Elemental properties of copper slag and measured airborne exposures at a copper slag processing facility.J Occup Environ Hyg. 2017 08; 14(8):D120-D129.JO
In 1974, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommended a ban on the use of abrasives containing >1% silica, giving rise to abrasive substitutes like copper slag. We present results from a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health industrial hygiene survey at a copper slag processing facility that consisted of the collection of bulk samples for metals and silica; and full-shift area and personal air samples for dust, metals, and respirable silica. Carcinogens, suspect carcinogens, and other toxic elements were detected in all bulk samples, and area and personal air samples. Area air samples identified several areas with elevated levels of inhalable and respirable dust, and respirable silica: quality control check area (236 mg/m3 inhalable; 10.3 mg/m3 respirable; 0.430 mg/m3 silica), inside the screen house (109 mg/m3 inhalable; 13.8 mg/m3 respirable; 0.686 mg/m3 silica), under the conveyor belt leading to the screen house (19.8 mg/m3 inhalable), and inside a conveyor access shack (11.4 mg/m3 inhalable; 1.74 mg/m3 respirable; 0.067 mg/m3 silica). Overall, personal dust samples were lower than area dust samples and did not exceed published occupational exposure limits. Silica samples collected from a plant hand and a laborer exceeded the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienist Threshold Limit Value of 0.025 µg/m3. All workers involved in copper slag processing (n = 5) approached or exceeded the Occupational Safety and Health Administration permissible exposure limit of 10 µg/m3 for arsenic (range: 9.12-18.0 µg/m3). Personal total dust levels were moderately correlated with personal arsenic levels (Rs = 0.70) and personal respirable dust levels were strongly correlated with respirable silica levels (Rs = 0.89). We identified multiple areas with elevated levels of dust, respirable silica, and metals that may have implications for personal exposure at other facilities if preventive measures are not taken. To our knowledge, this is the first attempt to characterize exposures associated with copper slag processing. More in-depth air monitoring and health surveillance is needed to understand occupational exposures and health outcomes in this industry.