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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Europe lists nine chemicals as Very High Concern

Europe requires chemicals of concern
to be used with specific authorization.
The European Commission has officially designated nine chemicals, including one used to make coated galvanized steel, as substances of very high concern, meaning their uses will have to be authorized.

In a separate action, Austria, Denmark, Germany and Sweden announced their intent to nominate an additional 10 chemicals as substances of very high concern (SVHC).

The European Commission regulation, published in the Aug. 19 Official Journal of the European Union, carries out recommendations made by the European Chemicals Agency in 2013.

The regulation places nine chemicals on the Annex 14 list of the registration, evaluation and authorization of chemicals (REACH) regulation (EC 1907/2006).

Listing in Annex 14 means the substance can't be used without specific authorization. The Aug. 19 regulation includes deadlines by which authorization requests must be filed. Depending on the chemical, the deadlines fall between Feb. 22, 2016, and July 22, 2017.

Steel-coating chemical of concern

Among the nine chemicals is strontium chromate (EC No. 232-142-6; CAS No. 7789-06-2), which is made in or imported into the European Union in a total volume ranging between 1,000 metric tons and 10,000 metric tons (1,102-11,023 U.S. short tons) per year, ECHA said in a background document supporting its recommendation. Much of that is exported, ECHA added.

Coil coating refers to steel that is coated, often including a layer of zinc, during the manufacturing process, as opposed to coating in batches after production. Flat-rolled steel is often shipped in rolls known as coils.

Wayne Pigment Corp. is the main U.S. company making strontium chromate, while Akzo Nobel Coatings Inc. is among the chemical's importers.

Strontium chromate primarily is used to protect steel and zinc in coil-coated galvanized steel, ECHA said. The coil-coated metal mainly is used in buildings.

Much smaller quantities of strontium chromate are used in primers, sealants, joint compounds and top coat paints for aerospace applications and in anticorrosion primers, in fillers and sealants for the construction and maintenance of heavy duty vehicles and trucks, military vehicles and agricultural equipment, ECHA said.

Other chemicals added to the list:
  • Ethylene dichloride, also known as 1,2-dichloroethane. The most common use of 1,2-dichloroethane is to make vinyl chloride, which is used to make a variety of plastic and vinyl products, including polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipes, furniture and automobile upholstery, wall coverings, housewares and automobile parts. The uses that would be subject to authorization are 1,2-dichloroethane's use as a solvent and as an ingredient in chemical mixtures, ECHA said.
  • Oligomeric reaction products of formaldehyde with aniline (technical MDA);
  • Arsenic acid;
  • Bis(2-methoxyethyl) ether (diglyme);
  • 2,2'-dichloro-4,4'-methylenedianiline;
  • Dichromium tris(chromate);
  • Potassium hydroxyoctaoxodizincatedichromate
  • Pentazinc chromate octahydroxide

Member States Propose 10 SVHCs

Meanwhile, on Aug. 4 Austria, Denmark, Germany and Sweden filed information to support the nomination of several phthalates and other chemicals among 10 compounds they said should be classified as substances of very high concern.

Those 10 chemicals are:
  • Bis (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate
  • 2-benzotriazol-2-yl-4,6-di-tert-butylphenol (UV-320) 
  • Dibutyl phthalate 
  • 2-(2H-benzotriazol-2-yl)-4,6-ditertpentylphenol (UV-328) 
  • Cadmium sulphate 
  • Cadmium fluoride 
  • 2-ethylhexyl 10-ethyl-4,4-dioctyl-7-oxo-8-oxa-3,5-dithia-4-stannatetradecanoate
  • Diisobutyl phthalate 
  • Benzyl butyl phthalate 
  • A reaction chemical proposed by Austria

Source: Bloomberg News

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Medical center exposed workers to asbestos, other health hazards: OSHA

All employers must keep their workers safe, OSHA says.
Aleda E. Lutz Veterans Administration Medical Center employees in Saginaw were exposed to asbestos, bloodborne pathogens and unsafe operation of powered industrial vehicles, a U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspection found.

OSHA issued six notices of unsafe or unhealthful working conditions following the March 2014 inspection initiated as part of OSHA's Federal Agency Local Emphasis Program*.

