FRP like any other application of science and technology produces waste and pollutants. Proper control has to be exercised to ensure their disposal for our safety. Environmental control, therefore, must form part of our manufacturing strategy from day one.
Strong federal and state laws exist in the western countries for the prevention of environmental pollution but such laws either do not exist or are not noticeably practiced in India, where environmental control is even more crucial due to high population density and lack of public awareness.
In this article on Health Hazards of FRP, we attempt to bring in this awareness so that we can realize what we deal with in the industry and how to mitigate the issues.
On our part, CSRPL is now seriously considering the introduction of low styrene emission resins, especially those based on DCPD, to give our customers the advantage of the latest advancement in Technology. These resins have proven to significantly reduce styrene emission besides giving improved electrical and thermal performance.
In the long run, you would find that a control strategy is better as this would not only improve working conditions in your factory but also lead to significant cost Savings.
What Are The Hazards?
Current FRP moulding techniques practiced in India present moulders with potential pollution and safety problems. There are no strict guidelines about storing of materials, disposing of contaminated solvents or handling of highly flammable liquids and vapours.
Most FRP raw materials that we know, are quite hazardous. Resins generally have a flashpoint of less than 37°C. This means vapours of these products can ignite at temperatures lower than 37°C., if brought in contact with a direct ignition source. The lower the flashpoint, the more flammable is the material. Acetone with a flashpoint of -10°C is extremely flammable. Rags soaked in MEKP can self-ignite. MEKP and promoter/accelerator can explode when directly Mixed.
Flammability is not the only risk factor when dealing with FRP raw materials. Skin contact with resin can cause dermatitis. In addition, most polyester resins contain styrene, a known health hazard.
Styrene is 3.5 times heavier than air and has a flash point of 31 deg C. If a polymerization inhibitor is not present in sufficient amount, styrene can polymerize and explode in its Container.
Styrene affects the central nervous system. It can cause peripheral neuropathy, skin disease, and abnormal pulmonary function. It is considered to be liver toxic and carcinogenic.
Styrene can enter the body via inhalation or skin contact. Breathing styrene fumes can cause headache nausea and drowsiness. Long-term exposure can also cause liver damage, memory loss, and personality change.
MEKP is an organic peroxide. Although it has a flashpoint of higher than 37 °C, it poses a unique fire hazard due to its active oxygen content. Fire initiated by MEKP is difficult to extinguish. It is an irritant to the skin & nose. It begins to breakdown normal skin tissue after contact in about 90 seconds causing redness followed by blistering.
The real danger of MEKP on your hand or gloves are the potential of transmission to other more sensitive areas such as eyes or face, where serious damage can occur.
Expert Tip –
If the catalyst is near the eye make sure not to direct the contamination into your eyes inadvertently. Flush the site with lots of cool water, then wash with mild soap and rinse again.
MEKP can also affect the lungs and central nervous system besides being a potential explosive hazard. Consequently, MEKP should always be stored in semi-filled plastic containers in a cool place.
Acetone is used as a solvent for cleaning purposes. It is a colourless liquid with a mint-like odour. It can react violently with acids and oxidizing agents.
Acetone is an irritant to the eyes, nose, throat, and skin. It also acts as a vehicle for carrying harmful chemicals including resins percutaneously. Despite its large-scale use, acetone is still classified as a hazardous chemical.
Expert Tip –
When working with acetone or other volatile organic including styrene and resin you should have plenty of fresh air and avoid all sources of ignition.
Adequate provision should also be made to allow dissipation of static electricity through proper Earthing.
Other Substances –
In addition to the above, there are other pollutants such as airborne solids, glass reinforcement, FRP dust, FRP waste, gelled polyester resin, etc., whose harmful effect on plant and animal kingdom have not been carefully studied but they pose acute health hazards and waste disposal problems.
A dust mask is essential while sanding, grinding, or cutting FRP. Gloves and long sleeve shirts that minimize skin contact with dust are also advisable. Skin contact with FRP dust and glass fiber can lead to severe itching and rashes.
How To Control The Hazards
Most FRP raw materials need special care in handling and storing to avoid the health damages they may cause in your work premises. Each of these materials has specific dangers and needs to be mitigated accordingly.
From Styrene –
Styrene exposure is best controlled through the use of good engineering and work practices. For situations where engineering controls are not feasible, respiratory protection is recommended. Styrene can be safely stored in carbon steel or stainless steel tanks.
No copper or copper alloy should be allowed to come in contact with the liquid. Copper can discolour the styrene and lead to premature polymerization and the risk of explosion in some cases.
From MEKP –
MEKP, as stated earlier is exceptionally dangerous. It can cause blindness on contact. Flush eyes with cool water
instantly for at least 10 minutes and get medical attention immediately if this happens.
Some Common Guidelines for Handling FRP Raw Materials –
1. Always wear gloves. Nitrile gloves provide the best protection against styrene. Change dirty gloves often.
2. Work in ventilated areas. Avoid inhalation of fumes from resins, hardeners & solvents.
3. Use an adequate respirator if ventilation is not good. Ensure that respirator or mask fits correctly.
4. Do not use acetone for cleaning hands.
5. Use long mixing sticks, if manual mixing is desired.
6. Never use hands to smooth air bubbles.
7. Minimize skin contact with glass fiber or resin.
8. Earth resin & solvent drums during transfer.
9. Always wear safety goggles.
10. Have an emergency eyewash station in the work area.