Are There Nano- and Microplastics in the Workplace?

A critical issue from an occupational health perspective is how workers might be exposed to Nano- and microplastic particles (NMPPs). While much attention has focused on these plastic particles in water and food, less attention has been paid to their presence in the air. Thus, inhalation of NMPPs in the workplace should be a major concern.

Workplaces such as waste management and recycling operations could expose workers to NMPPs from the degradation of synthetic products. Office or telephone workers and custodial staff can be exposed with synthetic fibers from the carpet, along with many other professions who can be vulnerable to airborne NMPPs from the breakdown of plastic.

Inhaling NMPPs can lead to toxicity that is not yet labeled partly due to their complex chemical makeup, varied sizes, and frequent combination with other hazards, resulting in mixed exposures. It can lead to adverse health effects, especially effecting the lungs when inhaled.

Presently there are no occupational exposure limits for nano- and microplastics. In the absence of occupational exposure limits for nano- and microplastics workplace safety efforts should focus on minimizing potential exposure through appropriate engineering controls such as isolation cabinets, exhaust ventilation, and utilizing good industrial hygiene practices.

This report investigates the increased manufacturing of PVC (polyvinyl chloride or vinyl) through state-sponsored labour transfers in China’s Uyghur Region and the routes by which the resulting building materials make their way into international markets. Research uncovers how a significant amount of PVC is made with forced labor.

This collaboration between the Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice at Sheffield Hallam University and Material Research found the following:

  • the Uyghur Region has become a world leader in the production of PVC plastics in recent years, accounting for 10% of the world’s PVC.
  • The two largest PVC manufacturers in China are both state-owned enterprises based in the XUAR:
    – Xinjiang Zhongtai Chemical (2.33 million tons per year, from four locations)
    – Xinjiang Tianye (1.4 million tons capacity per year, from one location).
  • All of the Uyghur Region’s PVC companies have been active participants in the XUAR’s notorious labour transfer programs.
  • Those companies export to 73 intermediary manufacturers, who then export PVC-based building materials to at least 158 companies worldwide.

Our planet is flooded with plastics. While nature, the climate, biodiversity, and human health suffer from the ever-increasing volumes of plastic waste, the fossil fuel industry continues to produce it and to profit from it.

This analysis reveals that the planned trade agreement between the EU and Mercosur (made up of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay) will eliminate tariffs for plastics exports from the EU to South America – including tariffs for plastic items whose trade and use are banned in the EU in order to protect the environment and human health, such as single-use plastic cutlery. This stands in stark contrast to ongoing negotiations over a Global Plastics Treaty to significantly reduce plastic production and phase out plastic pollution, as well as to EU legislation aimed at reducing plastic use and avoiding plastic waste. This planned trade agreement is a textbook case of double standards.

While people tend to feel like bioplastics are a more environmentally responsible single-use choice than conventional plastics, experts find a lack of awareness among people about how to appropriately dispose of bioplastics. What’s more, facilities that can handle bioplastics are not widely available.

This Upstream report was made to provide unbiased information and analysis to help venue managers, food concessionaires, and other industry leaders identify the most environmentally friendly options for beverages at music festivals, sports, and other forms of live entertainment. Learn why plastic-free reusable containers are the best option, and how reuse systems can be implemented to benefit people and the planet.

An estimated 242 million metric tons of plastic waste is generated globally every year, polluting our cities and our bodies and clogging the oceans. Plastic pollution has been linked to everything from infertility and cancer in humans to severe injury and death in wildlife. Unfortunately, the United States is one of the top generators.

We will never put an end to the plastics crisis without reducing the amount of plastic and toxic additives we put into the world. We should start by immediately phasing out the production and use of plastic polymers, chemical additives, and the types of plastic products that pose the greatest hazards and/or are unnecessary. For uses or functions of plastic that are currently essential, we must transition to safer materials.

This fact sheet provides a list of high-priority plastic targets that must be immediately phased out. These plastics, additives, and products pose significant hazards to human health and the environment, are difficult to recycle and/or interfere with mechanical recycling systems, and/or are purely unnecessary.