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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

EPA guide aims to improve indoor air quality in schools

Most schools suffer from indoor air quality problems, which can
affect student and staff health, well-being and productivity.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released new guidance to help school districts protect indoor air quality while increasing energy efficiency during school renovations.

“This guidance provides common-sense solutions for improving energy efficiency and indoor air quality in schools across the country,” said Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation.

“By using these guidelines, school districts can cut their energy bills and help ensure that students have a healthy and safe learning environment.”

Both energy management and protection of indoor air quality (IAQ) are important considerations for school facility management during energy upgrades and retrofits, and schools can protect occupant health by addressing both goals holistically.

These renovation and construction activities can create dust, introduce new contaminants and contaminant pathways, create or aggravate moisture problems, and result in inadequate ventilation in occupied spaces.

EPA’s Energy Savings Plus Health: Indoor Air Quality Guidelines for School Building Upgrades offers opportunities to prevent and control potentially harmful conditions during school renovations.

The practices outlined in the new guidance support schools as healthy, energy-efficient buildings that play a significant role in local communities.

Nearly 55 million elementary and secondary students occupy our schools, as well as 7 million teachers, faculty and staff.

 In addition, many communities use school buildings after regular school hours as after-care facilities, recreation centers, meeting places and emergency shelters during natural disasters.

For more than a decade, EPA has made significant strides in protecting children’s health in schools by equipping personnel at the state, district and school level with the necessary knowledge and tools to create healthy indoor environments.

The new guidance builds on EPA’s existing programs, such as ENERGY STAR for schools and Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools, which helps schools identify, resolve and prevent air quality problems, often with low- and no-cost measures.  

Today, half of the schools in the United States have adopted indoor air quality (IAQ) management plans, the majority of which are based on EPA’s IAQ Tools for Schools.

However, there are still about 25 million children in nearly 60,000 schools who are not yet protected by IAQ management programs.

Download the new guidance and check here for other valuable school environmental health resources.

Source: EPA press release

Concerned about the indoor air quality at school? Electrocorp air cleaners offer a quick and affordable way to provide cleaner and more breathable air in school and university classrooms, locker rooms, lecture halls, libraries, administration offices, labs and other spaces. Contact Electrocorp for more information and a free consultation.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Nursing home infection rates climbing: Study

Nursing home infections can be reduced,
researchers say.
Nursing home infection rates are on the rise, a study from Columbia University School of Nursing found, suggesting that more must be done to protect residents of these facilities from preventable complications.

The study, which examined infections in U.S. nursing homes over a five-year period, found increased infection rates for pneumonia, urinary tract infections (UTIs), viral hepatitis, septicemia, wound infections, and multiple drug-resistant organisms (MDROs).

"Infections are a leading cause of deaths and complications for nursing home residents, and with the exception of tuberculosis we found a significant increase in infection rates across the board," said lead study author Carolyn Herzig, MS, project director of the Prevention of Nosocomial Infections & Cost Effectiveness in Nursing Homes (PNICE-NH) study at Columbia Nursing.

"Unless we can improve infection prevention and control in nursing homes, this problem is only going to get worse as the baby boomers age and people are able to live longer with increasingly complex, chronic diseases."

Herzig and a team of researchers from Columbia Nursing and RAND Corporation analyzed infection prevalence from 2006 to 2010, using data that nursing homes submitted to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

While UTIs and pneumonia were the most common, infection prevalence increased the most – 48 percent – for viral hepatitis. Herzig presented findings from the study at IDWeek 2014 in Philadelphia.

More research is needed to determine the exact causes behind the increases in infection prevalence, Herzig said.

But there are several relatively simple interventions that have been proven to help reduce the risk of infection – and that families should look for when selecting a nursing home for a loved one.

UTIs, far and away the most common infection in nursing homes, increased in prevalence by 1 percent, the study found. UTIs can be prevented by reducing the use of urinary catheters and increasing the frequency of assisted trips to the toilet or diaper changes for residents who are unable to use the bathroom.

