Almost all epoxies used in the fiber optic industry are two-part epoxy systems consisting of a resin and a hardener or activator. All the chemicals in these two-part epoxies can cause an allergic reaction, but the component most commonly causing an allergic reaction is the resin. Epoxy resin is the third most frequent cause of occupational allergic dermatitis, or in other simple words, allergic skin reactions.
The likelihood of developing an adverse reaction increases with the amount and concentration of epoxy resin used, frequency of skin contact, length of time exposed, and area of contaminated skin.
To note, the two types of Contact Dermatitis are Irritant and Allergic.
- Irritant Contact Dermatitis is an inflammatory reaction that occurs after damage to the skin. This is not an allergy and can occur in any individual exposed to an irritant.
- Allergic Contact Dermatitis is a delayed hypersensitivity reaction occurring after sensitization and subsequent re-exposure to an allergen. Sensitization is when an individual shows a reaction to a particular material, but only after repeated contact. This is considered an individual problem, whereas one person could handle the material with no reaction and another would show signs of irritation.
To reduce the risk of either of these types of dermatitis, let’s begin with a common phrase: SAFETY FIRST. It is important to prepare and protect yourself from coming in contact with the epoxy itself and its fumes, as well as understand the specific material you are working with and receive training for your specific application process. Working in a well ventilated area or under a ventilation hood is a must, especially if you are curing a high number of connectors at a time in a large capacity oven.
By reading the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) prior to handling, which is available for each hazardous product supplied, you can review general health and safety advice. You can familiarize yourself with hazard statements, precautionary statements, first-aid measures, material composition and recommended handling and personal protective measures and equipment.
Since Allergic Contact Dermatitis is considered an individual problem, it is also recommended to research the material you will be using and see if there is an alternative that is more allergen friendly and discover the type of gloves that are best for you. Latex gloves are readily available and affordable, but if you are hypersensitive to latex, perhaps nitrile gloves are the choice for you.
As always, MINIMIZE HANDLING where applicable. Proper packaging for your application and application process comes into play here. If you choose/need to work with bulk material, such as 8 oz. kits, there will be significantly more handling. It is likely you will need to work under a ventilation hood to avoid the fumes from this bulk material. The least amount of handling you will encounter is with Premixed and Frozen syringes. While there are other factors to consider with this packaging type, contact with the epoxy is indeed significantly less.
To reduce the risk of either of these types of dermatitis, let’s end with simple statements about handling:
More handling = more exposure = increased chances of allergic reaction.
Less handling = less exposure = decreased changes of allergic reaction.
A good friend told me once that “More is more and less is less!” Now, was she referring to epoxy handling and allergic reactions? No, but it makes much sense here as it did when she first uttered it.
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