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Environmental Pollution

Workplace Pollution Exposure

The most common and dangerous workplace pollution exposure is that which occurs through the breathing air. Such exposure may be many times hard to identify since it is not necessary perceived by smell or other senses. In fact, many gases or fumes could pose a health threat at concentrations much below the smell threshold, especially when exposure occurs over long periods of time (e.g., a person works in the same place for 20 years or more with an average of 8 hours 5 days a week).

It is easy to imagine that anything that is in the breathing air goes straight into human body via inhalation and that cannot be avoided without changing the air (through ventilation). However, even under good ventilation, if the source of airborne pollutants is within the workplace and the emission of the airborne pollutants is at a higher rate than their dissipation through ventilation, it is deduced that ventilation by itself may not help. Thus, even if the work is performed in a space with good air circulation or even outside, if the worker is close to a device that emits air pollutants the exposure may still happen unless protective equipment is used (e.g., masks or respirators). Therefore, it is important that pollution prevention measures are in place, such as for example wearing of appropriate protective equipment while working with materials that can emit hazardous airborne pollutants (such as waste materials, volatile and semi-volatile chemicals, etc.).

Yet, problems arise when the need to wear protective equipment does not exist and yet exposure may still occur due to workplace indoor air pollution. An example is an office building that may be subjected to air pollution due to various reasons including: it overlays a polluted groundwater plume or polluted soil with volatile chemicals, or it contains building materials that may emit toxic air pollutants (such as Chinese drywalls, or office furniture made of medium density synthetic boards reported to emit fumes).

Apart from exposure through the air, workplace pollution exposure may occur via:

  • contact with waste or hazardous materials (liquid or solid)
  • accidental injection of hazardous material – that enters the human body in other ways that through breathing or via skin adsorption
  • accidental ingestion through swallowing of waste or hazardous materials (solids or liquids) – an example would be drinking contaminated water or eating contaminated food that was exposed to pollutants in the workplace