Dangerous Chemicals Often Replaced With Even More Hazardous Compounds

n-propyl-bromiden-propyl bromide, commonly known as nPB, is an industrial chemical broadly used in a wide array of industries nationwide. nPB is associated with a number of disorders and diseases and replaced an older, more hazardous chemical.

In the United States, nPB is used in auto body shops, dry cleaners, furniture makers, and high-tech electronics manufacturing plants, to name just a few, said The New York Times. Meanwhile, for at least the past decade, medical researchers, government officials, and chemical companies have all issued warnings stating that nPB can cause neurological damage and infertility issues when inhaled at low levels over time. Yet, nPB use has increased 15-fold in the past six years, alone, The Times says.

Reviewing one firm, The Times noted that Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) records indicated that officials at Royale Comfort Seating continually exposed workers—gluers specifically—to nPB at quantities in excess of approved federal safety levels. Royale Comfort also failed to provide respirators to staff exposed to nPB and did not turn on fans that were meant to vent nPB fumes. Sadly, this is not an isolated matter.

Illnesses related to workplace chemical exposure cost about $250 billion every year over medical expenses and lost productivity. In this case, the issue is being described as a so-called “regrettable substitution,” said The Times. For example, nPB was likely allowed because OSHA permitted its use while stopping another dangerous chemical perceived as more hazardous. OSHA standards limit exposure limits for 16 of the most significant workplace hazards, including lead, asbestos, and arsenic, said The Times; however, there are tens of thousands of dangerous substances to which American workers are exposed in the workplace each day. Adding to the problem are employers attempting to wade through the complexities of what levels of which products are safe or deadly.

In the early 1980s, many firms used glue combined with 1,1,1-trichloroethane (TCA). TCA was banned after it was discovered the chemical damaged the ozone later. Business switched to another chemical, methylene chloride, what cushion makers called “methyl ethyl bad stuff.” The substance killed more than 30 workers each year and was responsible for thousands of sickness in a vast array of industries, said The Times. Ultimately, OSHA strengthened the chemical’s safety limits, which forced firms to use a different chemical. nPB-based glues were introduced, revealing how when the government phases out one hazardous chemical, companies may end up using an equally dangerous, sometimes more dangerous, option.

These chemicals and the toxic air they create, can lead to chronic disorders, including black lung, stonecutter’s disease, asbestosis, grinder’s rot, and pneumoconiosis, causing serious illnesses in about 200,000 workers annually in the United States, said The Times. More than 40,000 people in the U.S. die due to toxic exposure in the workplace, representing 10 times as many people who perish in headline-making catastrophes, such as refinery explosions, mine collapses, and other workplace accidents, The Times said.

Consider this, while there is a dearth of regulations on toxins and other dangerous chemicals, OSHA maintains two-dozen pages of regulations devoted to ladders and stairs. “I’m the first to admit this is broken,” David Michaels, the OSHA director, told The Times. “Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people end up on the gurney,” Michael added.

Firms continue to utilize dangerous chemicals while often denying workers claims that illnesses are related to work-place toxins. Fears of foreign competition and worries that other options are less effective, more dangerous, or more expensive, also affect these choices. nPB glues, which are cheap, strong, fast drying, and not regulated, were an easy choice. A glue salesman told North Carolina customers that nPB glue, which first began to be marketed in the late 1990s is, “so safe you can eat it,” said federal researchers, wrote The Times. “At worst, it’s a cheap high,” said plant workers, according to an official from an industry trade association, said The Times. Water-based glues were safer, but took longer to dry; to re-tool a plant for the safer options could be expensive—more than $1 million in some cases—while doubling a company’s glue costs, wrote The Times.

The links between exposure to toxins and the potential increased risks for a wide array of disorders has been long discussed. For instance, possible cancer clusters among U.S. military families and U.S. bases that were built or are positioned close to facilities or areas that handle or dispose of toxic chemicals, such as Agent Orange. We have also written that research reveals that the ubiquitous polycarbonate plastics chemical, bisphenol A (BPA), has been linked to adverse effects in nearly every bodily system, as does lead. Phthalates have been linked to a wide range of adverse side effects, and are the chemicals used to make plastic and vinyl more flexible and, like BPA, are part of a group of endocrine disruptors, which interfere with the body’s hormone system.

Other substances, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs); heavy metals such as mercury, lead, arsenic, and cadmium; pesticides; and pharmaceuticals, represent potent hazards that can wreak havoc on the body’s systems.

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