Exposure of UK Industrial Plumbers to Asbestos, Part I: Monitoring of Exposure Using Personal Passive Samplers

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Abstract

Epidemiological data suggest that there has been and may continue to be a significant risk to maintenance workers, who through their work may disturb asbestos-containing materials (ACM). The sampling and assessment of maintenance workers' exposure is a particular problem because they may not know that they are working with ACM. A strategy to monitor their true exposure has been developed and applied to one group of workers. The asbestos exposure of industrial plumbers was measured using personal passive samplers developed at the Health and Safety Laboratory (HSL). The light-weight samplers, which collect particles by electrostatic attraction, are simple to use and do not require prior knowledge that asbestos is to be disturbed as does conventional sampling. The samplers were issued by post and analysed, after return, using transmission electron microscopy (TEM). The strategy was found to be a reasonably efficient and cost-effective way to obtain data on maintenance worker's exposure to asbestos. The results of the TEM analysis of the passive samplers showed that the percentage of workers exposed to >5 μm long asbestos fibres was 62% in Round 1 and 58% in Round 2. For phase contrast microscopy equivalent (PCME) asbestos fibres, the values were 46 and 29%, respectively. The three samples with the highest numbers of fibres were followed up and were associated with plumbers working in areas which had supposedly been stripped of asbestos just prior to their starting work, suggesting that poor removal, clean-up and clearance practice presents a significant part of the risk to plumbers. Although flow rates will vary with conditions and time, an approximate average sampling rate from previous comparisons was used to calculate the concentration. This gave an average exposure to regulated PCME fibres of 0.009 f ml−1 for amphibole asbestos and 0.049 f ml−1 for chrysotile. The calculate risk based on the PCME fibre types collected and their estimated concentrations, showed that the risk from airborne amphibole fibres was ∼6 times greater than from chrysotile fibres. If representative, the estimated lifetime risk of death from an asbestos related cancer for an exposure from age 20 for 40 years would be 68 per 100 000, which equates to an annual risk of death of the order of 10 per million.

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