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2008 — Health and Safety
Controlling beryllium: it’s in the bag!
The residues from the electrolytic bath are crushed and bagged so they can be reused. Although an excellent example of reuse, this process does involve some health risks. “The alumina used at the Baie-Comeau and Bécancour smelters contains a certain amount of beryllium. This accumulates and concentrates in the residues of electrolytic baths,” explains François Demers, Head of Health and Safety for the Canada-Iceland Division. “During the crushing process, suspended dust particles containing beryllium can be inhaled, causing berylliosis, a serious pulmonary disease.
For several years, a number of measures have been taken to prevent this dust from being inhaled by operators (see the 2007 case study on beryllium). Personal protective equipment, usually masks, have proven efficient but when it comes to safety, it is always better to eliminate the risk at the source.
During the bagging process, the crushed bath inevitably displaces the air previously contained in the bag. Approaches to confining this air, and the dust it contains, must be carefully weighed since it is important not to significantly slow down the bagging process.
“After several trials and tests, the operators at the Bécancour Smelter developed a stand that firmly holds the bags, which enables us to better control the movement of air inside,” pursued François. “We then installed a metal hoop with a vacuum system between the bagging machine and the bag to confine the air and collect the dust. At the same time, we ensured that the device only had a minimal impact on the operation.”
With these modifications, all the “i’s” have been dotted and the “t’s” have been crossed. Beryllium is controlled in the most efficient manner possible, from the warehousing of alumina, which contains a variable portion of beryllium, to the bagging of crushed bath, where the beryllium concentrates after consumption of the alumina in the electrolytic process.
“At Alcoa, we are committed to sharing best practices among our facilities. That is why this initiative at ABI will be taken up, with slight modifications, by the Baie-Comeau Smelter so that it can always efficiently control the risks associated with beryllium,” concluded François.