Environmental Aspects of Production

The potential for fugitive emissions from the manufacture of polyethylenes depend on the particular type of process used. In addition to the possibility of monomer (ethylene) leakage common to all processing plants, possible diluent and co-monomer emissions into the atmosphere need to be closely controlled. However, no major point sources of these emissions are apparent in the manufacture, and in any event the monomer and co-monomer feed materials are relatively nontoxic (acting only as asphyxiants at a high enough concentration). The possible exposure of workers to some of the solvents and diluents, however, is more of a concern as these can act as central nervous system (CNS) depressants at a high enough concentration. The emissions from polyethylene manufacture were estimated at about 13 for HDPE and 1-18 for LDPE (kg of VOC/Mg of plastic resin produced) [11]. Most of the fugitive emissions was monomer, along with small amounts of lower hydrocarbons such as ethane and isobutane. Some particulate emissions also occur during polyethylene production, and a need exists for an audit and an analysis of the health impacts (if any) of these. With improvements in process efficiency, the amount of fugitive emissions (VOC and particulates) from a typical plant have decreased, but the volume of resin produced continues to increase with time, requiring frequent assessment and documentation of emissions. A known toxic material used in the manufacturing process is the chromium(IV) oxide-based catalyst. In high enough doses it can be mutagenic, cause liver damage, affect the CNS, and even be carcinogenic [12]. The recommended 8-h TLV (ACGIH) for the material8 is 0.05 mg/m3.

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