Saturday, December 23, 2017

Women in industry


In their Global Employment Trends publication, ILO estimates that around 16 per cent of employed women worldwide work in the industry sector in 2012. In East Asia women’s employment in industry rose to a quarter, as in most of the developing countries women moved out of the agricultural sector directly into services.37 Less information is available about certain branches and the related chemical exposure of women. One typical industry branch with a high female employment is the textile industry, where some information is available.

Textile industry: impacts on female worker’s health 
The textile industry is often criticized for its high chemical use, low wages and environmental pollution. The majority of workers at various stages of the textile chain, from manufacturing to packing and retailing of the final products, are women. They are significantly exposed to the variety of chemicals present in clothing products. 

Zhang summarizes the impacts on workers in dyeing/ printing and finishing processes: inevitably workers will be in daily and routine contact with a large number of chemical substances, many of which are known to be hazardous to human health. For example, advice from the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) indicates that some reactive dyes are respiratory sensitizers, which can cause occupational asthma by inhalation. Some of the dyestuffs can cause skin allergies and furthermore, a number of dyes, based on their chemical characteristics, are potentially carcinogenic. HSE also points out that health problems are most commonly caused by the use of textile chemicals which act as irritants; for example formaldehyde-based resins, ammonia, acetic acid and soda ash can cause skin irritation, stuffy noses, sneezing and sore eyes. 

The concentration of chemicals in clothing can be reduced by washing it; for example, levels of formaldehyde were shown to fall distinctively after one stage of washing at a low temperature. This indicates that the greatest exposure to this carcinogen is likely to be to industry employees including retail staff.39 In general, although levels of formaldehyde in textile processing facilities have been reduced significantly since the 1980s,40 high levels can still be found in some garments. Formaldehyde is still the most commonly found substance in laboratories among tested substances. 

Studies show ill health effects linked to textiles processing. A study by the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found a link between length of exposure to formaldehyde and leukaemia deaths for textile workers.41 Women who work in textile factories and are exposed to synthetic fibres and petroleum products at work before their mid-30s, seem to be most at risk of developing breast cancer later in life. For example, women working with acrylic and nylon fibres have increased risk of developing breast cancer compared to the normal population.42 A study of textile workers in Shanghai found an elevated risk of a spontaneously aborted first pregnancy associated with exposure to synthetic fibres and mixed synthetic and natural fibres.43 

Women working in the plastics industry
In the plastics industry, women are highly exposed to a large variety of toxic chemicals, including styrene, crylonitrile, vinyl chloride, phthalates, bisphenol A (BPA), brominated flame retardants, heavy metals, a host of solvents, and complex chemical mixtures. 

These substances are used for the whole plastic production process and are linked to various diseases. Some of the substances are known to have a mutagenic effect and can lead to cancer. Some are suspected of being mutagenic. Others have endocrine disrupting effects that can promote cancer and other illnesses linked to the endocrine system like reproductive health impacts. A study shows that the exposure in the plastic industry poses women at disproportionate risk. It also shows the need for regulatory action.44 Women in the plastics industry have a significantly higher body burden than unexposed workers and the general population. A Canadian study shows that women working in automotive plastics and food canning industries have fivefold increase in pre-menopausal breast cancer.45 The study also claims that “Despite concern about the harmful effects of substances contained in various plastic consumer products, little attention has focused on the more heavily exposed women working in the plastics industry.“These substances are used for the whole plastic production process and are linked to various diseases. Some of the substances are known to have a mutagenic effect and can lead to cancer. Some are suspected of being mutagenic. Others have endocrine disrupting effects that can promote cancer and other illnesses linked to the endocrine system like reproductive health impacts. A study shows that the exposure in the plastic industry poses women at disproportionate risk. It also shows the need for regulatory action.44 Women in the plastics industry have a significantly higher body burden than unexposed workers and the general population. A Canadian study shows that women working in automotive plastics and food canning industries have fivefold increase in pre-menopausal breast cancer.45 The study also claims that “Despite concern about the harmful effects of substances contained in various plastic consumer products, little attention has focused on the more heavily exposed women working in the plastics industry.“46 


file:///C:/Users/ttenn/Downloads/WomenAndChemicals_PublicationIWD2016.pdf

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