Families evaluating which nursing home to choose for a loved one should ask what protocols are in place to decrease catheter use, and they should also ask how the staff cares for residents with diapers, Herzig said.

"Nobody wants to think about diapers, but even if your loved one enters the nursing home able to use the bathroom independently, they may need assistance down the line. Seeing how well toileting needs are met is one way to assess infection risk."

Pneumonia climbed in prevalence by 11 percent, the study found. For pneumonia, and other infections that can spread through the air or contact with contaminated surfaces, proper hand hygiene is essential for prevention.

Residents, visitors, and staff should all have easy access to sanitizer or soap and water to clean their hands and be encouraged to do this frequently.

"When you walk into a nursing home for the first time, you should easily spot hand sanitizer dispensers or hand-washing stations," Herzig said. "If you don't see this, it's an indication that infection control and prevention may be lacking at the facility."

MDRO infection prevalence increased 18 percent, the study found. Screening for MDROs is an important tool for reducing the risk of MDROs, Herzig said. Families should ask whether residents are routinely screened for bacteria like C. difficile and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

While some nursing homes may only screen residents who are symptomatic or at high risk for infection, routine screening of all residents upon admission is likely to be more effective, Herzig said.

In addition, it's worth asking whether a nursing home has private rooms to allow for isolation if necessary and whether families are consulted when their loved one shares a room with a resident who has an infection.

"Isolation is a common way to contain MRSA and other infections in hospitals, but in nursing homes this isn't as common because these facilities are tailored to residential needs. If the nursing home does have rooms for isolation, it suggests a more robust approach to infection prevention and control."

Source: Columbia University

Nursing homes can suffer from polluted indoor air that may affect people's health and well-being. Electrocorp has designed activated carbon and HEPA air cleaners for hospitals and health care settings that can help reduce the prevalence of odors, airborne chemicals, gases, particles, mold, viruses and bacteria. Contact Electrocorp for more information.

Friday, October 17, 2014

OSHA seeks input on chemical exposures at work

National dialogue on chemical exposures and permissible exposure limits in the workplace launched

Only a fraction of thousands of chemicals
used today has been tested - and that
info is often outdated, experts say.
The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced it is launching a national dialogue with stakeholders on ways to prevent work-related illness caused by exposure to hazardous substances.

The first stage of this dialogue is a request for information on the management of hazardous chemical exposures in the workplace and strategies for updating permissible exposure limits.

OSHA's PELs, which are regulatory limits on the amount or concentration of a substance in the air, are intended to protect workers against the adverse health effects of exposure to hazardous substances.

Ninety-five percent of OSHA's current PELs, which cover fewer than 500 chemicals, have not been updated since their adoption in 1971.

The agency's current PELs cover only a small fraction of the tens of thousands of chemicals used in commerce, many of which are suspected of being harmful.

Substantial resources are required to issue new exposure limits or update existing workplace exposure limits, as courts have required complex analyses for each proposed PEL.

"Many of our chemical exposure standards are dangerously out of date and do not adequately protect workers," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels.

"While we will continue to work on updating our workplace exposure limits, we are asking public health experts, chemical manufacturers, employers, unions and others committed to preventing workplace illnesses to help us identify new approaches to address chemical hazards."

OSHA is seeking public comment regarding current practices and future methods for updating PELs, as well as new strategies for better protecting workers from hazardous chemical exposures. Specifically, the agency requests suggestions on:
  • Possible streamlined approaches for risk assessment and feasibility analyses and
  • Alternative approaches for managing chemical exposures, including control banding, task-based approaches and informed substitution.
The goal of this public dialogue is to give stakeholders a forum to develop innovative, effective approaches to improve the health of workers in the United States.

In the coming months, OSHA will announce additional ways for members of the public to participate in the conversation.

The comment period for the RFI lasts for 180 days. Instructions for submitting comments are available in the Federal Register, Docket No. OSHA-2012-0023.

Source: OSHA

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