Monthly Round Up of Important Ideas and Standards in
Industrial Hygiene and Safety
IN THIS ISSUE: Hazards of Cleaning Solvents
Cleaning solvents are used to dissolve adhesives, grease, oils, and paints. Millions of workers use organic solvents on a daily basis and are exposed to the vapors in the form of cleaners as well as components of paints, varnishes, lacquers, adhesives, glues, and many other products. Examples of cleaning solvents include glycol ethers, heptane, hexane, kerosene, ketones, methanol, methylene chloride, mineral spirits, naphtha, toluene, trichloroethane (methyl chloroform), turpentine, and xylene. They are a necessary tool in construction and general industry but they have certain drawbacks.
Researchers have concluded that many cleaning solvents can be harmful to workers. Cleaning solvents can cause irritation to the eyes and skin (dermatitis) as well as irritation to the throat and nasal passages. Prolonged exposure may cause irritation of the upper respiratory system and can cause nervous system and adverse effects to the liver, urinary, and reproductive systems. Some have been found to be very hazardous. A most infamous case was Carbon Tetrachloride which is a strong carcinogen and was the most common organic cleaner for many years until it was eventually eliminated from general use. The National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) recognizes certain solvents of special concern including carcinogens (e.g., benzene, carbon tetrachloride, trichloroethylene), reproductive hazards (e.g., 2-ethoxyethanol, 2-methoxyethanol, methyl chloride), and neurotoxins (e.g., n-hexane, tetrachloroethylene, toluene). Currently, Methylene Chloride has been under scrutiny and its use discouraged.
What can be done?
- Replace solvents with less hazardous substitutes. There are water-based solvents made from citrus and other materials. Other substitutes include mechanical cleaning such as water- jet and sonic cleaning as well as use of alkaline cleaners.
- Avoid breathing the vapors. Keep the face away from vapors.
- Use local exhaust ventilation or clean surfaces in well-ventilated areas.
- Avoid contact with skin by wearing gloves and other protective clothing. Solvents can be absorbed and pass through the skin into the bloodstream.
- Wash hands before eating, drinking or smoking.
- Use respirators with organic vapor cartridges (carbon).
Safety Data Sheets are a good place start when evaluating cleaning solvents. Other sources of information on the effects of solvents and ways to limit exposure are provided by both NIOSH and OSHA. Cleaning Solvents are necessary to today’s industries, but with a little research and planning, workers can be protected and employers can have the tools they need to be productive.
OccuSafe Industrial Hygiene & Safety, Inc. provides skills and expertise to recognize, evaluate and control hazards and injuries in the areas of industrial hygiene, occupational safety and health. OccuSafe services companies of all sizes in a range of industries.
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