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Employees at BIO4 inhaled toxic fumes for months

On Copenhagen's new green BIO4 heating plant on Refshaleøen in Copenhagen, which is run by the energy company HOFOR A/S, employees have been exposed to repeated releases of toxic fumes.

On Copenhagen's new green BIO4 heating plant on Refshaleøen in Copenhagen, which is run by the energy company HOFOR A/S, employees have been exposed to repeated releases of toxic fumes.

The evidence of this comes from a report from the Danish Labor Inspection Authority, from December 5, 2019, where HOFOR has been ordered to immediately rectify the work environment problem. The order was given on the basis of three inspections, on 25 and 29 October and 25 November 2019.

The order refers among other things to a release of isocyanates fumes. In the report the Labor Inspectorate describes isocyanates as allergenic even at small doses, dangerous by inhalation, and that inhaling large doses can cause inflammation and water in the lungs.

The news media A4 Work Environment has accessed a number of images showing measurements of the level of isocyanates at the power plant made during the period April 30 to November 28, 2019. The images document that 728 measurements out of 1,135 exceeded the Danish Working Environment Authority's defined limit value for isocyanates. The highest readings were over 100 times the limit value.

According to Sorosh Taba, physician and Ph.D. at the Occupational Health and Medical Clinic at Herning Hospital, the employees at the heating plant run the risk of becoming seriously ill.

- In the worst case, those who have worked under these conditions and who have not worn respiratory masks may have developed respiratory disease or a worsening of an existing disease. - Isocyanates are so potent asthma and allergenic that even a short-term, intense exposure can be enough to develop allergies," says Sorosh Taba.

The security officer used his nose

The boilers and pipes of the heating plant were cleaned with several hundred degrees of hot steam. When the pipes and boilers of the heating plant were heated, the employees should have left the building, because of the toxic fumes that arose during this operation.

The prompt order states that the security officer at BIO4, who took the measurements when the boilers were heated, did so without wearing a mask. The Danish Working Environment Authority also writes that some of the employees worked inside the plant during the heating, while there were gases.

According to HOFOR's own explanation to the Labor Inspectorate, measuring equipment was used that could only measure if there was a gas leak, but not what kind of gas it was. In the case of elevated measurements, the security officer should conduct a 'subjective' assessment of the type of gas involved. The subjective assessment consisted of smelling the gases and assessing whether it was harmful.

But smelling after toxic fumes is the worst method of choice, states Dr Sorosh Taba.

- Whether something smells or doesn't smell is an insanely poor indicator of whether it is dangerous. Some of the most toxic chemicals have no odor at all. It sounds very primitive to do it that way, says Sorosh Taba.

Employees from the following companies were probably exposed to the toxic fumes:

  • Persolite http://www.persolit.dk/ who made insulation and scaffolding with Danish, Polish and Lithuanian employees. 
  • Valmet https://www.valmet.com/ who carried out Blacksmith, welding and machine installer work with Finnish employees.
  • LAB https://www.lab.fr/homepage that carried out Blacksmith, Welding and Machine Fitter work with French employees.
  • Doosan https://www.doosan.com/en who performed Blacksmith, Welding and Machine Fitter work with Czech employees. 
  • Remanas https://rekvizitai.vz.lt/imone/remanas/ that performed Blacksmith, Welding and Machine Fitter work with Lithuanian employees.
  • ZK temochem http://www.termochem.cz/ that carried out Blacksmith, welding and machine installer work with Czech employees.
  • Aarsleff A/S https://www.aarsleff.dk/ who perform concrete work with Danish employees.

So dangerous are isocyanates

Isocyanates are a term for a group of chemicals found in polyurethane products. It is among other things in foam rubber, building and insulation foam, sealant and paint.

When people are exposed to isocyanates, this is most often associated with the application of products containing the substances, but it can also happen if the material is heated to over 150 degrees.

Health effects:

  • Isocyanates are generally respiratory irritant.
  • General symptoms of people who have been exposed to the vapors are coughing, difficulty breathing and inflammation of the upper respiratory tract.
  • Isocyanates are also one of the most common causes of work-related asthma.
  • In addition to asthma, isocyanates can cause allergic contact dermatitis.
  • At least one diisocyanate is classified as causing cancer.

Take action

If you have or know anyone who has worked at Bio4 / HOFOR in Denmark during the period 01.05.19 to 01.02.20 then you can contact the Facebook group: Workers on Bio4 / HOFOR in Denmark. https://www.facebook.com/groups/223090542462573/

Here, people will be informed about the opportunities and rights they have in Denmark if they have been exposed to Isocyanates.