According to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), more than 40,000 deaths happen each year due to chemical exposure at the workplace, making it the eighth leading cause of death in the U.S.
In May of last year, PEER opened a Worker Right-to-Know website that will help people learn about chemical exposure based on the past 30 years of Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) readings. The website gives workers a guide to awareness and safety regarding workers’ health.
Chemical exposures on the job eventually can cause cancer, neurological damage or breakdown, cardiopulmonary disease, and other chronic issues such as the “popcorn lung”, or obliterative bronchiolitis, caused from the inhalation of diacetyl and 2,3 pentanedione (a diacetyl substitute).
Diacetyl and 2,3 pentanedione are chemicals that produce a buttery or creamy flavoring. They can found in microwave popcorn, flavored coffee, ready-to-mix desserts, oil sprays, and can even be found in of e-cigarette flavorings.
Chemical exposures can happen easily, even when absorbed through the skin, as in the case of benzene. Benzene is a flammable liquid, and the vapors have the potential to form explosive mixtures. Prolonged or heavy exposure to benzene can cause many serious illnesses including myalgia, ventricular fibrillation, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and multiple myeloma to name a few.
Each year, thousands of new chemicals make their way into the U.S. workplaces, and OSHA is having difficulty keeping up with sampling and inspecting the health and safety at facilities that handle hazardous material.
PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch stated that chemical exposure allowed at the workplace is 1,000 times higher than in the general environment around us. “More Americans die each year from workplace chemical exposure than from all highway accidents, yet we have no national effort to stem this silent occupational epidemic,” Rush said. “In the U.S., environmental protection stops at the factory door.”