ChemFree - Environmental Technology Product News Release

November/December 1998 -- Solutions for Solvent Danger

By Beatriz J. Fontanive

Assistant Editor (Used with permission)

Recent medical studies show that workers may be afflicted with a variety of problems, including depression, memory loss, and post-traumatic stress disorder, resulting from the solution they use to clean their machine parts.  Following recommended safety measures may simply not be enough to protect workers, this new medical evidence suggests.

Knowledge is the best defense for the millions of Americans who use solvents on a regular basis, as well as their employers.  Information on the solvent's effects must be considered when implementing health and safety measures.  If solvent use can be replaced with another cleaning procedure, it may significantly reduce adverse effects on workers.  Forty-nine million metric tons of solvents are produced yearly in the U.S.   These solvents are used by almost 10 million Americans on a daily basis-a significant number through the use of solvent-based parts washers.  Medical studies, such as Solvents and Neurotoxicity by R.F. White and S.P. Proctor, have shown that users of solvents may be affected by fatigue, depression, confusion, attention deficit, memory loss, tingling, numbness, loss of smell, muscle weakness, and irritability through skin contact and breathing..  Exposure symptoms generally affect the central nervous system or the peripheral nervous system.  Although symptoms may subside if the patient is removed from the toxic environment, long-term exposure cases may produce long lasting and permanent effects, including cognitive and behavioral changes.  These symptoms are irreversible.  Compounding the problem, treatment options are limited and early diagnosis is difficult.  Therefore, primary prevention is imperative to ensure worker safety.

Solvents of concern, including mineral spirits, are liquids volatile at room temperature.  Absorbed through skin contact and/or inhalation, they build up in fatty tissue.  Many workers in paint and varnish manufacturing and application, automotive manufacturing and repair, the electronics, industry, metal degreasing are affected, as are those workers involved in common industrial machinery parts cleaning.

White & Proctor note that the past 25 years have produced numerous studies documenting the neurotoxicity of solvents.  Investigations have included neurophysiological methods such as Computed Tomography, SPECT, evoked potentials, sensory examination of the central and peripheral nervous systems with MRI, nerve condition and reflex testing.

A Number of recent studies have used neurophysiological assessment techniques of cognitive function, mood and personality aberrations and motor function through interviews, questionnaires, and written tests.  These investigative techniques have uncovered new evidence that many workers suffer "serious symptoms without being obviously or clinically ill.  Scientists and clinicians are now discovering the magnitude of a problem that was previously below their radar.  Many people experiencing nervous system effects of solvent exposure are aware their symptoms are related to the use of organic solvents, but most are not."

Low dose, acute exposure tests show improvement once the patient is removed from the situation.  Chronic exposure has shown to create permanent changes in attention span, problem solving abilities, mood and memory, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and motivational disorders also occur.

Patients with solvent exposure disorders have limited options for treatment.  The possible options include: 1. Removal of worker from solvent contact; 2. Treatment of headaches or dizziness; 3. Improvement of arousal and motivation through the use of stimulant treatments; 4. Psychotherapy, and/or anxiolytic treatment (for patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder).

According to White & Proctor, "because early diagnosis is difficult in most clinical settings and because treatment options are limited in number and effectiveness, it is essential that industry and public health authorities focus on primary prevention of long-term exposure to volatile solvents."  In addition, the new studies show that "chronic, long-term exposure at levels below the recommended standards has produced evidence of nervous system dysfunction."  Based on this information, the alternative for employers may be installation of a new cleaning system.

Parts washing without toxic solvents is possible, in the form of a new technology from ChemFree Corp.  This solvent alternative, called OzzyJuice®, combines with a sink and filter to create the SmartWasher system.  The system uses no hazardous solvents.   Using bioremediation and naturally-occurring microbes, the OzzyJuice® solution, an industrial strength degreaser, eats oil, grease, and contaminants.  The fluid never needs to be changed.  With typical use, 80% of hydrocarbons will be remediated within seven days.  The OzzyJuice® product features an aqueous-based cleaning solution, no known carcinogens, no OSHA or DOT regulated chemicals, no flash point, no VOCs, and it is certified by AQMD, USDA, and ETL.  In addition, it eliminates the generation of liquid hazardous waste, chemical waste storage, handling, and transport problems.

Unlike mineral spirits which dissolve grease, this product breaks the surface tension of the grease and lifts it off the part.  As a part is washed, the solution lifts the grime from the part.  The parts brush, or adjustable faucet, rinses the grease and oil from the part.  Contaminants, oil, and grease are rinsed through the sink.   The filter pad, located under the sink, traps the larger particles as the remainder flows into the sink.  The OzzyJuice® in the sink then breaks down the hydrocarbons into water and carbon dioxide.  The carbon dioxide is released into the air, and the water is eliminated through evaporation.  Therefore, there is no sludge build-up or need for solids removal.  This new technology provides a simple solution to the problems solvents can create for workers.

References:  Medical information from Solvents and Neurotoxicity by R.F. White and S.P. Proctor.  Product information courtesy of ChemFree, www.chemfree.com, (770-564-5580).