What toxic substances harm us at work?

What can harm us at work?

Any harmful fumes, aerosols, dust, microbes in air that can be inhaled, ingested or absorbed through skin:

  • Gases, fumes and particles of 100 microns (millionths of a metre) and below can be inhaled into the body;

  • PM 0.3 microns & nanoparticles can be absorbed direct through skin

  • There is no cell or organ in the body that cannot be affected by substances in air pollution that are inhaled and get into the blood and are carried all around the body, especially sperm, eggs and foetus.

These can be:

1. Chemicals/substances coming into work in containers with Material Safety Data Sheets and warning signs;

2. Chemicals/substances arising from work: Diesel fumes, silica from stone cutting, wood dust, paint;

3. Chemicals/products leaving the workplace

4. Waste entering the air, water, recycling products

These harmful substances and the harm they cause include:

  • Elements like lead, mercury and arsenic;

  • Minerals such as asbestos and silica;

  • Compounds and mixtures such as Pesticides- weedkillers like atrazine or glyphosate, insecticides and vermin poisons; Organic solvents cause neurological and skin damage; Cleaning agents, fragrances, personal care products

  • Biological agents – viruses e.g. Covid-19 , bacteria, fungi and prions

  • Second hand tobacco smoke, spice/psychoactive drugs in prisons

  • Diesel exhaust emissions/all vehicle emissions: Nitrogen oxides, NOx, Carbon Dioxide, CO2, Carbon Monoxide ,CO, Hydrocarbons e.g. Poly aromatic hydrocarbons , PAHs, Particles/soot – Carcinogens, EDCs-

  • New hazards’ such as plastic fibres/particles e.g. from fleeces/ clothing/carpets; nanoparticles

  • Furniture and fittings off-gassing formaldehyde, other Volatile Organic Compounds, VOCs, flame retardants, stain resisters, waterproofers including Per- and polyfluoralkyl substances, PFAS (‘Forever chemicals’ ) antimicrobial dust etc

  • Asbestos- in the fabric of buildings built/renovated before the year 2000 affecting workers involved in - demolition, renovation, tradesman but also teachers, school children and all of us working in buildings containing asbestos causes mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis, pleural thickening

  • Irritants, allergens/asthmagens, sensitisers – natural and synthetic products including pollen, animal hair and products, flour & tea dust, moulds, microbes, and isocyanates cause asthma, respiratory irritation and sensitivity

  • Cleaning chemicals & personal care products, fragrances cause skin, eye and respiratory irritation, asthma, hormone disrupting disorders and cancers

  • Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) found in vehicle fumes, plastics- phthalates such as Bis phenol A- pesticides, cleaning products, canning, automotive work, food packaging & many other products, and in air pollution, cause endocrine system problems - diabetes, obesity, reproductive system cancers, developmental disorders, cognitive and brain damage to foetus. EDCs can be active and harmful in minute amount, parts per billion or trillion

  • Dust generally including office dust – lung cancer, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, asthma, heart disease, strokes, allergies, immune system damage.

This is not an exhaustive list!

See the Cancers and their work causes poster for more information

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