For over 80 years, industrial professionals have known of the health hazards that are created by sandblasting with silica sand, a once common sandblasting media. When blasting with sand, the particles fragment when they collide with the surface. This dust that is created frequently enters the lungs of the workers doing the blasting and those around them. Once in the lungs, this dust creates a number of ailments, most notably silicosis which can lead to death. Due to these issues, many European countries have banned silica sandblasting - some as early as 1947.
Soon after learning of these health risks, abrasive suppliers developed other grits to use in sandblasting equipment as an alternative to dangerous silica sand media. Unfortunately these new medias have had their own hazards. For example, sandblasting substitute coal slag can expose workers to beryllium- a chemical known to cause lung cancer.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) states in their Abrasive Blasting Materials Fact Sheet, “Employers must protect workers from hazardous dust levels and toxic metals that may be generated from both the blasting material and the underlying substrate and coatings being blasted." The fact sheet notes both common abrasive blasting materials as well as alternative, less toxic blasting materials. Sponge media is the only abrasive listed under the "less toxic" section that is able to produce a profile on steel.
Risks from the Surface
It’s not just the abrasive media that is exposing workers to workplace triggered health problems. Sometimes the surfaces that are being cleaned are composed of particles that are harmful when they become airborne and inhaled. Blasting concrete, brick, or tile can release silica into the air. Lead can become a “Hazardous Air Pollutant” (HAPS) if a surface coated in lead paint is sandblasted.
PPE and HAPS
Many in the abrasive blasting industry only use respirators or other PPE (personal protective equipment) as the main line of defense against these hazards.
Jack Innis writes in PCE, “According to Queensland, Australia's, Abrasive Blasting Code of Practice, a hierarchy exists that ranks ways to minimize potential health issues. The best possible way (Elimination) eradicates a hazard by removing the associated risk. The second best (Substitution) replaces a substance or a process with one that has less potential to cause injury. The next best solution (Isolation/Engineering) changes the work environment or process to interrupt the path between the worker and the risk. The penultimate solution (Administration) reduces risk by upgrading training, changing rosters, or other administrative actions. The least desirable option (Personal Protective Equipment) should be used only, ‘if risk cannot be reduced in any other way, as a last resort.”
Several methods of reducing HAPS are noted in the PCE article, including Sponge Media due to it’s 99% dustless blasting abilities.
Mr. Innis writes about Sponge-Jet’s composite sponge abrasive, “Composite abrasive blast systems employ various combinations of abrasives encapsulated within a non-toxic, non-hazardous urethane sponge material to suppress dust at the source. The pliant sponge material flattens on impact, which exposes the abrasive and entraps the vast majority of what would have become HAPS.”
To view the PCE Article, click here