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Colin: My Internship Project

My Internship Project

By Colin V.

This summer I have been an Environmental Health and Safety intern at Seacast, an investment casting foundry in Seattle and Marysville, Washington. My main summer project was to help design and implement a new fume collection system for plasma cutting. When an operator uses a plasma torch to cut metal, combustible metal dust and other fumes are generated. Of primary concern is Hexavalent Chromium, also known as Hex Chrome. Hex chrome is a sub-micron particulate that can have adverse health effects at low levels of exposure. The PEL set by OSHA is just 0.5 µg/m^3 as an 8-hour time-weighted average. Adverse health effects that can arise from hex chrome exposure include eye irritation or damage, skin ulcers, respiratory irritation and asthma, and lung cancer. The operator wears a Powered Air Purifying Respirator (PAPR) that provides a filtered air supply to a welding helmet. Implementing a fume collection system would reduce operator exposure and the potential exposure to other workers.

To collect these fumes, I have helped design a system that would use a wet dust collector to quench and collect flammable metal dust, followed by a HEPA filter bank on the end of the ventilation duct would capture any sub-micron particles that pass through the dust collector. In order to design this unit, I have been working with several Seacast employees: the Corporate EHS Manager, the Seattle operations manager, an aerospace engineer, and the foundry manager. To help visualize the setup of the system, I spent part of a day learning how to use a basic CAD program. This allowed me to create 3D mock-ups of the complete system in different arrangements. Using the CAD program made a huge difference in creating a visualization for others to understand, especially when compared to hand-drawn sketches.

The design process is almost entirely complete. Now we are in the process of submitting a Notice of Construction to Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. With the current backlog of projects awaiting approval, we found out that it could take up to 4 months for our project to be approved. Since I have to return to school, it is unlikely that I will be able to fully implement the dust collection system and conduct air sampling. However, all of my design and process notes up to this point will likely be used by the team to implement the collection system upon approval.

Tackling Silica Exposures in the Workplace – ERC Trainee Interns at Local Foundry

Tackling Silica Exposures in the Workplace – ERC Trainee Interns at Local Foundry

On June 23, 2018 the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a final rule on respirable crystalline silica – a dangerous particle present in many construction, maritime, and general industry workplaces across the nation.

Silica01Inhaling very small, or “respirable”, silica particles is known to cause multiple, serious diseases including silicosis, lung cancer, COPD, and kidney disease. It has also been listed by the American Cancer Society, World Health Organization, and the National Institutes of Health as a known human carcinogen. Yet, up until recently, workplace health and safety standards for occupational exposure to respirable silica offered very minimal protection to workers.

In light of the recently issued final rule, and mounting evidence of the negative health effects of respirable silica exposure, companies nation-wide are revamping their safety procedures, implementing engineering controls and offering higher levels of protection to their employees.

One such company is a local investment casting foundry, SeaCast Inc., where Exposure Sciences Master’s Student, Robert Vannice, has been working as an intern as part of his training through the Northwest Center for Occupational Health and Safety (NWCOHS) Education and Research Center (ERC). Robert’s work with SeaCast Inc. is to help develop engineering and administrative controls to lower worker’s exposure to respirable crystalline silica, with the overall goal of eliminating the required use of respiratory protection by the workers.

metal pouring in casting line productionIn a foundry setting, workers are exposed to silica during the process of removing cooled metal from casting shells. After metal has been poured into casting shells and has cooled, the shell needs to be removed from the metal. The removal of the shell is primarily conducted by a pneumatic knock-off hammer that vibrates the shell off of the metal casting. “This process produces respirable crystalline silica dust, and my project is to design effective engineering and administrative controls to bring worker exposures to respirable crystalline silica below the permissible exposure limit, and hopefully below the action limit” explains Robert.

As a company with a reputation for safety, and a long-standing relationship with the UW Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, SeaCast was enthusiastic in bringing Robert on as an intern. Jerry McCaslin, Corporate Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) Manger, serves as Robert’s internship mentor, helping Robert tackle the silica problem and practice his real-world environmental health and safety (EHS) skills.

IMG_2600“My role was to design, from scratch, a local exhaust ventilation system with integrated dust collection system to capture respirable crystalline silica from two sources and draw it away from the worker, and reduce or eliminate levels of respirable silica from being discharged into the atmosphere outside the foundry, along with a reduction of noise exposure to the foundry workers” explains Robert. His work is guided by four key aims: evaluate baseline respirable crystalline silica exposures through air monitoring and analysis of previous air monitoring data, design exposure controls for crystalline silica and noise, evaluate the exposure controls, and finally, develop a silica exposure control plan.

In addition to designing the new exhaust ventilation system, Robert has had the opportunity to practice his other EHS skills during his internship. As an intern, Robert has experienced the day-to-day life of an EHS professional by conducting emergency response training with employees, performing weekly EHS inspections, calibrating equipment, and coordinating and facilitating safety committee meetings. He has also been involved in performing ergonomic assessments, managing hazardous waste generation, storage, and disposal, and sampling for hazards including silica, noise, welding fumes, and hexavalent chromium.

“The most interesting thing that I have discovered so far is the complexity and operations in the fields of environmental, health, and safety,” says Robert, “My internship advisor, Jerry McCaslin, and my project advisor, Marty Cohen, have been extremely supportive in my work, and I have also had the opportunity to work alongside experienced engineering professionals who have been mentors to me in many aspects of this project. This internship has provided me with the opportunities to directly apply the skills and knowledge I learned as an ERC trainee in Exposure Sciences, resulting in better health and safety protections for workers.”

To learn more about academic training programs through the University of Washington’s Northwest Center for Occupational Health and Safety please visit: deohs.washington.edu/nwcohs