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RR797 - Investigation of potential exposure to carcinogens and respiratory sensitisers during thermal processing of plastics

This work was carried out in support of HSE’s FIT3 Disease Reduction Programme Cancer Project’s aim to develop a strategy to reduce the incidence of occupational cancer in Great Britain. As part of this strategy, HSE has initiated research that aims to deliver evidence that will help to identify carcinogens of concern, improve control of exposure to carcinogens at work and provide a baseline for evaluating strategies for intervention.

Earlier, in 2005-7, HSL characterised the exposure profiles of a selected group of occupational carcinogens and determined baseline exposures with which to compare future levels. The project identified the potential for exposure to carcinogens in the thermoplastic processing and finishing industries however there was a scarcity of published quantitative exposure data. A number of laboratory and other studies had shown that carcinogens could be generated from the processing of thermoplastics in some situations but further investigation was required to establish the levels of exposure that may originate in the industrial setting.

The report describes the results of sampling for carcinogens and respiratory sensitisers at ten large processing plants. The measurement strategy used was sufficiently broad in scope to take into account the presence of respiratory sensitisers and respiratory irritants as well as carcinogens. The findings demonstrate that compliance with HSE guidance achieves adequate prevention and control of exposure in the common thermoplastic processes considered. This report will be helpful to smaller plants operated by small and medium enterprises who undertake the same processes albeit on a smaller scale.

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 authors alone and do not necessarily reflect HSE policy.

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Updated 2010-05-21