"The Veterans Administration Medical Center failed to ensure that the facility was a safe and healthy workplace because it did not provide appropriate personal protective equipment or train employees how to keep themselves safe," said Larry M. Johnson, director of OSHA's Lansing Area Office.

"All employers, including federal employers, are responsible for knowing the hazards in their facilities. They must follow standards to protect worker safety and health."

OSHA's inspection found that officials failed to remove a broken, powered industrial vehicle from service, resulting in one repeat violation. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' facility in Battle Creek was cited for the same safety violation in 2013.

To issue notices for repeat violations, OSHA must issue at least one other notice for the same violation, within the same standard industrial classification code, at another agency establishment. Thousands of workers are injured every year, sometimes fatally, while operating powered industrial vehicles.

In addition, OSHA found five serious violations for failure to ensure employees wore masks and eye protection whenever they could expect exposure to splashes, spray, spatter or droplets of blood or other infectious material, and to ensure that work surfaces were properly decontaminated.

Facility officials did not ensure that powered industrial truck operators completed training successfully or that employees who performed housekeeping duties were provided asbestos awareness training. Additionally, the facility used a power strip that exceeded acceptable voltage levels.

A serious notice is issued when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

As required by the Occupational Safety and Health Act, federal agencies must comply with the same safety standards as private sector employers.

The federal agency equivalent to a private sector citation is the notice of unsafe and unhealthful working conditions. A notice is used to inform establishment officials of violations of OSHA standards, alternate standards and 29 Code of Federal Regulations citable program elements.

OSHA cannot propose monetary penalties against another federal agency for failure to comply with OSHA standards.

The medical center has 15 business days from receipt of its notices to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's area director, or appeal the notices by submitting a summary of the agency's position on the unresolved issues to OSHA's regional administrator.


Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to ensure these conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.

Source: OSHA

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Friday, September 12, 2014

Coal ash to blame for cancers in PA prison: Report

A high rate of cancer among inmates at a southwestern Pennsylvania prison is linked to a nearby coal ash dump, and the correctional facility should be closed down, according to a recent report.
Black dust was seen settling on prison
grounds, experts say.

Eleven prisoners died of cancer from 2010 through 2013, and six others have been diagnosed with cancer at the State Correctional Institution Fayette, said the report, released by the Abolitionist Law Center, a public interest law firm based in Pittsburgh, and the Human Rights Coalition, a national prison reform group.

SCI Fayette has a higher inmate death rate than all but two other prisons in the state, both of which have high geriatric populations, it said.

A 12-month investigation found that blowing coal ash was the most likely cause of the inmate cancers as well as other illnesses at the facility.

Inmates quoted in the report described black dust blowing from the dump and settling onto the prison and its grounds.

The report calls for SCI Fayette, which houses 1,986 inmates and has 677 staff, to be shut down. The medium security facility was built for $119 million and opened in 2003. All of the state’s license plates are made there.

Coal ash, also known as fly ash, is the residue of burning coal in a power plant. It was used extensively in Pennsylvania in the 1960s and 1970s in mine reclamation projects, notably in the effort to control a mine fire under the town of Centralia.

Its carcinogenic components, including lead, arsenic and mercury, were revealed in a 2010 report by a public interest group, Physicians for Social Responsibility.

“There is a strong correlation between confinement at SCI Fayette and the onset of serious health symptoms,” said Bret Grote, an author of the prison report. “There needs to be an independent and comprehensive study of the health of people at the prison and in the surrounding community.”

Officials at the state Department of Corrections are reviewing the report, a spokeswoman said.

“We take the health of our inmates and staff seriously,” said the spokeswoman, Susan McNaughton.

David LaTorre, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Correctional Officers Association, said it too would review the report carefully.

“We are aware of some officers from SCI Fayette who are suffering from illness,” he said.

Fly ash from two regional power plants was dumped at the Fayette County site for 60 years, said John Poister, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection.

No one answered the telephone at Matt Canestrale Construction Inc in Elizabeth, which owns the dump site.

Source: Reuters

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Aging brain affected by environmental exposures

The population of Americans aged 65 and older is expected to double between 2010 and 2050,1 and by mid-century the proportion of the human population made up of people over age 80 is projected to have quadrupled since 2000.
Seniors may be affected by poor IAQ and chemical
exposures earlier in life, researchers say.

