The United States is the top chemical producer in the world, accounting for nearly one-fifth of world production. With chemical shipments reaching nearly $720 billion in 2010, the chemical industry provides over $226 billion to the U.S. GDP, approximately 2% of the total. The industry exported a record $171 billion in chemicals in 2010, accounting for 10% of all U.S. exports. On a value-added basis, it is the second-largest U.S. manufacturing sector. Most production of basic chemicals is concentrated along the Gulf Coast, where petroleum and natural gas feedstocks are available in refineries. Texas and Louisiana produce a majority of all primary petrochemicals. Production of other products, such as plastics, pharmaceuticals, and fertilizers is more widely dispersed among the states.

The chemicals industry is a keystone of the U.S. economy, converting raw materials (oil, natural gas, air, water, metals, minerals) into more than 70,000 different products. Chemicals are used to make a wide variety of consumer goods as well as thousands of products that are essential inputs to agriculture, manufacturing, computing, telecommunications, construction, and service industries. The main raw materials are water, air, salt, limestone, sulfur, and fossil fuel. The industry converts these raw materials into organic and inorganic industrial chemicals, ceramic products, petrochemicals, agrochemicals, polymers, and fragrances. Most of these products are used in the manufacture of other industrial products, while other chemicals can be used directly by consumers. The other key market segments of the industry include commodity chemicals, specialty chemicals, and pharmaceuticals.

Commodity chemicals are categorized based on their chemical composition. Sometimes the chemical composition is universal while another supplier’s chemical composition may be the basis for other allied products. Commodity chemicals account for a large portion of the chemical industry and global market. Examples are polymers, plastics, synthetic fibers, and petrochemicals.

Specialty chemicals are categorized and sold based on their functional performance rather than their chemical composition. In essence, these chemicals are categorized due to their influence on performance and functionality. These types of chemicals are very useful in electrical and electronic products, industrial and home cleaners, food and beverages. Other industries that depend on specialty chemicals include construction, motor vehicle manufacture, printing, and oil and gas mining operations.

Pharmaceutical chemicals are categorized are one of the major consumers in the chemical industry. Key chemicals are used in active drug substances, bulk substances, and many finished pharmaceutical products prepared for direct consumption by the public. Some chemicals act as catalysts, reactants, and solvents for different drug preparations. Major discoveries and breakthroughs in the advancement of pharmaceutical research have relied heavily on the chemical industry. Chemicals will continue to impact and influence the discovery, development, and manufacture of new drugs and therapeutic treatments to benefit society.

Agrochemicals are categorized based on the chemical products used in the agricultural industry to make fertilizers, pesticides, and other related products. The chemical industry supports the manufacture of complex active ingredients, which require strict guidelines for safety and quality control to avoid potential cross-contamination. Agrochemicals are developed to increase crop yields by sustaining soil fertility and protecting crops from the attack of pests and other biological organisms.

Consumer products are categorized based on products developed for the consumer. These products include soaps, detergents, cleaners, toiletries, and cosmetics to name a few. The chemical industry has helped to develop and formulate products that impact the lives of everyone. Ingredients used in consumer products must be scientifically assessed and approved before being allowed for production.

Chemical products result from chemical processes, which are a complex combination of reaction, distillation, absorption, filtration, extraction, drying, and screening operations. For cost-cutting purposes, most chemical processes must be efficient, and so the design of many production operations is focused on controlling and reducing losses of precious materials. Hence, ecoefficiency, including avoiding releases to land, water, or air, is critical to the industry's economic survival. While every chemical process is unique, most can be generalized to a flow diagram, as shown in Figure 1.

Schematic diagram of the typical chemical manufacturing process.

Figure 1 - Schematic diagram of the typical chemical manufacturing process.

Environmental metrics in the chemical industry fall into two broad categories: those related to process efficiencies, such as yield, and those related to product stewardship. These are summarized in the flow chart shown in Figure 2. However, to facilitate comparison with the other industries, the chemical industry metrics are represented by the manufacturing process and product performance.

Metrics used in chemical manufacturing.

Figure 2 - Metrics used in chemical manufacturing.

