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Published on Jun 4, 2015
Workers in a number of industries can be exposed to a family of chemicals known as isocyanates. Isocyanates are the raw materials that make up polyurethane products and exposure can lead to potential health concerns.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), “They are widely used in the manufacture of flexible and rigid foams, fibers, coatings such as paints and varnishes, and elastomers, and are increasingly used in the automobile industry, auto body repair, and building insulation materials. Spray-on polyurethane products containing isocyanates have been developed for a wide range of retail, commercial, and industrial uses to protect cement, wood, fiberglass, steel and aluminum, including protective coatings for truck beds, trailers, boats, foundations, and decks.”
Isocyanates are powerful irritants to the mucous membranes of the eyes and gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts. Direct skin contact can also cause marked inflammation. Isocyanates can also sensitize workers, making them subject to severe asthma attacks if they are exposed again. In fact, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that isocyanates are one of the most common chemical causes of work-related asthma. Isocyanates include compounds classified as potential human carcinogens and known to cause cancer in animals.
NIOSH reports that, “Preventing exposure to isocyanates is a critical step in eliminating the health hazard. Engineering controls such as closed systems and ventilation should be the principal method for minimizing isocyanate exposure in the workplace. Other controls, such as worker isolation and use of personal protective equipment such as respirators and personal protective clothing to prevent dermal exposures may also be necessary. Early recognition of sensitization and prompt and strict elimination of exposures is essential to reduce the risk of long-term or permanent respiratory problems for workers who have become sensitized.”
These are just a few things to know about isocyanates in the work environment. To learn more about this or other indoor air quality, health and safety, occupational or other environmental issues, please visit the websites shown below.