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Lung diseases

Fiberglass Cutting

04/15/2010

Question:

I recently cut textile fiberglass (not rolled insulation) panels (epoxy with fiberglass) in a confined space with a power saw. The dust was everywhere and even sprayed in my face a few times. I wore a rag over my face while cutting, was exposed for a few hours. My questions: - I didn`t have any symptoms except a slight weeze that night, but none the next day or the days to follow, do I have anything to worry about? If I did get sufficient fiber in my lungs would I have had symptoms? I`m thinking that the people who have trouble with this are the ones that do it over and over not allowing the lungs to clear it, but just wanted confirmation that over-time my lungs would expell all of it. - Does fiber glass expell from the lungs over-time? - Is there any test that can be done to see if I have it in my lungs?

Thanks.

Answer:

Hi - A short-term but rather intense exposure to this fine fiberglass dust is probably not something to be too concerned about. Fiberglass is an irritant (you may notice itchy skin after working with insulation for a period of time), and fiberglass dust can irritate the respiratory tract (the temporary wheezing would not be unusual).

An added issue is the epoxy that was part of the material you were sawing. The primary risk from epoxy exposure is sensitization leading to potential future allergic reactions. I would monitor how you feel in the future after working with epoxy; if you notice skin reactions (itchy patches for example - like poison ivy) or any difficulty breathing, I would see a physician and avoid future contact with epoxy.

You are correct that the biggest risks from any exposure are to those who engage in the activity day in and day out (workers). Another group that may have more difficulty clearing dusts from the lungs would be smokers - chronic smoke exposure damages the system in the lungs and airways that automatically clears foreign material.

I suspect you feel no ill effects now - is that right? I would say there is very little if any long-term risk to your health from this event. In the future, if you need to do similar work, I would go to a hardware or safety supply store and get yourself professionally fitted with the correct protective mask for the job, and/or even set up a vacuum system to suck the dust safely away as it is generated by the cutting or grinding process.

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Response by:

J Mac Crawford, PhD, RN J Mac Crawford, PhD, RN
Clinical Associate Professor of Environmental Health Sciences
College of Public Health
The Ohio State University