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Health hazard evaluation report: HETA-2010-0017-3133, evaluation of police officers' exposures to chemicals while working inside a drug vault - Kentucky.

Fent KW; Durgam S; West C; Gibbins J; Smith J
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 2010-0017-3133, 2011 Jul; :1-35
In November 2009, NIOSH received an HHE request from a police department in Kentucky. The request concerned possible health effects from working inside a vault used to store drug evidence, including marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, and oxycodone. We conducted evaluations in December 2009 and July 2010. We held confidential interviews with 14 employees to learn about their health and workplace concerns. We observed work processes, practices and workplace conditions. We took area and PBZ air samples for inorganic acids, VOCs, and drug particles, and work surface samples for drug particle contamination. We also evaluated the supply and exhaust ventilation systems inside the drug vault and adjacent office area and measured the temperature and RH levels in these areas. The air concentrations of inorganic acids inside the drug vault were well below applicable OELs. The primary VOCs we identified in the drug vault were terpenes. Terpenes are chemicals produced by plants, including marijuana, that contribute to their taste and smell. The low levels we measured are unlikely to cause health effects. However, some individuals are particularly sensitive to strong odors. Only methamphetamine particles were detected in the area air samples, while all the drugs (cocaine, methamphetamine, oxycodone, and THC) were measured in some of the PBZ and surface samples. Of the compounds we measured, drug particles probably present the greatest potential health risk because of their physiological and neurological effects. Employees reported a variety of nonspecific health symptoms, with upper respiratory symptoms, headache, eye irritation, and skin rash most commonly reported. Limited evidence exists linking low levels of indirect drug exposures to acute or chronic health effects. Nevertheless, it is possible that the drug exposures we measured could have contributed to some of the reported symptoms. These symptoms can also be caused by a variety of other occupational (e.g., odors, mold, poor indoor environmental quality, and stress) and nonoccupational factors. The general exhaust ventilation in the drug vault was adequate for gases and vapors based on the recommended minimum exhaust rate for chemical storage rooms. However, the ceiling-mounted exhaust air grills were near the supply air diffusers, leading to short-circuiting (a situation where supply air is immediately exhausted) and reduced ventilation effectiveness. Although temperature and RH levels inside the drug vault and office were acceptable for thermal comfort of employees, RH levels above 50 percent measured during our July visit could promote mold growth. We found visible mold contamination on cardboard boxes used for storing plant-based drugs. We recommend that the employer develop written policies and SOPs to ensure health and safety for employees working inside the drug vault. Employees should be trained on these policies and SOPs, and all training should be documented. All drug vault employees should participate in the medical surveillance program and wear recommended personal protective equipment. If the recommendations provided in this report are implemented, the use of respirators is not necessary inside the drug vault. A drying chamber should be used to remove moisture from plant-based drugs; these drugs should be sealed in plastic bags to prevent off-gassing. Simple modification of the existing supply and exhaust ventilation systems will improve the mixing of air and removal and dilution of the odor-causing compounds. Reducing odors may help reduce the incidence of reported symptoms. In addition, surfaces that are contaminated with drug particles should be thoroughly cleaned. Once cleaned, the recommendations we provide should help control further contamination.
Law-enforcement; Law-enforcement-workers; Police-officers; Region-4; Confined-spaces; Drugs; Narcotics; Health-hazards; Exposure-assessment; Air-sampling; Inorganic-acids; Volatiles; Organic-compounds; Sampling; Air-contamination; Ventilation-systems; Terpene-compounds; Odors; Physiological-effects; Neurological-reactions; Molds; Work-practices; Training; Personal-protective-equipment; Medical-monitoring; Medical-screening; Odor-control; Indoor-environmental-quality; Storage-facilities; Author Keywords: drugs; drug vault; drug storage; evidence; police; narcotics; cocaine; marijuana; methamphetamine; oxycodone; surface contamination
537-46-2; 76-42-6
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Field Studies; Hazard Evaluation and Technical Assistance
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Healthcare and Social Assistance; Services
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National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
Page last reviewed: May 11, 2023
Content source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Education and Information Division