PGM Environment, Health and Safety
Platinum Group Metals (PGMs) are used in a variety of applications that benefit society, public health and the environment. These include their use in autocatalysts where they achieve highly efficient conversion of the harmful chemicals within engine exhaust into less harmful products such as carbon dioxide and water vapour, as well as many other important uses in industrial, medical, environmental and other applications.
Although the unique chemical properties of PGMs provide great benefit to society, it is important, as it is for all chemicals, that any potential hazards that PGMs may also pose are understood and appropriately controlled.
In their bulk elemental (i.e. metal) form, PGMs are generally considered inert and harmless – and many people choose platinum, for example, for special items of jewelry due to its rarity and purity, natural white colour, and resistance to tarnishing.
The inertness of the PGM metals means that the extraction and refining of PGMs from mined ores requires aggressive, high energy processes and chemicals, and a variety of PGM compounds are found across the PGM industry that have properties very different to the elemental metals. The most well-known examples are the chloroplatinates – intermediates in the refining of platinum – which are potent sensitisers that can cause respiratory allergy in some workers exposed to them.
The PGM industry is committed to protecting both the health and safety of its workforce and the environment. The Health and Environment Science Committee (HESC) brings together expert scientists from across the sector in specialisms including PGM chemistry, occupational health, toxicology, and industrial hygiene. Through the STF, its collaborations with external experts and organisations, and the sponsorship of novel scientific research programmes, IPA advances knowledge of PGM health and environmental properties. Within the sector this knowledge facilitates responsible industry practice, through improved understanding and decision-making based on sound science.