Solving a toxic problem

Solving a toxic problem

Hazardous solvents are regularly used in the plumbing industry yet can cause serious damage if handled incorrectly. Simeon Barut outlines some appropriate measures to minimise the risks.

It’s no secret that when plumbing jobs need to be completed around a home, doing it right the first time is imperative. Involved with this is the use of primers, pipe cements and sealants that prevent the need for repair even years after completion.

While the hazardous solvents needed for these works pose numerous threats to human safety, they’re often forgotten due to the fact that they’re used on a daily basis and plumbers can become complacent when handling them.

Bostik product manager Daniel Jakobovic says that the three most popular solvents currently are MEK (butanone), acetone and cyclohexanone, which have become increasingly popular over the past few years due to their low flashpoint, meaning they evaporate faster than other chemicals.

While the convenience of use with these materials is unmatched, their harmful effects can vary depending on how long the person is exposed to them and in what way they’re exposed. While exposure is common through inhalation, contact to skin and in extreme situations, contact to eyes.

“A lot of these solvents are obviously made for the priming, cleaning and joining of PVC pipes and dependent on how much exposure plumbers have to them, the side effects vary a lot,” says Daniel.

“If inhaled, symptoms often include nose and throat irritation and in severe circumstances, high concentrations can will impact the central nervous system – similar to alcohol – and make the user dizzy, sleepy and confused.

“When it comes to being in contact with skin, the symptoms aren’t as serious but can cause mild irritation which normally leads to dry skin. The reason for this is the solvents essentially strip the oils from the skin and starve it of any nutrients that your skin would produce normally.

“Finally, contact to the eyes causes severe irritation and should be treated by immediately flushing the eyes with clean running water and seeking immediate medical attention.

As a result, it’s no secret that the handling procedures involved with these solvents are important to the health and safety of those who use it. Daniel says that it’s highly recommended to handle any solvent in a well ventilated area. This prevents the concentration level increasing to a point that would cause the user to get dizzy or feel drowsy and disorientated.

Moreover, if the user finds themselves in confined areas then using extractor fans and taking regular breaks significantly reduces the effects of the solvents through inhalation.

It is also important to wear the appropriate safety equipment which covers all exposed skin. Items included in this are chemical goggles (accompanied by a breathing mask), highly durable safety shoes, overalls and chemical resistant safety gloves.

Often, the misuse – or lack of – safety equipment is where the majority of problems arise. Plumbers try to cut corners and avoid putting in place measures that would take extra time as they’re already trying to stick to a strict schedule. As a result, exposure is more likely and depending on how it is applied, can cause serious long term damage to the user.

Daniel says that while there is a plethora of information on the safety procedures and requirements that come with popular solvents, labelling of these products has improved to make plumbers more aware.

“GHS packaging laws were mandated on 1 January 2017 to enforce new rules regarding the representation of hazard and health risks present on packaging for all chemicals,” says Daniel.

“Warnings are now much clearer and more obvious and handling instructions have been standardised to reduce confusion and the risk of error when leaving these decisions up to the manufacturer.”

Moving forward, companies like Bostik are working tirelessly to come up with new technology in the space of chemical bonding in the hopes of creating products that move away from solvent based technologies.

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