Handle With Care
The power generating industry, like most, has to pay close attention to health and safety issues pertinent to its components. In power generation, each component of the boiler has some special and unique issues (i.e. tubes and pressure parts that must contend with paint or coatings) that must be addressed. Brick, refractory and insulation are no exception. They have very specific health and safety issues and by all accounts, these issues are a factor on just about every type of refractory and/or insulation material available on the market today-not to mention the health and safety issues associated with the materials of products no longer manufactured but still found on existing construction.
For those in the power generating industry it’s important that they know everything about the health and safety issues involved with products they’re installing at their facilities. They must also familiarize themselves with products that exist on their boilers. For example, when doing a retrofit, it’s imperative to know ahead of time what products were installed on their steam or heat generating units or systems. Ignorance isn’t an excuse and it won’t save money when and if someone breaches an area that has material presenting a health or safety issue for workers removing or operating around the materials.
Litigation exposure potential can only be removed by educating yourselves and your workers on properly following the health safety requirements for all products, whether they are new or existing. This is especially important in protecting the health and safety of persons working in and around brick, refractory and insulation materials.
During brick installation, crystalline silica dust is created when bricks are cut by power saws. Crystalline silica dust is a serious and potentially fatal health threat. To prevent this, you should use, wherever possible, wet saws to cut the brick to reduce dust. Also, respirators or air masks should be used and exhaust fans will need to be installed (in cases where a heavy volume of brick cutting is being done). Ear and eye protection should always be used due to exposure to the high levels of noise made from the power saws and from flying particles.
For many years, OSHA has kept the power generating industry informed as to what products have been or might be classified as a carcinogen material. However, those working in and around the industry need to be aware of what, where, and how to protect themselves and those working for them. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency determined that some refractory materials being used in boiler settings contain chromium compounds as part of the refractory mixture. During operation some of the chromium compounds will be converted into a hexavalent chromium. What this means is that the initial refractory material didn’t represent a health problem, but when the refractory is removed it did. During operation of the unit some of the chromium compounds may be converted to CR+6. Thus, when the refractory material is removed, the created dust may thereby transport the hexavalent chromium. Inhaling CR+6 increases the risk of lung cancer and may also cause other health hazards.
Another serious problem involves those refractory products containing crystalline silica, which, when converted to dust, presents a potential health hazard if inhaled over a period of years. I recommend doing the following when removing or installing refractory material that contained crystalline silica or a chromium base product:
- Provide training, education and equipment to any personnel who will or may be in contact with the refractory.
- Provide proper monitoring of the removal process.
- Wear proper masks to prevent inhaling the refractory dust.
- Wear proper protective suits to prevent the refractory dust from coming in contact with the skin.
- Dispose the hexavalent CR3 refractory material in accordance with EPA regulations for disposal of Group 1 toxic substances.
The previous list is far from complete and there may be many other generic and brand name chromium-containing products that may have been used. It’s very important to check maintenance, purchasing, and supplier records, and also to check the original brick, refractory, and insulation specifications.
Ceramic Fiber Insulation
The list of products found and used in the power generating industry on steam-generating boilers includes some ceramic fiber products that contained chrome. Refractory ceramic fiber products do not contain a chrome + 6, but they have been classified per the Seventh Annual Report on Carcinogens as products reasonably anticipated to be a carcinogen based on sufficient evidence for the carcinogenicity of ceramic fibers in experimental animals (IARC V.43, 1988, along with NTP Volume 7, 1994). However, no data has been made available on the carcinogenicity of ceramic fibers to humans (IARC V.43, 1988).
OSHA regulates ceramic fibers under the Hazard Communication Standard. What this means is that refractory materials in general (those not containing chrome), must be handled with care. The ceramic fibers in the manufactured product are extremely sharp and can cause skin and upper respiratory irritation. The skin irritation can be caused if the broken ends of the ceramic fibers become embedded in the skin. The upper respiratory irritation is a reaction your body has to the sharp ends of the broken fibers.
To prevent skin and respiratory irritation you should do the following when handling ceramic fiber and refractory materials:
- Wear long-sleeved clothing and gloves.
- Wear head and eye protection including respirator or masks to prevent inhaling dust.
- Wash any exposed skin surface with soap and water after handling the ceramic fiber material.
- Wash RCF-soiled clothing frequently and separately from other clothing.
- Refrain from smoking, eating or drinking while working near RCF.
- Keep RCF work areas clean to prevent accumulation of debris on the floor surface.
- Use high efficiency particulate air filters for clean-up tasks. If using HEPA filters aren’t feasible, wet sweep or use dust-suppressing compounds.
- Refrain from using compressed air to clean work clothes and other contaminated surfaces.
- Refrain from using power tools to cut or drill RCF products.
I recommend following the above suggestions and also paying close attention to those recommended by the refractory manufacturer’s MSD sheets for optimizing safe handling and installation practices.
Many refractory applications require the application of a parting agent to prevent the refractory from sticking to a tube, pipe or anchor that it’s being used around. Using coal tar emulsion products has become another health and safety issue. Coal tar emulsion products contain ingredients made from crude oil and mineral ores. The ingredients of these coal tar emulsions (i.e. Bitumastic Super Service Black paint) are classified a carcinogen, and appropriate work practice must be used. Once applied, these products represent no health or safety danger, but the initial installation of such products should be avoided.
Insulation, like refractories and brick, require special handling during installation and/or removal. The fibers that make up any aglassy or vitreous filaments are extremely sharp and can cause skin and upper respiratory irritation. The skin irritation can be caused if the broken ends of the ceramic fibers become embedded in the skin. The upper respiratory irritation is a reaction by your body to the sharp ends of the broken fibers. To prevent skin and respiratory irritation you should do the following when handling insulation:
- Wear long-sleeved clothing and gloves.
- Wear head and eye protection, including respirators or masks to prevent dust inhalation.
- Wash any exposed skin surface with soap and water after handling the insulation material.
- Wash soiled clothing frequently and separately from other clothing.
- Avoid breathing the dust when installing insulation products.
- Use some dust collection method or apparatus to capture the dust, or provide adequate ventilation during installation.
Follow the previously listed suggestions, along with those recommended by the refractory manufacturer’s MSD sheets to optimize safe handling and installation practices.
There are many different types of materials manufactured from different minerals. Always check the MSD sheets before installing or handling insulation material. Any insulation material that contains crystalline silica greater than 0.1 percent by weight requires a cancer warning. In addition, breathing dust from such products and materials may cause lung damage. Exposure to the dust may also cause irritation to the skin, eyes, and respiratory track.
In years past insulation was manufactured using an asbestos base material. Asbestos insulation materials have been classified a carcinogen material. Special attention and careful removal practices must be adhered to for health and safety reasons. Your maintenance, purchasing, and supplier records, along with your original insulation specifications, should be reviewed to determine whether and/or where the asbestos containing products were used.
Proper material selection and proper preventive practices, such as knowing your installed materials, will prevent any and all potentially dangerous and health-threatening issues. Read your MSD sheets, review your original bril specifications and always follow OSHA and material manufacturer’s handling and installation recommendations. No one wins in health and safety litigation, because the damage has already been done. Only by paying close attention and by following all health and safety requirements can those working in the power generating industry protect the health and safety of people working in and around brick, refractory and insulation materials.