Workplace exposure and release of ultrafine particles during atmospheric plasma spraying in the ceramic industry

Atmospheric plasma spraying (APS) is a frequently used technique to produce enhanced-property coatings for different materials in the ceramic industry. This work aimed to characterise and quantify the impact of APS on workplace exposure to airborne particles, with a focus on ultrafine particles (UFPs, < 100 nm) and nanoparticles (< 50 nm). Particle number, mass concentrations, alveolar lung deposited surface area concentration, and size distributions, in the range 10 nm–20 μm were simultaneously monitored at the emission source, in the potential worker breathing zone, and in outdoor air. Different input materials (known as feedstock) were tested: (a) micron-sized powders, and (b) suspensions containing submicron- or nano-sized particles. Results evidenced significantly high UFP concentrations (up to 3.3 × 106/cm3) inside the spraying chamber, which impacted exposure concentrations in the worker area outside the spraying chamber (up to 8.3 × 105/cm3). Environmental release of UFPs was also detected (3.9 × 105/cm3, outside the exhaust tube). Engineered nanoparticle (ENP) release to workplace air was also evidenced by TEM microscopy. UFP emissions were detected during the application of both micron-sized powder and suspensions containing submicron- or nano-sized particles, thus suggesting that emissions were process- (and not material-) dependent. An effective risk prevention protocol was implemented, which resulted in a reduction of UFP exposure in the worker area. These findings demonstrate the potential risk of occupational exposure to UFPs during atmospheric plasma spraying, and raise the need for further research on UFP formation mechanisms in high-energy industrial processes.

Source: Viana, M., Fonseca, A. S., Querol, X., López-Lilao, A., Carpio, P., Salmatonidis, A., & Monfort, E. (2017). Science of The Total Environment.

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