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Common Toxic Exposures in the Workplace

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Toxic exposure can be presented in the home, at school, and even within workplace environments. For those who are in positions that consistently put them at risk for contact with harsh chemicals and carcinogens, there needs to be an emphasis on protecting workers from exposure. Among stress, fairness and equality, as well as the day-to-day responsibilities, harmful toxins should not be a concern. Yes, some jobs pose greater risks. However, employees should not anticipate negative impacts on their health, especially when most toxic exposure can be prevented.

Exposure to these toxic substances may be the result of occupations in construction, the oil industry, manufacturing, waste disposal, custodial work, and similar manual labor positions. To ensure that workers have limited exposure to any dangerous byproducts, they need to understand what these chemicals are and how to promote the safest environment.

Below are three common toxic chemicals to watch out for

  1. Benzen

BenzeneBenzene is a recognized carcinogen that has been proven to lead to leukemia cancer. Leukemia, aptly named due to its effects on leukocytes, otherwise known as white blood cells, develops in the blood or bone marrow. This indicates complications with white blood cell production.

There are both short and long term consequences of benzene exposure. When people are introduced to potent amounts of benzene short term, they may experience unconsciousness, confusion, headaches, and nervous system dysfunction. It may also aggravate other sensory areas like the eyes and skin. The long term effects of benzene exposure are anemia and a low white blood cell and blood platelet count.

It is important to note that benzene is not the major cause of leukemia, but a risk factor. Characteristically, benzene is a liquid–one that has a sweet scent and is both colorless and combustible. It is also highly favorable in many industries because it is an ingredient for producing other chemicals: detergents, drugs, rubbers, plastics, etc. Workers prone to coming in contact with benzene are steel-workers, firefighters, and gas station employees.

  1. Asbestos

Another known carcinogen is asbestos, a mineral popular for its flame, sound, and electricity immunity. There are six types of asbestos, but together they have the same qualities: the ability to break because of their tiny, fibrous crystalline structure.

The chief threat linked to asbestos exposure is mesothelioma, a cancer that can develop in the lungs, heart, and lining of the stomach. Distinctively to other cancers, mesothelioma is essentially the result of asbestos entering the body and embedding into any of these organs. Surprisingly, it is not diagnosed for long periods of time and may also cause other related illnesses, such as asbestosis and lung cancer.

As asbestos is useful in many processes, construction workers, those in the military around ammunition storage rooms, aircraft, boiler rooms, military vehicles, and mess halls, home renovators, engineers, and agricultural workers are all at jeopardy.

  1. Silica

Sourced from the earth’s crust, crystalline silica is fundamental to a variety of home and construction products. Natural materials such as sand, concrete, and stone have silica. A few products that employ these materials are ceramics, glass, and bricks.

Like asbestos, repairable crystalline silica is microscopic. When it deteriorates or is broken, it can be reduced to particles 100 times smaller than sand grains. Occupations that employ silica for stone countertops, pottery, concrete, or drilling for buildings, can expose this mineral.

While crystalline silica does not trigger mesothelioma cancer, it is also a toxin that can be inhaled and enter the body unknowingly. Silica can create serious health conditions, including lung cancer, silicosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

What to know for keeping your work environment safe

These are only three of a list of toxins employees may be susceptible to. The good news is that with proper awareness and mandated regulations, workers are not left defenseless against exposure.

Every job should follow strict guidelines, either federal or state, which are implemented to protect workers’ rights. Fortunately, many places cannot operate without knowing and keeping up with these rules. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) is ideal for this reason and rightfully enforces control over work-related toxins.

Thankfully, the efforts of organizations like OSHA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and others specific to diseases from toxins and carcinogens encourage healthier job sites, where employees do not have to fear or expect toxins. Prevention is possible, and no one needs to be unnecessarily exposed or at risk.

Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Colin Ruggiero dedicates his time to informing others about mesothelioma cancer and preventative measures that can be taken to avoid exposure to asbestos. 


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