Note: VOC = volatile organic compound, TRI = toxic release inventory, ODS = ozone depleting substances, GLW = Great Lakes waste, TOC = total organic carbon, BOD = biological oxygen demand.

In 1988 the Chemical Manufacturers Association (CMA) launched Responsible Care in response to public concerns about the manufacture and use of chemicals. Through Responsible Care, member companies support efforts to improve the industry's responsible management of chemicals. Responsible Care is an obligation of membership in CMA and requires member companies to improve performance in health, safety, and environmental quality, develop guiding principles by member company’s commitment to the mission, develop codes of manufacturing practice, provide executive leadership to share experiences and review progress with the public, and use third-parties for management systems verification.

Beyond this effort, the chemical industry has pledged to evaluate other environmental concerns such as air emissions from chemical manufacture, examine resource use, and the waste burned for energy recovery, destroyed in incinerators, flares, or biological treatment. The primary objective of product stewardship is to help minimize the safety risks and environmental impacts of the transportation of chemicals and their subsequent processing by customers. Other potential greenhouse gases that may be tracked include methane, other volatile organic chemicals,

nitrogen oxides, chlorofluorocarbons, and other longer-life volatile compounds that can have greater climate change potential than CO2 per unit of mass (although compared with CO2, they are present in the atmosphere in much smaller quantities).

Product stewardship also entails designing the product (and associated delivery systems) to minimize adverse safety and environmental impacts during final use and disposal. Specific efforts include staff training in the safe handling of acids and toxic gases; environmental audits and planning with customers to reduce emissions; reformulating chemicals to avoid volatile solvents or ozone-depleting substances such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs); developing end-use products with greatly reduced persistence, bioaccumulation potential, or toxicity; providing a mechanism to reuse or recycle a product at the end of its useful life; and investigating the potential for producing biodegradable chemicals and developing "green" suppliers. A major trend within the chemical industry is extending the stewardship concept not only to the suppliers but also to customers. More attention is also being given to the ultimate fate of the product life cycle.

Stewardship of hazardous materials is a vital part of the chemical industry's product stewardship efforts. The consequences of inattention to this issue can destroy a company's credibility and ability to operate. Some companies, therefore, keep track of such measures as storage time or distance transported. Currently, all hazardous materials are treated alike. Correcting for risk factors (e.g., true toxicity, exposure pathway, method of transportation, method of handling) could provide valuable information that would help improve management. Understanding of these types of risk analysis, however, is still in the embryonic stage.

Several preliminary efforts are underway within the chemical industry to define meaningful metrics relating to sustainable development. These metrics are addressing such issues as energy efficiency, including considerations for energy from truly renewable sources; materials efficiency, including considerations for truly renewable materials; capability for recycling and recycled content, and toxic dispersion corrected for quantified toxicity and for exposure pathway. In each of these areas, there is a need to develop a common understanding of the concept of sustainability, develop metrics that drive continuous improvement, garner public acceptance for sustainability metrics, and establish benchmarks for individual companies to measure themselves.

To help the reader better understand some of the hazards, the International Labour Organization (ISO) has developed International Chemical Safety Cards (ICSCs), which are data sheets intended to provide essential safety and health information on chemicals in a clear and concise way. The primary aim of the Cards is to promote the safe use of chemicals in the workplace. The main target users are workers and those responsible for occupational safety and health. The ICSCs project is a common undertaking between the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), with the cooperation of the European Commission. For more information about the ICSCs, visit:

The information herein includes occupational health hazards associated with the manufacturer of chemicals and allied products. This major group includes establishments producing basic chemicals, and establishments manufacturing products by predominantly chemical processes.

Establishments classified in this major group manufacture three general classes of products: (1) basic chemicals, such as acids, alkalies, salts, and organic chemicals; (2) chemical products to be used in further manufacture, such as synthetic fibers, plastics materials, dry colors, and pigments; and (3) finished chemical products to be used for ultimate consumption, such as drugs, cosmetics, and soaps; or to be used as materials or supplies in other industries, such as paints, fertilizers, and explosives. Note the mining of natural alkalies and other natural potassium, sodium, and boron compounds, of natural rock salt, and of other natural chemicals and fertilizers are classified separately in Mining, Industry Group 147.

