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RR441 - Cross contamination of metal working fluid systems

In recent years attention has been drawn towards the adverse health effects associated with working in mists of metal working fluids (MWFs)(Kreiss & Cox-Gaenser, 1997, CDC, 1998, 2002, Piacitelli et al,2001). In November, 2003 the presence of MWF mist in the atmosphere led to a complaint from staff at Powertrain Ltd, Longbridge, an engineering company that produces car engine components, that prompted a visit from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). A series of samples of MWFs from the largest common sumps in the factory were subsequently analysed by the Health and Safety Laboratory but excessive levels of bacteria were not found. Records of the management of the MWF by the supplier did not reveal any problems either. In March 2004, HSE was informed by Birmingham Heartlands Chest Clinic that several Powertrain employees were suffering from extrinsic allergic alveolitis (EAA). This prompted a further investigation. By April 2006 when the investigation was concluded and data submitted for publication (Robertson et al, 2007), 87 workers (10.4% of the workforce) met case definitions for occupational lung disease, comprising EAA (19 workers), occupational asthma (74 workers) and humidifier fever (7 workers). Twelve workers had more than one diagnosis. This represents the largest outbreak of occupational respiratory disease linked to metalworking and wash fluids in Europe (, Dawkins et al, 2006; Robertson et al, 2007). Wider aspects of the outbreak are dealt with in a series of reports accessible from the Metalworking Fluids Topic Pages.

This report and the work it describes were funded by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Its contents, including any opinions and/or conclusions expressed, are those of the author alone and do not necessarilyreflect HSE policy.

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Updated 2013-02-27