Coffee roasters found to have dangerous chemicals in air, sick workers electricity use in the us


NIOSH does not disclose the names of the companies where it conducts its research, known as “Health Hazard Evaluations,” to protect the privacy of the companies which all invited the agency in to help identify risks to workers. The agency does not have enforcement authority for workplace safety, but makes recommendations on standards to OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The CDC’s probe into the coffee industry followed a 2015 investigation by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that exposed how naturally occurring diacetyl and 2,3-pentanedione endanger the roughly 750,000 workers working in coffee operations in the U.S.

The importance of the issue continues to grow as the industry booms with boutique roasters. The overall number of establishments that list coffee or tea manufacturing as their primary business has climbed 42% since 2014, according to figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Journal Sentinel investigation also detailed how five workers at a Texas coffee roasting facility became gravely ill from a serious and sometimes fatal lung disease called bronchiolitis obliterans. One worker was put on the waiting list for a lung transplant.

At the time, little was known by many in the coffee industry about naturally occurring emissions from coffee. The compounds are a byproduct of fermentation, formed when coffee is roasted, and released in greater amounts when the beans are ground.

NIOSH, the division of the CDC studying the coffee facilities, recommends workers not be exposed to an average of more than 5 parts per billion of diacetyl over an 8-hour workday, and 9.3 parts per billion of 2,3-pentanedione. The standard applies to both the naturally occurring and synthetically made chemicals.

Data in the new NIOSH on-site reports , published between January 2017 and April 2018, show workers were exposed to levels exceeding the federal recommendation in 10 of the 11 facilities. At two operations, the levels reached 25 and 26 parts per billion. Asthma was common, along with eyes and nose irritation.

“Our findings of upper and lower respiratory symptoms…and abnormalities in lung function testing…suggest a burden of respiratory problems in this workforce,” the February 2018 report from a visit to the company, says. Steps companies can take

There is no way for coffee companies to know the levels of the chemicals without having the air tested by an industrial hygienist —something NIOSH suggests they do. Even places with little odor and seemingly large, airy spaces have been found with elevated levels.

Local exhaust systems can also pull the toxic fumes away from workers’ lungs. In areas where coffee is ground and packaged — and levels of diacetyl and 2,3-pentanedione are among the highest — local exhaust would greatly reduce exposure, Bailey said.

Workers should also keep their faces away from the bins when scooping coffee beans. As the beans release gases in the containers, the dangerous fumes build up. Then when lids are opened, workers can be blasted with extremely high levels of chemicals.