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Written By: Robert E. Sheriff, CIH, CSP, President
July 31, 2019
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 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, 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 form 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 the disease to others, not to protect the wearer from external agents.
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 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.