Indoor Air Quality and the Aerospace / Cadmium Relationship

Indoor Air Quality and the Aerospace / Cadmium Relationship 1

At the time the Wright brothers completed their first successful flight in 1903, adventurers and aeronautic enthusiasts had been manufacturing on a small scale in shops and garages around the US and Europe, hoping for any public achievement that might underscore their efforts. By 1918, significant WWI military jet advancements paved the way for aircraft design to travel the road to mass production.

Today, aerospace manufacturing refers to any company or individual involved in the designing, building, testing, selling, or maintenance of aircraft, parts, missiles, rockets and/or spacecraft. The industry employs a vast range of occupations including scientists, engineers, technicians and aeronautic production workers. The chief production categories at manufacturing plants are metal work, machinery and tool fabrication, assembly and installation. Many production workers serve as riveters, processors and welders, all jobs that handle metals – and contain considerable health risks.

For example, when working with metals, toxic air pollutants are often emitted into a worker’s breathing space. These contaminants can have a serious impact on a worker’s wellbeing. The effects of the pollutants depend on numerous variables: the duration and frequency of exposure, the physical condition of the worker at the time of exposure, and the type and amount of toxins emitted all play a role in the severity of ailments that result.1 But none are more important than the toxicity of the pollutant.

Take cadmium, for example. A soft, pliable minor metallic element, cadmium is naturally occurring and ever-present in the earth’s crust and waters and is found most often in zinc ores. Discovered in 1817 in Germany as a by-product of the zinc refining process, cadmium was first used as a pigment due to the brilliant red, yellow and orange colors it produces. Today, it is valued for its many attributes; namely, it’s corrosion defying properties. 2 Layers of cadmium are applied to building metals as a means to withstand deterioration and lubricate metal joints. Cadmium is also good for electrical conductivity, easy soldering 3 and is commonly used in alloys, veneers, stabilizers, and pigments, not to mention batteries and solar cells. 2 Unfortunately, cadmium is highly toxic.

Besides inhalation, the routes of exposure are varied, depending on the job being performed. Workers can inhale cadmium dust, fumes, or mists 5 but cadmium can also settle on skin and contaminate food and clothing. Elimination, avoidance, or containment of this noxious substance is imperative as contact with cadmium can damage the body’s cardiovascular, renal, gastrointestinal, neurological, reproductive, and respiratory systems. Cadmium is a known carcinogen. 4

Luckily, health standards have been set by government agencies including the FDA and EPA in order to protect the general public from excess cadmium exposure from various sources. But it is OSHA who has set the standards to specifically protect employees from workplace contact with the substance. 6 These federal standards should offer the aerospace workforce some amount of reassurance but total protection will require constant attention on the part of their industry leaders.

The US Department of Labor has said that the most effective way to prevent exposure to a hazardous metal such as cadmium is through elimination or substitution. When that is not possible, protective measures such as engineering and work-practice controls should be employed. 5

At Air Systems Inc, we are experts in the field of air impurities removal. Our customers in the aerospace industry rely on our experience and high quality indoor air filtration products to save them time and money while boosting their production efficiency and protecting their workers. Contact one of our IAQ specialists today for a free clean air analysis.