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  • Special Issue of JOEM Looks at Health Impact of Aluminum Production

    Industry Strives to Promote Health, Safety and Sustainability

    Efforts to protect the health and safety of workers and communities are essential to ensuring the sustainability of the aluminum industry into the future, according to a special supplement to the May Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM).

    The special issue includes 10 papers from leading experts, highlighting the current status of occupational health, environmental, and sustainability issues related to aluminum production. Supported by the International Aluminium Institute, the open access supplement is available on the journal web site at www.joem.org.

    The supplement papers provide an introduction and overview of the primary processes in aluminum production, including the key occupational, community, and environmental health issues confronting the industry. Emerging alternative technologies show promise for meeting the key challenges of reducing energy consumption and mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.

    Many of the occupational health concerns facing aluminum workers are typical of heavy industry — such as noise exposure and accidental injuries. But other health risks may be associated with specific steps in the aluminum production process, including possible increases in lung and bladder cancer related to benzo(a)pyrene exposure. Research is ongoing to identify, monitor, and control this and other potentially hazardous exposures.

    Exposure to the "potroom" step of aluminum production has been linked to a specific type of asthma, although this appears to be in decline in recent years. Potroom exposure is also associated with an increased risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, especially in workers who smoke. More research is needed to clarify the risk of interstitial lung disease in aluminum workers.

    Other topics in the special issue include the processes and occupational health risks associated with bauxite mining and aluminum refining, along with industry measures to mitigate those risks. In separate papers, researchers report on new approaches to assessing health risks among alumina refinery workers and community health risks associated with aluminum smelter emissions.

    The special issue also includes a review of the so-called "aluminum hypothesis": the theory that aluminum plays a role in causing Alzheimer's disease. While most scientists have abandoned the aluminum hypothesis, the connection persists among the public — perhaps reflecting fear of Alzheimer's disease and the fact that the true causal factors are still unknown.

    Noted occupational and environmental health expert Tee L. Guidotti, MD, MPH, FACOEM, is one of the Guest Editors of the special issue. "Aluminum is essential for modern structures and for green and energy-efficient technology and so it is essential to a sustainable future," Dr. Guidotti comments. "This supplement helps us to protect the workers who make it available for us to use."

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    About the Guest Editor — Dr. Guidotti may be contacted for interviews at tguidotti@nmas.com.

    About ACOEM — ACOEM (www.acoem.org), an international society of 4,500 occupational physicians and other health care professionals, provides leadership to promote optimal health and safety of workers, workplaces, and environments.

    About the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine — The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (www.joem.org) is the official journal of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Edited to serve as a guide for physicians, nurses, and researchers, the clinically oriented research articles are an excellent source for new ideas, concepts, techniques, and procedures that can be readily applied in the industrial or commercial employment setting.