1.1 Who is Kronospan?
Kronospan is the largest producer of wood based panels in South-Eastern Europe and a branch of the multi-national company Kronospan. In Romania Kronospan is operating in 3 different locations: Sebes, Brasov and Constanta. Their industrial activity carried out in Sebes and Brasov gravely violates applicable legislation for environmental and construction permitting. Their activities already have had a significant impact on the locals’ health and the environment.
The competent authorities repeatedly sanctioned Kronospan; but instead the company prefers to pay fines (most of them symbolic) and to avoid the juridical consequences. This also means that it continues to pollute the environment and to adversely affect people’s health.
As many other big polluters, Kronospan practices ‘green wash’ policies by establishing partnerships with NGOs who are willing to take compromises. The World Wildlife Found (WWF) is Kronospan’s ‘green’ partner in Romania. On its website Kronospan boasts about a partnership with WWF that aims at reducing illegal logging.
From the 3 locations (Sebes, Brasov, Constanta) where Kronospan operates in Romania, Sebes is the town where the formaldehyde production platform is situated. In the following, we will mainly focus on the problems generated by Kronospan in the town of Sebes.
Installation Kronospan Sebes:
Profile of the industrial site in the town of Sebes/Romania: Production of binders that
contain formaldehyde (these resins are chemical adhesives like the formaldehyde); production of composite wood products such as MDF and PAL.
Surface of the Industrial Site: 493000 mp = 49.3 ha
Formaldehyde production: 35000 t/a
Liquid urea-formaldehyde (UF) resins: 100000 t/a
Dry urea-formaldehyde (UF) resin powder: 10000 t/a
Wood ash chipboards: 840000 mc/a
Wood fiber chipboards with a medium density: MDF 348000 mc/a
1.2 Documentation on the field in images
Kronospan in the inhabited area of Sebes
„The industrial site Kronospan Sebes is placed on the outskirts of the town Sebes”, declares Kronospan.
The entrance of the town of Sebes – Practically the industrial site is placed within the urban area.
Inhabited Area: Locals graze their animals around the industrial site of Kronospan
Industrial site Kronospan Sebes
At the entrance of the industrial site Kronospan Sebes there is a formaldehyde emissions monitor, which actually indicates the TOC level (Total Organic Carbon)…
Access the photo gallery online here.
Photos taken on 9. November 2008
1.3 Health effects of Kronospan’s activity
The results of the medical study carried out by Dr. Razvan Curca on 34 Kronospan employees in Sebes“ are alarming and show that many of the workers exposed to formaldehydes are by far healthy”. The doctor declared that “2 thirds (21 employees) present the clinical and radiological symptoms of chronic sinusitis, caused by the inhalation of formaldehydes. On the other hand, this chronic inflammation diagnosed at the majority of workers under examination is the environment that over the time can develop ORL cancer”. The situation seems to be even worse in the case of 3 workers: “two of examined workers present symptoms of lung cancer, and the third is suspected to have a malignant blood affection”.
“These conclusions are very alarming because there is a percentage of over 60% of the workers who present chronic irritation following their exposure to formaldehydes.”
1.4 FORMALDEHYDE – Effects and risks on human health
The adverse health impacts of formaldehyde exposure from products made of composite woods products is well documented. In recent years several countries, counties and lending institutions have thus tightening admissible levels. The measured exposure that are of concern is four fold: the workers producing wood composites, the communities living nearby the relevant wood processing plant, the homes that contain products made from composite wood (furniture, wood flooring etc.) and final decomposing. This fact sheet aims at drawing together some of the direct and related risks to human health associated with wood processing that uses formaldehyde.
Formaldehyde is mainly produced by the oxidation of methanol. It is toxic and used in resins to bind together composite wood products. The manufacture of composite wood products requires the use of bonding resins such as ureaformaldehyde (UF), melamine-formaldehyde (MF), melamine-urea-formaldehyde (MUF), phenolformaldehyde (PF) and isocyanates. UF for example is mainly used for indoors and PF is used for outdoors. UF’s emissions can be recognized by the telltale sweet smell in most new kitchen and bath cabinets. While UF binders are significantly less expensive than PF binders, they give off a lot more formaldehyde—a volatile compound reclassified in 2004 from a “probable human carcinogen” to a “known human carcinogen” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization. Formaldehyde’s other health impacts include respiratory problems; eye, nose, and throat irritation; allergic reactions; and depression. According to the REACH SIN list 1.0, formaldehyde is „also reported to be mutagenic and toxic for reproduction.” In laboratory tests, formaldehyde has been shown to cause a number of genotoxic effects in a variety of cell culture and in vitro assays, including DNA-protein crosslinks, sister chromotid exchanges, gene mutations, single strand breaks, and chromosomal aberrations.
At concentrations above 0.1 ppm in air, formaldehyde can irritate the eyes and mucous membranes, resulting in watery eyes. If inhaled, formaldehyde at this concentration may cause headaches, a burning sensation in the throat, and difficulty breathing, as well as triggering or aggravating asthma symptoms. It can cause allergies, and is part of the standard patch test series.
