One of the benefits of medical inspection of factories is that it brings out the necessity for more general knowledge among industrial workers and employers of the hazards that exist in the various industries, more especially the hazards to health from dust, fumes, gases or vapors incidental to the process of manufacture. This fact was clearly demonstrated by a recent investigation of the following reported case of occupational disease in which there was presented an indirect case of industrial poisoning.
A firm engaged in the manufacture of metal alloys, upon complaint of some of the workers, decided to improve the ventilation of a room in which several smelting pots were in daily use melting scraps of brass, copper, lead and zinc. It was decided that the placing of exhaust fans in the side of the building directly above the melting pots would solve the problem.
An electrical contractor was selected to install two exhaust fans in the wall about fifteen feet above the melting pots.
The electrician detailed to do this work, placed a ladder against the wall and started to climb up, when one of the workmen warned him it was dangerous, as the air at top of the ladder was no good, “make you sick,” he said. At the time smelting pots were in operation. Some of the workmen were wearing respirators, “gas masks,” electrician called them. No one suggested that he wear a mask, no one suggested that the work be done while the smelting pots were not in operation. So he began his work, a skilled mechanic in a strange and unknown workshop.
The first evening, following his work he was seized with a severe chill or ague, and by this is meant an intense shaking of the entire body as well as a sense of coldness which he tried to stop by placing himself against a steam radiator for the greater part of the night but without success in stopping the chill. There was never a sense of fever. There was no sweating following the chill. Slight nausea, metallic taste in the mouth and a severe headache were the last disturbing symptoms. He worked the second day with the same symptoms.
The history of the case as given by Dr. D. E. Stedem is interesting. Patient worked near the ceiling fifteen feet above the melting pots. At first exposure had chills and fever that evening. Worked a short time the next day. Worked all day the third day. No gas mask provided. Complains of severe vertex headache. Temperature 98.2, pulse 68. Tongue coated. Otherwise negative. Urine negative for albumin, copper or zinc. Upon further questioning patient said that he had had no fever following the chills, but that they were followed by a severe headache.
He feels that he was exposed to the fumes at his position near the ceiling more than the workers who worked on the floor. On the last day he was offered a gas mask by the foreman but it was so filthy he would not use it. He also complained to the foreman of the room because he had not been warned of the danger from the fumes, but the foreman didnt think it was very dangerous and took the attitude that a man must become accustomed to chills if he had to work in “zinc.” Treatment consisted of acetanilide for the headache, cathartics and forced fluids. Potassium iodide by mouth. He had entirely recovered in twenty- four hours.
The suggestion may be made that workers in brass or zinc smelting, who are suffering from poisoning, should not be confused with malaria, influenza or la grippe, autointoxication or neurasthenia and that the new worker is the one the physician will probably see as the old workers treat themselves.