So factors that affect this aging population are of increasing importance. Of particular concern are the neurological diseases and disorders typically associated with advanced age, among them Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, dementia, and reduced cognitive function.

Investigators are studying the effects of not just present-day exposures and environmental influences such as physical and mental exercise, but also exposures that occurred much earlier in life, whose effects may only become apparent in old age.

It was long assumed that “once the brain received its allotted quota of nerve cells, its destiny was frozen. After that, the passage of time eroded our allotment steadily and irrevocably,” as professor emeritus Bernard Weiss of the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry wrote in 2007.3

Now, however, there is increasing evidence that the brain is capable of generating new neurons and other functional brain cells even during advanced age. There is also evidence that the older brain can respond quickly and positively to external influences such as physical exercise and intellectual stimulation.

This is prompting considerable interest in developing strategies for protecting and enhancing neurological function in the elderly.

The two most vulnerable periods for the brain, Weiss says, are early in life, when the organ is first developing, and later in life, when the body’s defenses and compensatory mechanisms begin to falter.

There is a large and growing body of evidence indicating these two vulnerable life stages can be linked when damage incurred during early development contributes to health disorders that may not become apparent until later in life.

Weiss also notes that declining defense mechanisms may magnify vulnerability to contemporary environmental exposures.

He says that when older adults experience cognitive problems, diagnoses rarely consider the possibility that environmental chemical exposure may be involved, simply because questions about such exposures are typically not asked as part of clinical intake.

Over the past 30 years, Weiss says, research attention has focused primarily on environmental influences on early developmental stages. Far less extensively researched, but a subject of increasing interest, are environmental chemical exposures that can affect the health of the aging brain.

Neurotoxic agents

In the past 10 years, however, a number of studies have looked at the effects of chronic low-level lead exposure on adult humans’ cognitive abilities. The findings of such studies suggest that lead that has accumulated in bones can be mobilized over time as part of the aging process, resulting in exposures that adversely affect adults’ cognitive skills later in life.

Other metals may adversely affect neurological function in later life by either acting directly on the brain or adversely impacting other organs or hormones that maintain healthy neurological function.

For example, cadmium can cause kidney disease, which is associated with cognitive problems. Like lead, cadmium is stored in the body, primarily in the kidneys and liver but also in joints and other tissues, where it has a biological half-time of decades.

Similarly, lead and mercury have been associated with liver disease, which itself is associated with adverse neurological health effects, including a condition that produces a type of neuronal plaque associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Chemical exposures that adversely affect kidney and liver function can also hamper the body’s ability to detoxify and excrete environmental toxicants, thus letting them remain in the body—an effect that may be particularly problematic in advanced age when a body’s defense mechanisms are in decline.

There is evidence connecting certain metals (e.g., lead, manganese), pesticides (e.g., paraquat, maneb), and solvents (e.g., toluene, trichloroethylene) with neurological 
symptoms characteristic of Parkinson’s disease. Many of the exposures studied have been occupational, and some were acute, rather than lower-level and chronic. Much more extensive research is needed to determine the precise role environmental exposures to these agents may play in prompting Parkinson’s disease.

More substantial evidence links various solvent exposures to other neurological conditions, including cognitive impairments, neuropathy, and what is sometimes called “pseudodementia,” when temporary neurological dysfunction produces symptoms similar to those of dementia.

Organic solvents, including toluene, have also been found to impair color vision, while other solvent exposures have been linked to hearing loss, particularly when combined with noise exposure.

Such exposures have been primarily studied when they occur occupationally, but some epidemiological studies suggest there is also potential for adverse effects from ambient environmental exposures.

Solvent and pesticide exposures have
been linked to neurological disorders.
These solvent and pesticide exposures can, of course, occur at any age. But because the neurological disorders with which they are linked mirror those associated with motor and sensory-function declines of aging, they can be mistaken in diagnosis for the effects of aging or diseases of old age like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.

It also appears that long-term non-acute exposures to solvents and pesticides can affect verbal memory, attention, and spatial skills, with effects that may not become apparent until later in life, when they, too, might be confused with or compounded by aging-related conditions.

More subtle environmental exposures are also thought to be implicated in neurological health effects that can manifest later in life. These include exposures to chemicals that may disrupt the normal function of hormones involved in regulating neurological health, chief among them thyroid hormones.