It can also cause sensitizing or allergic type changes in lung function. These are manifested by a decrease in lung capacity and by asthma attacks likely to recur at decreasing concentrations. These effects were observed with asthmatic and non-asthmatic subjects exposed to more than 2ppm. The allergenic effect of formaldehyde can be worsened by the presence of particles or dust (for example, wood dust), that trigger bronchial reactions even at concentrations below 2ppm. Concentrations equal to or greater than 20ppm can cause serious pulmonary oedema and eventually death.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency USEPA allows no more than 0.016ppm formaldehyde in the air in new buildings constructed for that agency. In Germany formaldehyde emissions at the workplace must not exceed 0.6 mg/m3 and the finished board formaldehyde content must not exceed 10mg/100g board weight, according to EC Directives. After fitting the boards formaldehyde concentration must not exceed 0.1ppm in the ambient room atmosphere. The US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, has set minimum risk levels for exposure to formaldehyde below which a person would be unlikely to experience any ill effects. The minimum risk level is 0.04ppm for one to 14 days of continuous exposure, 0.03ppm for up to one year of continuous exposure, and 0.008ppm for exposure that exceeds one year.
Exposure to formaldehyde may raise one’s risk of getting amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease, according to U.S. researchers including Marc Weisskopf, a researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health who presented his findings at the American Academy of Neurology in Chicago in April 2007. While they found no significant link between ALS and most chemicals, including pesticides and herbicides, they found people who had been regularly exposed to formaldehyde were 34 percent more likely to develop ALS. The study involved more than 1,100 people enrolled in a cancer prevention study. They were asked about their exposure to formaldehyde and other chemicals in 1982, and then followed for 15 years. ALS progressively kills nerve cells that control muscle movements known as motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord. About 5,600 people in the United States are diagnosed with ALS each year, according to the ALS Association.
As for chemical incompatibilities, formaldehyde, a strong reducing compound, will react violently (explode, catch fire, etc.) with strong oxidants (examples: hydrogen peroxide, potassium permanganate), acrylonitrile, caustic soda, magnesium carbonate, nitrogen oxides and peroxyformic acid. Formaldehyde is also incompatible with strong acids, amines, ammonia, aniline, disulfides, gelatine, iodine, magnesite, phenol, tannins, and copper, iron and silver salts. Also, formaldehyde solutions attack ordinary steel.(44) As much as possible, formaldehyde and its solutions must be used in a closed circuit to avoid any exposure through skin contact or inhalation.
To protect composite wood products from biological degradation (e.g. fungal induced decay), preservatives (insecticides and/or fungicides) they are often combined with resins or applied separately to the composite material. Other property-modifying chemicals such as waxes and fire retardants (Yalinkilic et al., 1998) may also be used. Chemical processes such as acetylation are in some instances used to increase the water repellency of fibres in composite wood products (Eaton and Hale, 1993). This adds to the exposure of health risks; from production through to decomposition.
Composite wood products are often recycled into animal feed. If animal feed producer do not distinguish between i.e. formaldehyde-containing and formaldehyde-free composite woods then the chemicals will end up in the animal and eventually in the human food chain.
Wood dust inhalation, especially of PM10, may cause irritation, asthma, allergic reaction, and nasopharyngeal cancer amongst wood processing workers. The dust produced from some alternative fibers used for board processing has specific health effects leading to specific occupational diseases which may lead to permanent incapacity or death. Melamine powder which may be used for lamination may be a carcinogen and may have irritant effects to he eyes skin and respiratory tract. Dust exposure should be prevented and controlled through the adoption and maintenance of effective extraction and filtration system, masks and respirators, as necessary.
Where formaldehyde based resins and glues are used as a binding agent there may be an elevated exposure to formaldehyde vapor. Where wood is dried or pressed at elevated temperatures wood volatile compounds are commonly released.
Methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI) adhesive is often used in the manufacture of composite wood products. This compound can cause severe respiratory damage if inhaled and demands special precautions in use which will be specified by responsible suppliers of this material.
Formaldehyde in the case of the Katrina hurricane victims – USA
Within days of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall in August 2005, frantic officials at the Federal Emergency Management Agency ordered nearly $2.7 billion worth of trailers and mobile homes to house over 300 000 storm’s victims, many of them using a single page of specifications.
Manufacturers produced trailers with unusual speed. The trailers were built with cheap, high-formaldehyde-emitting plywood. The negligent authorities didn’t insisted on safety measures in the firts phase.
Within months, some residents began complaining about unusual sickness; breathing problems; burning eyes, noses and throats; even deaths.
The medical reports officially concluded that the formaldehyde was the cause of those health problems and deaths.
The measures taken by the american authorities – partially banning the use of formaldehyde in construction materials are officially considered to have contribuited to preventing the sickening or death of more than 300 000 people