylene and toluene), the OSHA PEL (xylene: 100 ppm; toluene: 200 ppm), and the ACGIH TLV (xylene: 100 ppm; toluene: 20 ppm). All other VOCs were found at trace levels or were not detected. Of the 31 airborne metals and minerals analyzed from welding fumes, most were either not detected or were present at trace concentrations. Six elements were measured in quantifiable concentrations in at least three locations. Zinc was measured in the highest concentration on a PBZ sample of 150 microg/m3. This concentration was well below the NIOSH REL (5000 microg/m3) and the ACGIH TLV (2000 microg/m3) for zinc. All interviewed employees reported concerns about safety issues in the studios. Employees reported past exposures including cadmium, lead, and asbestos exposure in the metalworking studio in the 1980s and unventilated kiln exhaust in the ceramics studio 10 to 12 years ago. Employees reported current use of glues, including methylene chloride, in the woodworking studio. Most studio employees reported intermittent nose and throat irritation, and one reported intermittent headaches at work. Employees also reported concerns about dust exposure, inadequate ventilation, and high noise levels, particularly in the woodworking and metalworking studios. Some employees were also concerned about the risk of developing lung cancer and nervous system disorders from past and current work exposures and reported previous cases in retired faculty. Based on our findings, we conclude that employee reports of nose and throat irritation during work are consistent with particulate and/or irritant exposures. Although the VOCs and solvent levels we measured were below relevant OELs, some employees may still experience symptoms below the OELs. We determined that the neurological disorders and lung cancer in retired studio employees could not be properly assessed due to lack of historical records of exposure, inability to recreate past exposures, and small numbers of cases, making analysis not meaningful. Management should address the sculpture studios' safety issues and improve the ventilation system. The ventilation system should supply adequate outdoor air and provide sufficient make-up air when the hoods and kilns are in use. Although welding fume concentrations were below relevant OELs for specific constituents, NIOSH considers welding fumes a potential human carcinogen and recommends reducing exposures to the lowest feasible level. Management can reduce welding fume exposures by installing adjustable LEV that removes contaminants from the point of generation. Also, ventilation fans and dust collectors that were previously installed to help collect and reduce airborne contaminants should be used when welding or performing dust-generating tasks. We also recommend that management enforce safety rules and improve housekeeping practices.