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Written By: Robert E. Sheriff, CIH, CSP, President
March 6, 2020
Recycling Facilities Can Be Hazardous to Workers’ Health
A great majority of municipalities and private companies in the United States have recycling facilities where metal, glass, chemicals, paper, wood, batteries, electronics, and clothing are deposited from collection trucks, and sorted by workers, usually along with conveyor belts. The workers in these facilities are potentially exposed to a wide variety of health hazards.
One health hazard arises from both the trucks depositing recyclables and the front loaders depositing them onto sorting platforms. Noise, carbon monoxide, and diesel exhaust are common exposures from such vehicles. The fact that diesel exhaust is now considered a carcinogen adds further health risk to workers.
Bacteria, Mold, Feces, Chemicals
The persons involved in sorting the recyclables are subjected to a great variety of health risks. There is always a considerable quantity of fecal matter from pets whose waste is collected during exercise and then deposited in the nearest container—often which is a recycling container not a waste container. The bacteria present can lead to infection, disease, and even E-coli poisoning. Speaking of poisoning, the recycled bottles of pesticides, household chemicals, paint thinners, hair care products containing formaldehyde, spoiled food, solvents, drain cleaners, light bulbs containing mercury, and a host of germs on tissues and other paper products, set the stage for a health risk nightmare.
Trucks, Front Loaders, Conveyor systems, Pulverizers, Crushers, and Bailers all produce noise which is enhanced by the concrete floor and metals walls.
Some forms of body protection such as disposable suits, gloves, and even respirators is common. But the most likely situation is the inadequacy of protection. For example, in numerous recycling facilities, respiratory protection is a surgical mask—whose purpose is to prevent the wearer from spreading disease to others, not to protect the wearer from external agents. A more effective respirator such as an N-95 disposable respirator or a half-face respirator with filters is the preferred protection. The OSHA Respiratory Protection Standard is 29CFR1910.134.
Private contractors who take municipal recyclables and sort them have an even greater range of exposure possibilities, mostly depending on what items they are actually recycling. They range from automated grinding and sorting of plastics, cans, vehicles, electronics, paper, concrete, asphalt, medicals, construction debris, wood and more.
Proper environmental and worker protection in dealing with recyclables is as complex as dealing with the proper manufacture and safe use of such items. Recycling is an integral part of PRODUCT STEWARDSHIP from raw materials to manufacturing, packaging, shipping, usage, and disposal or recycling.
Health risk to recycle workers
Unfortunately, our effort to protect the environment and minimize waste can result in health risks to those who recycle as part of their contribution to this effort. We also suggest you go to the OSHA website (www.osha.gov) for more details on the specific regulations that may apply to recycle operations.
We can help
We have the knowledge and equipment to evaluate any phase of the life cycle of products and materials and develop ways to correct each environmental, health or safety problem for the benefit of all parties involved in the cycle, including recycling. This includes sampling the air for chemicals, bacteria, mold, metals, plastics and more. We can also perform noise testing and noise dosimetry including OSHA Compliance.
For more information contact Atlantic Environmental.
Our primary service areas are New Jersey NJ, New York NY, (New York City), Pennsylvania PA, Connecticut CT, Delaware DE, Massachusetts, (Boston) MA, Rhode Island RI, Washington DC, Wisconsin WI, Maryland MD, Michigan MI, Illinois (Chicago) IL, Virginia VA, Indiana IN, Georgia (Atlanta) GA, Alabama AL, North Carolina NC, South Carolina SC, Tennessee TN, Texas (Dallas, Ft Worth) TX, Oklahoma OK, DC, Arkansas AR, Florida FL. We can service most other areas of the U.S. but with some added travel charges.