Occupational exposures to styrene vapor in a manufacturing plant for fiber-reinforced composite wind turbine blades.Ann Occup Hyg. 2011 Jul; 55(6):591-600.AO
A utility-scale wind turbine blade manufacturing plant requested assistance from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in controlling worker exposures to styrene at a plant that produced 37 and 42 m long fiber-reinforced wind turbine blades. The plant requested NIOSH assistance because previous air sampling conducted by the company indicated concerns about peak styrene concentrations when workers entered the confined space inside of the wind turbine blade. NIOSH researchers conducted two site visits and collected personal breathing zone and area air samples while workers performed the wind turbine blade manufacturing tasks of vacuum-assisted resin transfer molding (VARTM), gelcoating, glue wiping, and installing the safety platform.
All samples were collected during the course of normal employee work activities and analyzed for styrene using NIOSH Method 1501. All sampling was task based since full-shift sampling from a prior Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) compliance inspection did not show any exposures to styrene above the OSHA permissible exposure limit. During the initial NIOSH site visit, 67 personal breathing zone and 18 area air samples were collected while workers performed tasks of VARTM, gelcoating, glue wipe, and installation of a safety platform. After the initial site visit, the company made changes to the glue wipe task that eliminated the need for workers to enter the confined space inside of the wind turbine blade. During the follow-up site visit, 12 personal breathing zone and 8 area air samples were collected from workers performing the modified glue wipe task.
During the initial site visit, the geometric means of the personal breathing zone styrene air samples were 1.8 p.p.m. (n = 21) for workers performing the VARTM task, 68 p.p.m. (n = 5) for workers installing a safety platform, and 340 p.p.m. (n = 14) for workers performing the glue wipe task, where n is the number of workers sampled for a given mean result. Gelcoating workers included job categories of millers, gelcoat machine operators, and gelcoaters. Geometric mean personal breathing zone styrene air samples were 150 p.p.m. (n = 6) for millers, 87 p.p.m. (n = 2) for the gelcoat machine operators, and 66 p.p.m. (n = 19) for gelcoaters. The geometric mean of the personal breathing zone styrene air samples from the glue wipe task measured during the follow-up site visit was 31 p.p.m. (n = 12).
The closed molding VARTM process was very effective at controlling worker exposures to styrene. Personal breathing zone styrene air samples were reduced by an order of magnitude after changes were made to the glue wipe task. The company used chemical substitution to eliminate styrene exposure during the installation of the safety platform. Recommendations were provided to reduce styrene concentrations during gelcoating.