Worker health and wellness Workplace exposures Manufacturing

Study links metalworking fluid pollutants to respiratory problems

metal worker
Image: leezsnow/iStockphoto

Helsinki, Finland – Airborne exposure to metalworking fluid mist and other gaseous pollutants puts both machinists and other machine shop workers at risk for respiratory and skin problems, according to a recent study from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.

Metalworking fluids used during machining with chip removal – including drilling, cutting or grinding – form an aerosol that contains particulate and gaseous compounds.

During the study, researchers predominantly detected alkanolamines and volatile organic compounds in workspace air, and determined that 77 percent of alkanolamines exceeded FIOH’s recommended concentration level of 0.1 milligrams per cubic meter of air.

The researchers said that although individual pollutants did not reach harmful concentration levels, workers still exhibited symptoms including rhinitis (hay fever), coughing, shortness of breath, asthma, and other respiratory and eye-related symptoms.

The results suggest that local exhaust ventilation equipment is deficient in filtering out pollutants emanating from metalworking fluid, and the study authors urged employers to consider the following measures to help improve worker health:

  • Lead the air from the machine filtering equipment directly outdoors from the workspace.
  • Increase workspace ventilation to dilute pollutant concentration in filtering equipment.
  • Improve machine filtering so it retains gaseous pollutants.

The researchers acknowledged that the first two options are not optimally energy-efficient.

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