There are other establishments primarily that are engaged in manufacturing industrial gases (including organic) for sale in compressed, liquid, and solid forms. Establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing fluorine and sulfur dioxide are classified in Industry 2819; those manufacturing household ammonia are classified in Industry 2842; those manufacturing other ammonia are classified in Industry 2873; those manufacturing chlorines are classified in Industry 2812, and those manufacturing fluorocarbon gases are classified in Industry 2869. Distributors of industrial gases and establishments primarily engaged in shipping liquid oxygen are classified in Wholesale Trade, Industry 5169. These industrial gases include acetylene, argon, carbon dioxide, dry ice (solid carbon dioxide), industrial: compressed, liquefied, or solid gases like helium, hydrogen, neon, nitrogen, nitrous oxide, oxygen compressed, and liquefied gas.

Establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing nonferrous metals and high-percentage ferroalloys are classified in Major Group 33; those manufacturing silicon carbide are classified in Major Group 32; those manufacturing baking powder, other leavening compounds, and starches are classified in Major Group 20; and those manufacturing artists' colors are classified in Major Group 39. Establishments primarily engaged in packaging, repackaging, and bottling of purchased chemical products, but not engaged in manufacturing chemicals and allied products, are classified in Wholesale or Retail Trade industries.

Also included are establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing inorganic pigments. Important products of this industry include black pigments, except carbon black, white pigments, and color pigments. Organic color pigments, except animal black and bone black, are classified in Industry 2865, and those manufacturing carbon black are classified in Industry 2895.

Some establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing industrial inorganic chemicals, not elsewhere classified. Establishments primarily engaged in mining, milling, or otherwise preparing natural potassium, sodium, or boron compounds (other than common salt) are classified in Industry 1474. Establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing household bleaches are classified in Industry 2842; those manufacturing phosphoric acid are classified in Industry 2874; and those manufacturing nitric acid, anhydrous ammonia, and other nitrogenous fertilizer materials are classified in Industry 2873.

Other establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing synthetic resins, plastics materials, and nonvulcanizable elastomers. Important products of this industry include: cellulose plastics materials; phenolic and other tar acid resins; urea and melamine resins; vinyl resins; styrene resins; alkyd resins; acrylic resins; polyethylene resins; polypropylene resins; rosin modified resins; coumarone-indene and petroleum polymer resins; miscellaneous resins, including

polyamide resins, silicones, polyisobutylenes, polyesters, polycarbonate resins, acetal resins, and fluorohydrocarbon resins; and casein plastics.

Included are establishments that are primarily engaged in manufacturing fabricated plastics products or plastics film, sheet, rod, non-textile monofilaments, and regenerated cellulose products, and vulcanized fiber are classified in Industry Group 308, whether from purchased resins or from resins produced in the same plant. Establishments primarily engaged in compounding purchased resins are classified in Industry 3087. Establishments primarily manufacturing adhesives are classified in Industry 2891.

Also included are establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing synthetic rubber by polymerization or copolymerization. An elastomer for the purpose of this classification is a rubber-like material capable of vulcanization, such as copolymers of butadiene and styrene, or butadiene and acrylonitrile, polybutadienes, chloroprene rubbers, and isobutylene-isoprene copolymers. Butadiene copolymers containing less than 50 percent butadiene are classified in Industry 2821. Natural chlorinated rubbers and cyclized rubbers are considered as semifinished products and are classified in Industry 3069.

The tables below include those establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing cellulosic fibers (including cellulose acetate and regenerated cellulose such as rayon by the viscose or cuprammonium process) in the form of monofilament, yarn, staple, or tow suitable for further manufacturing on spindles, looms, knitting machines, or other textile processing equipment.

Some establishments are engaged in manufacturing soap, synthetic organic detergents, inorganic alkaline detergents, or any combination thereof, and establishments producing crude and refined glycerin from vegetable and animal fats and oils. Other establishments are engaged in manufacturing furniture, metal, and other polishes; waxes and dressings for fabricated leather and other materials; household, institutional, and industrial plant disinfectants; nonpersonal deodorants; drycleaning preparations; household bleaches; and other sanitation preparations.

