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Plastic Fumes

According to the British Plastics Federation, in the UK more patents are filed each year in plastics than for glass, metal and paper combined! This constant innovation means that plastics are used across almost every sector, with a multitude of uses across construction, transport, electrical and of course packaging.

For industries manufacturing and processing plastics, dust exposure from handling plastic pellets, granules and powders may be an obvious risk within the workplace. However, controlling dusts may not be sufficient for ensuring the protection of workers’ health. When plastics are heated – perhaps during mixing, extruding or heat treating – several plastic by-products are released as fume. These by-products can include aldehydes, styrene, hydrogen chloride and PAHs, regular or prolonged exposure to which can cause lasting health effects. Many constituents of plastic fume have been linked to respiratory illnesses, sensitisation and even the development of cancers. Under COSHH regulations, employers have the duty to ensure exposure to these hazardous substances is suitably controlled and, in the case of substances which can cause cancer or asthma, control exposure to as low as reasonably practicable.

Hazardous Substance Short-term Health Effects Long-term Health Effects
Formaldehyde & Acrolein (and other aldehydes) Headache, narcotic effects, nausea, pulmonary oedema Respiratory diseases, sensitisation, cancer
Styrene Narcotic effects, changes in vision and hearing, effects on central nervous system Effects on central nervous system, hearing loss
Phenol Eye, nose and respiratory irritation, pulmonary oedema, effects on central nervous system Effects on liver function
1,3-Butadiene Neurological effects, respiratory irritation Cancer
Butane (and other alkanes and alkenes) Narcotic effects, effects on central nervous system Kidney and liver damage
PAHs Eye, nose and throat irritation, nausea, breakdown of red blood cells Decreased immune function, asthma-like symptoms
Hydrogen Chloride Respiratory irritation, pulmonary oedema RADS - a chemically induced type of asthma

Sysco Environmental can offer workplace air monitoring to assess worker exposure to plastic fumes in line with Regulation 10 of the COSHH Regulations. Monitoring is undertaken using pre-treated sorbent tubes attached to a personal sampling pump which can be worn by employees. This technique offers a non-invasive way to assess personal exposure by sampling the air the employees breathe.

Our team of dedicated Occupational Hygienists can help you identify substances in fumes from Material Data Safety Sheets (MSDS), conduct air monitoring within your workplace for comparison with Workplace Exposure Limits and offer advice and recommendations for suitable control measures, which may be simple and achievable actions such as controlling heating temperatures.