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Medical Health Surveillance: Occupational Exposures During Aluminium Production

Aluminium production uses hazardous chemicals according to Schedule 14. The inherent occupational hazards accompanying this vital industry necessitate vigilant health surveillance measures.

Workers in aluminium production encounter diverse occupational hazards, predominantly polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Notable exposures include PAHs, sulphur dioxide, fluorides, and various metallic contaminants.

In conclusion, diligent medical health surveillance remains paramount in safeguarding the well-being of individuals engaged in aluminium production, necessitating ongoing research and proactive measures to mitigate occupational health risks effectively.

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Potential health effects following exposure to PAHs

The routes of PAH exposure are via inhalation and skin absorption. Accidental ingestion may be possible, especially when eating or smoking with contaminated hands.

The target organs and potential effects of PAH exposure include:

Target organ





Lung cancer


Reduced lung function















Health monitoring before starting work in a PAH process

Health monitoring for PAHs may be required before the worker starts work so that changes to the worker’s health can be detected.

Initial discussions about a health monitoring program should include:

  • possible health effects from exposure to PAHs
  • how to recognise and report symptoms, and
  • what is involved in the health monitoring program, for example the frequency of testing and the tests that may be needed.

Some PAHs have adverse effects on female reproduction and can be embryotoxic and counselling for females of reproductive capacity should be considered.

The following details about the worker’s medical history should be collected by the registered medical practitioner:

  • records of personal exposure, including photosensitivity
  • presence of symptoms, and
  • smoking history.

A physical examination should be carried out by the registered medical practitioner if indicated by occupational and medical history.

PAH vapours are a respiratory irritant and inhalation of PAH vapours may result in reduced lung function and it is important to investigate respiratory symptoms as indicated. However, spirometry may not be required at this stage.

There is evidence that some PAH compounds may be skin sensitisers and previous work history with PAH compounds and symptoms of sensitisation should be investigated.

During exposure to a PAH process

Monitoring Exposure to PAHs

Where workers are exposed, suspected of being exposed or are concerned about exposure to PAHs, the person conducting the business or undertaking (PCBU) has a duty to arrange a health monitoring appointment with the registered medical practitioner. For example, an appointment should be arranged following spills or loss of containment of PAHs resulting in excessive exposure to workers or when workers develop symptoms of PAH exposure.

The assessment of work-related exposure to PAHs is difficult because workers are exposed to a mixture of compounds which can undergo a variety of metabolic reactions. The main toxicological concern regarding PAHs is carcinogenesis. Workers exposed to PAHs are at a greater risk of lung, pleura, bladder and kidney tumours.

Several studies have indicated a correlation of urinary 1-hydroxypyrene (1-HP), a metabolite of pyrene (a chemical prominent in PAH mixtures), levels with urinary 8‑hydroxydeoxyguanosine, a marker of DNA damage. Therefore, 1-HP in urine, is most often used as the biomarker for PAH exposure. The following test may be used to test the worker’s exposure levels:

  • urinary 1-hydroxypyrene.

As 1-HP is primarily excreted in urine as a mixture of glucuronide and sulfate conjugates, hydrolysis of these conjugates should be performed prior to analysis.

Where urinalysis is undertaken, the following exposure standard should be considered when assessing exposure to PAHs:

Biological exposure standard for PAHs

Urinary 1-hydroxypyrene:

0.5 µmol/mol creatinine (1 µg/L)

At termination of work in a PAH process

A final medical examination should be carried out by the registered medical practitioner and should include health advice including the identification of photosensitivity symptoms and skin changes.

Workers with health conditions or continuing symptoms due to PAH exposure should be advised to seek continuing medical examinations as organised by the registered medical practitioner supervising the health monitoring program.

A health monitoring report from the registered medical practitioner should be provided to the PCBU as soon as practicable after the completion of the monitoring program, and at regular intervals for longer term or ongoing health monitoring processes. The report must include:

  • the name and date of birth of the worker
  • the name and registration number of the registered medical practitioner
  • the name and address of the PCBU who commissioned the health monitoring
  • the date of the health monitoring
  • any test results that indicate whether or not the worker has been exposed to a hazardous chemical
  • any advice that test results indicate that the worker may have contracted an injury, illness or disease as a result of carrying out the work that triggered the requirement for health monitoring
  • any recommendation that the PCBU take remedial measures, including whether the worker can continue to carry out the type of work that triggered the requirement for health monitoring, and
  • whether medical counselling is required for the worker in relation to the work that triggered the requirement for health monitoring.

Human Exposure to Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs)

Occupational exposure in aluminium production presents a complex landscape of potential health hazards, among which polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) occupy a prominent position. PAHs, a group of organic compounds containing multiple fused aromatic rings, are ubiquitous pollutants generated during incomplete combustion of organic materials. In aluminium production settings, PAH exposure primarily arises from the combustion of carbonaceous materials and the thermal decomposition of organic substances in the vicinity of high-temperature processes.

PAHs pose significant health risks due to their carcinogenic, mutagenic, and teratogenic properties. These compounds have been extensively studied for their adverse effects on human health, particularly in occupational settings where exposure levels may exceed regulatory limits.

Sources of PAH Exposure in Aluminium Production:

  1. Combustion Processes: The primary source of PAHs in aluminium production stems from the combustion of carbonaceous materials used in the electrolytic reduction process. During this process, carbon anodes are consumed, releasing PAHs into the surrounding environment. Additionally, the combustion of fossil fuels for energy generation in aluminium smelters can contribute to PAH emissions.
  2. Thermal Decomposition: Thermal decomposition of organic substances, such as lubricants, plastics, and organic coatings, used in industrial equipment and machinery can release PAHs into the air. This process occurs at elevated temperatures present in various stages of aluminium production, including pot-rooms and anode manufacturing facilities.
  3. Fugitive Emissions: PAHs may also be present in fugitive emissions from raw materials, such as coal tar pitch used in anode manufacturing, and from the manipulation and transportation of carbonaceous materials within the production facility.

Mitigation Strategies:

  1. Engineering Controls: Implementation of engineering controls, such as enclosed processes, local exhaust ventilation systems, and emission control technologies, can effectively minimize PAH emissions at their source.
  2. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Proper use of personal protective equipment, including respirators, gloves, and protective clothing, can reduce dermal and respiratory exposure to PAHs among workers.
  3. Regulatory Compliance: Adherence to stringent regulatory standards and occupational exposure limits for PAHs is crucial to safeguarding the health and well-being of workers in aluminium production facilities. Regular monitoring of air quality and occupational exposure levels can ensure compliance with regulatory requirements.

In summary, PAH exposure constitutes a significant occupational health risk in aluminium production, necessitating proactive measures to mitigate exposure and safeguard the health of workers. By implementing comprehensive control strategies and adhering to regulatory standards, aluminium production facilities can effectively manage PAH emissions and protect the health and well-being of their workforce.

Source documents