injury, illness, and fatality than do traditional fossil fuel energy extraction industries (Sumner and Layde, 2009). However, Reynolds said, although there has been a great deal of research carried out on life-cycle and economic assessments for biofuels production, there is very little published information concerning research or programs that address occupational health and safety in biofuels in the United States. As an example, he showed a slide listing the components and agencies participating in the U.S. National Biomass Program. Workforce creation was listed as a component of both the economic and social aspects of the program, but there was nothing listed that explicitly dealt with the health and sustainability of that workforce. In particular, the two major agencies responsible for occupational health in the United States—the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)—do not appear to be considered part of the program.
Although no systematic surveillance or evaluation of fatalities, injuries, and illnesses associated with biofuels production has been conducted, a number of serious accidents and fatalities have been associated with biofuels production, both in the United States and abroad. In the United States, for example, two employees were burned by ethanol vapors escaping an adsorption column, and one employee was killed while welding in a storage tank when residual glycerin and ethanol vapors were ignited. In Europe, at least nine people have been killed by carbon monoxide poisoning after they entered wood pellet storage areas.
The production of biofuels has matured to include a variety of different production systems using various feedstocks, including corn, municipal wastes, cellulosic biomass, and algae and other microcrops. Much is already known about the hazards associated with the production of various agriculture inputs as well as with the distribution and end use of biofuels products, Reynolds noted, and this knowledge can be applied proactively to manage risk in this industry. However, the risks of familiar hazards in new production situations and of novel hazards, such as genetically modified organisms or the use of nanotechnology, have not been addressed well in this industry.
A wide variety of potential hazards have been identified in the biofuels industry, including biological, chemical, and physical hazards. The potential exposures to these hazards are quite variable and depend on the specific technology, the stage of development, and the size of the operation.