There are other establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing furniture, metal, and other polishes; waxes and dressings for fabricated leather and other materials; household, institutional, and industrial plant disinfectants; nonpersonal deodorants; drycleaning preparations; household bleaches; and other sanitation preparations.

Included are establishments engaged in manufacturing perfumes (natural and synthetic), cosmetics, and other toilet preparations. This industry also includes establishments primarily engaged in blending and compounding perfume bases; and those manufacturing shampoos and shaving products, whether from soap or synthetic detergents.

Some establishments are engaged in producing surface-active preparations for use as wetting agents, emulsifiers, and penetrants. Establishments engaged in producing sulfonated oils and fats and related products are also included.

This group of establishments are engaged in the formulation and preparation of ready-to-use agricultural and household pest control chemicals, including insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides, from technical chemicals or concentrates; and the production of concentrates that require further processing before use as agricultural pesticides. In addition, this group includes

establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing explosives for small ammunition, printing ink, including gravure ink, screen process ink, and lithographic ink.

Information includes establishments primarily engaged in: (1) manufacturing bulk organic and inorganic medicinal chemicals and their derivatives and (2) processing (grading, grinding, and milling) bulk botanical drugs and herbs. Included in this industry are establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing agar-agar and similar products of natural origin, endocrine products, manufacturing or isolating basic vitamins, and isolating active medicinal principals such as alkaloids from botanical drugs and herbs.

The chemical industry describes events involving the acute release of hazardous substances reported to the Hazardous Substances Emergency Events Surveillance (HSEES) system for 1993-2000. HSEES is maintained by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), which collects data on the industries/services associated with the events. The analysis focuses on fixed-facility events that occurred during the manufacturing of chemicals and allied products (i.e. categorized according to the 1990 Industrial Classification System (ICS) of the US Bureau of the Census).

This information is the most frequently reported industry category in the surveillance system, with over 12,000 events (28% of all events and 35% of fixed-facility events). Further classification found that the majority (71%) of these events involved the manufacturing of industrial and miscellaneous chemicals (ICS code 192), and 21% plastics, synthetics, and resins (ICS code 180). A total of 2,676 persons reported injuries in 307 fixed-facility events. Most of the injured persons were employees (42%), followed by the general public (38%), students (15%), and responders (5%). Thirty-five percent of all injured persons and 46% of all injured employees had respiratory symptoms. Releases frequently occurred in processing vessels, and the majority were due to equipment failure. A review of the data indicates that manufacturers of chemicals and allied products could help reduce morbidity and mortality by taking preventive actions such as performing regular maintenance of processing equipment, regular training of employees and encouraging them to wear respiratory protection, and educating the public on what to do in the event of a release from these facilities. More information about the occupational health risks to chemical workers written by Valeyeva E.T., Bakirov A.B., Kaptsov V.A., Karimova L.K., Gimayeva Z.F., and Galimova R.R. can be found at:

Note: The following table represents only the potential occupational health concerns for both industrial chemical and allied products industry based on a job task or work activity and any related OSHA standards for regulatory compliance. The information presented does not indicate or suggest a relative risk of exposure based on the location within the table nor provides any exposure information. Health risks associated with fatigue, working long hours, stress living away from home, and other psychosocial disorders are not addressed.

The focus of this information is to provide guidance to understand the occupational health hazards from chemical substances, physical and biological agents, radiological, ergonomic, and environmental hazards from exposure to plants and animals. Potential occupational health exposures in this industry were derived from the OSHA Integrated Management Information

System database between 1984 to 2020. Data from the OSHA IMIS does not specify the job title or position description of the worker evaluated. Therefore, the identification of Exposed Personnel reflects the best judgment by the author. Additional information was obtained from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Health Hazard Evaluations performed by request of employee representatives and organizations from 1978 to 2020.

Photos courtesy of Getty Images.

Worker Exposure Profiles in Chemicals and Allied Products

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