Hormones are intimately involved with neurological function; a normal brain can’t develop without healthy thyroid hormone function, and the fetal brain is extremely receptive to thyroid hormone.

When environmental factors affect thyroid and other hormones, the result can be health effects associated with conditions that impair neurological function.

For example, there is evidence that exposure to persistent organic pollutants including dioxins and certain polychlorinated biphenyls, halogenated flame retardants, and pesticides can produce hormonally mediated effects that promote obesity and diabetes, which increase risk for vascular health problems.

There is also evidence that exposures to some of these same compounds may directly increase risk for hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

These cardiovascular conditions can, in turn, cause less dramatic neurovascular effects that sometimes result in memory loss, or what’s called “vascular dementia,” when reduced blood flow to the brain deprives brain cells of oxygen and causes the equivalent of small strokes.

Evidence of similar effects has been reported for exposure to chemicals that are pervasive due to widespread use but are not environmentally persistent.

Among these is bisphenol A (BPA).

Laura Vandenberg, an assistant professor of environmental health studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, explains that numerous animal studies indicate early-life exposure to BPA can produce health effects characteristic of metabolic syndrome.

Individuals with metabolic syndrome are at increased risk for hypertension, with its risk for adverse neurological effects. It is also often hard to exercise for those who are overweight or obese or who have cardiovascular disease or diabetes. Yet aerobic exercise in later life appears to be an essential component of maintaining, if not also enhancing, brain function in older age.

Protective Factors

There is now substantial research investigating how physical activity and exercise affect brain function. This is also the area of research where it is perhaps the easiest to make direct comparisons between animal experiments and human studies.

One focus is to understand the mechanisms by which exercise protects and restores the brain.

Of particular interest is learning how physical exercise increases the production of new neurons, and how that may enhance performance of certain memory functions. Functions of interest include what’s called “relational binding”—for example, remembering the name of a person you recently met and where you met that person.

Physical exercise also appears to enhance “visual pattern separation,” which enables you to distinguish and remember different patterns—a process that increases memory accuracy.

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Monday, September 8, 2014

Gas workers may be exposed to dangerous levels of benzene: Study

Gas well workers exposed to benzene
have a higher risk for blood
cancers like leukemia, researchers say.
A new study this month reveals unconventional oil and natural gas workers could be exposed to dangerous levels of benzene, putting them at a higher risk for blood cancers like leukemia.

Benzene is a known carcinogen that is present in fracking flowback water. It’s also found in gasoline, cigarette smoke and in chemical manufacturing.

As a known carcinogen, benzene exposures in the workplace are limited by federal regulations under OSHA. But some oil and gas production activities are exempt from those standards.

The National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) worked with industry to measure chemical exposures of workers who monitor flowback fluid at well sites in Colorado and Wyoming.

A summary of the peer-reviewed article was published online this month on a CDC website. In several cases benzene exposures were found to be above safe levels.

The study is unusual in that it did not simply rely on air samples. The researchers also took urine samples from workers, linking the exposure to absorption of the toxin in their bodies. One of the limits of the study includes the small sample size, only six sites in two states.

Dr. Bernard Goldstein from the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health says the study is the first of its kind. Goldstein did not contribute to the study’s research, but he has conducted his own research on benzene. And he’s treated patients exposed to the carcinogen.

“These workers are at higher risk for leukemia,” said Goldstein. “The longer, the more frequently they do this, the more likely they are to get leukemia particularly if the levels are high.”

The study looked at workers who use a gauge to measure the amount of flowback water that returns after a frack job is initiated. A spokeswoman for NIOSH says none of their studies draw any conclusions about exposures to nearby residents, but focus specifically on workers.

But Dr. Goldstein says it shows that there could be potential risks to residents as well.

“We’re not acting in a way to protect the public who are at high risk,” said Goldstein. “And we can’t even tell you who is at high risk. Yet we’re rushing ahead in a situation where all of the data are telling us that there are risks.”

Authors of the NIOSH benzene study said that more research with larger sample sizes should be done, especially since there was so much variation in the levels observed at different times and well sites.

The researchers also listed a number of recommendations for industry to take to reduce benzene levels on the job site. These include changing tank gauging procedures, training workers, limiting exposure times, carrying gas monitors, using respiratory and hand protection, and monitoring exposure levels.

Source: StateImpact

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