Fiberglass and Lung Cancer Risk

The Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: May 8, 2013

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Question

I would like to know if there is a link between breathing in fiberglass particles and lung cancer? Also, is glass fiber-reinforced epoxy resin harmful? Where I work, these are used and the dust is freely dispersed into the air, causing some of my fellow workers considerable breathing discomfort. My employer has said it is as safe as adding sugar to my morning cereal, but I have my doubts.

Answer

Anil Vachani, MD, Pulmonologist at Penn Medicine, responds:

Fiberglass insulation is a man-made product that is made of natural ingredients such as sand, and recycled products such as window glass and bottles. The ingredients are melted and spun to form strands of fiberglass. According to the National Academy of Sciences, epidemiological studies of glass fiber manufacturing workers "do not appear to increase the risk of respiratory system cancer." At present, there are not enough data to support a link between fiberglass and cancer. However, I do not believe that it is as safe as adding sugar to your morning cereal. OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) has recommended maximum exposure levels in the workplace (more information can be found at their website), and they recommend several work practices along with the use of protective clothing for those working with fiberglass. These include the following: wearing loose-fitting, long-sleeved clothing and long pants; wearing gloves; not scratching or rubbing your skin if fiberglass particles accumulate on your skin; wearing safety glasses with side shields; wearing a hat; not rubbing your eyes while working with fiberglass. If the environment is dusty or if you experience any irritation of the nose, mouth, or throat, you should consider wearing an N95 particulate respirator mask. These are available in most home improvement stores.


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