Soldiers help advance technology to guard against toxins in workplace
November 28, 2012
The air hung heavy with a cornucopia of odors in the 563rd Aviation Support Battalion maintenance bay at Fort Campbell, Ky., Nov. 27-29.
Soldiers with 563rd ASB, 159th Combat Aviation Brigade, participated in the naphthalene sensor validation study, conducted by U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
The purpose of the study was to test the ability of the newly-developed, wearable dosimeter to measure levels efficiently and accurately of naphthalene, a component found in jet fuels and other petroleum products, as well as cigarettes, moth balls and toilet deodorant blocks.
"This particular study is to validate this new instrument, to test whether that instrument is actually measuring what it's supposed to," said Dr. Susan Proctor, a research epidemiologist with the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine. "Right now we're just testing to see if it works."
This was part of a multiple-phase study on naphthalene exposure in the workplace. Most importantly, this study was testing new equipment against current indicators to validate its sensitivity.
"Phase one is to validate (the instrument) as a sensor," Proctor said. "Phase two is to validate it as a dosimeter, so we'll have guys wear the instrument, and also collect urine, dermal and breath samples."
The commercial use of this device will likely be something similar to carbon monoxide detectors, Proctor said.
"It could be designed to (be worn), but not everybody needs to wear it, depending on what job they're doing," she said.
Naphthalene is a product to which mechanics, fuelers and aircrew members are exposed daily.
Proctor said at high levels, it can affect the central nervous system.
According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control's website, naphthalene has caused cancer in lab animals.
"Based on the results from animal studies, the Department of Health and Humans Services (DHHS) concluded that naphthalene is reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen," it says.
"We have supervisors on the ground to make sure Soldiers (are observing safety measures)," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Juan Romero, the battalion maintenance officer. "These Soldiers may be unaware of hazards, and that's what the safety NCOs are there for."
"We're exposed to exhaust fumes, oil spills, fluids from the vehicles spilling on us at times, the fumes from the fuel and oil," said Spc. Kevin Marberry, a wheeled vehicle mechanic with Company A, 563rd ASB.
He said he was privy to dangers in the workplace, though he had not heard of naphthalene until recently.
Marberry said naphthalene in the workplace does not worry him, and Proctor said she feels he is justified.
"If there is a reason to test whether there is naphthalene in the air, the Army would bring in industrial hygienists," Proctor said. "They would come in with (larger instruments) and walk around to where people are working, gathering air samples. Those air samples would be sent off to a lab and measured. The lab would determine if there was naphthalene in the air."
Currently, the Army takes conventional precautions against exposure to toxins.
"Ventilation is the key," Romero said. "There is exhaust from running vehicles, so we use the ventilation system that's already part of the building, which is basically a suction fan hooked up to the exhaust pipe and that sucks out to the outside of the building. We also keep the bay doors open to ensure air flow."
Naturally, the maintenance bay has eye wash and shower stations for immediate care to minimize damage due to chemical contact.
"We have precautions in place," Marberry said. "I wear rubber gloves when I'm working, so it doesn't soak into my skin, eye protection, and wash my hands often."
"One of the main missions of our safety NCOs is to make sure our Soldiers are wearing the right safety gear before they start doing their job - eye protection, head protection, gloves, steel-toed boots and coveralls," Romero said.
Proctor said the results the team gathered so far have shown minimal exposure to naphthalene, which, while that is promising for the Soldiers exposed to the chemical, may require more examination of the instrument to determine its validity.
"This instrument measures for naphthalene, but if the technology works, we'd like to test for other chemicals that are found in petroleum," she said. "It would protect them from (exposure to) high levels by warning them to put on protective gear."
If the naphthalene detector should come out on the market, it is one more safety measure available to protect the Army's best assets, its Soldiers.
Our priorities are to take care of our Soldiers," Romero said. "By the same token, the mission of these Soldiers is to maintain the equipment, so if they get hurt or sick, and they're not able to do their jobs, then they can't do their mission. We have to take care of them."
"Everybody's a safety officer," Marberry said. "Safety is everyone's responsibility."