I’m sure everybody has heard someone say “oh, it must be the fumes getting to my head” at least once, whether it was in a movie, TV show, or in person. This saying is usually used when someone either says something that is a little bit off or strange, or seems to be losing it. What I imagine when I think of someone saying this is a man wiping his grease covered hands off on a rag while walking out of an auto body shop or garage. My Dad is a race car driver in the NHRA and works in the garage constantly, which is how I became interesting in this topic. Can the fumes of auto body shops actually make my Dad, and others, crazy or ill??
A study was done by the Environmental Studies Institute at Drexel University to determine the effects of a multitude of harmful substances that auto mechanics are exposed to. The most prominent harmful substances are chemical vapors, metal pigments, dust, isocyanates, solvents, as well as (not related to fumes) loud noise and vibration. Those who work in close quarters of a local gas station auto body shop are at high risk because they are exposed to all of the chemicals in one small area. This is especially true during the winter months when the garage doors are generally kept closed.
Cornell University ILR School released a manuel on different works of auto mechanics and the effects of the harmful substances. Chemical vapors such as ammonia, ethane, hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide, chlorine and gasoline are likely to depress the central nervous system. This includes trouble breathing and decreased heart function. Also, getting gasoline on skin can cause dermatitis. In the 1970’s, there was a raised awareness of the harm in asbestos. Auto mechanics who work with assembling brakes are likely to be exposed to asbestos because it is used as a “reinforcing agent” (Brown, pg. 54). Asbestos has been known to cause tumors. Although this is extremely unlikely now due to asbestos substitutes, it is still a health concern. When using metallic pigment paints, the workers inhale chemicals such as cadmium, lead, and chromium. There have been many cases of lead poisoning in auto mechanics who have been working on radiator repair due to an abnormally high lead content in the blood. This causes feelings of dizziness, fatigue, and irritability. Isocyanates are chemicals found in product such as paint, car seats, and materials used in packaging such as plastics. They are known to cause tightness in the chest, trouble breathing, and irritation of the skin. The Safety & Health & Assessment & Research for Prevention (SHARP) found many cases in which workers in the spray-on truck bed lining companies such as Line-x (which is a great lining by the way!) began developing asthma from their work. Lastly, although this does not have to do with fumes, workers who use the power hand tools in auto body shops are at a high risk of getting Raynaud’s disease. The symptoms of this are cold toes and fingers, possible change in color of these areas, and a poking/prickling feeling.
After much research, rules, regulations, and safety precautions are being implemented to ensure the safety of products and to protect the health of the auto mechanics. One of the many resources for auto body shop safety, NIOSH Health and Safety Guide for Auto Repair and Body Shops, suggests that the user reads labels and precautions on products, select the products with the least hazards, and wears proper equipment in an area of appropriate ventilation.
Bottom line is that all of the harmful substances one is exposed to in auto body shops do pose a threat to health. Although each has its own effects, none of them have been proven to truly make a person “crazy”.
Links to my Sources:
http://annhyg.oxfordjournals.org/content/28/1/19.full.pdf+html (Google Scholar find)