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Friday, October 31, 2014

Three schools closed due to asbestos scare

Airborne asbestos fibers are carcinogenic.
A beleaguered Huntington Beach school district has now closed three of its campuses because of an asbestos scare, leaving 1,300 students without a school to attend.

The three grade schools were closed when parents learned that their children could have been exposed to potentially carcinogenic asbestos while the Ocean View School District worked to modernize school sites.

Since then, hundreds of parents have been uncertain when and where their children would return to the classroom.

The school district is losing about $63,000 a day in state funds because students cannot attend class.

About 100 families have requested that their children be transferred to schools in other districts.

"There's no way I can trust my son is going to be safe there anymore," said parent Lily Coffin, who said she hoped to move her son to the neighboring Huntington Beach City School District.

District trustees voted during a special meeting to close Lake View, Hope View and Oak View elementary schools, while classrooms were cleaned and tested to make sure they were free of potentially carcinogenic asbestos dust. Lake View was later closed indefinitely, and now the district has decided to keep the other two schools closed indefinitely as well.

"Recently, we received information from our consultants and experts that it is not in the best interest of students and staff to reopen these three schools until we obtain additional information," said Gustavo Balderas, Ocean View's superintendent.

While the district has determined it can move students from Lake View to other campuses in the district, it’s unclear what will happen with the 1,300 students from the other campuses.

Ocean View officials have said they were aware that asbestos has been in their schools for decades. However, parents became upset when they learned the district may have been removing the material as part of a large-scale modernization project while students were present.

Ongoing testing revealed there was asbestos in two classrooms at Lake View, while a single asbestos fiber was found in a classroom at Hope View. Test results from Oak View were inconclusive, officials said.

The district said it will test for asbestos during the next several weeks at all 11 schools in the district. The cost of the tests is about $700,000, said Assistant Supt. Roni Ellis.

Construction has been suspended at every school until the summer and the district.

Cal/OSHA, is investigating whether contractors continued to remove asbestos while students were in classrooms, which would violate state law.

Ocean View officials could not yet provide an estimate of the number of families who have applied for transfers.

The loss of state funds and the cost of asbestos removal could leave the district in financial trouble. Officials said they may end up asking the state to help with costs.

Asbestos is a mineral fiber that until the 1970s was widely used in building products and insulation materials. The fibers can be released into the air during demolition work, repairs and remodeling, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

When Lake View, Oak View and Hope View schools were built decades ago, asbestos was used as fireproofing on metal beams above the ceiling. Over time, the dust began to fall from the beams and settle on top of classroom ceiling tiles, district records show.

Though coming into contact with asbestos that hasn't been disturbed isn't harmful, it becomes a hazard when the dust becomes airborne, said Steven Viani, a registered civil engineer and engineering contractor with experience in asbestos and other hazardous materials.

Inhaling high levels of the dust can increase the risk of lung disease that isn't detected until years later, including a type of cancer called mesothelioma, experts say.

Teachers have expressed concern that they weren't notified about the asbestos above the tiles and said the district should have placed signs restricting access to limit the risk of the dust becoming airborne.

Source: LA Times

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Study to assess breast cancer risk for female firefighters

Firefighters are exposed to flame retardants,
diesel exhaust and other toxic chemicals,
which may affect their health.
When firefighters rush out the firehouse doors, sirens screeching on the way to fight fires, they put their lives on the line in more ways than one.

In responding to roughly 28,000 fire calls a year, members of the San Francisco Fire Department are routinely exposed to flame retardants, diesel exhaust and other toxic chemicals that seep out of raging infernos and work their way into the air.

A growing body of evidence strongly suggests that exposure increases firefighters’ risk of developing cancer. But until now, studies have focused on men.

That’s about to change. Members of the San Francisco Fire Department are working with researchers at UC Berkeley, UCSF and the Silent Spring Institute to find out whether exposure to toxic chemicals increases the risks of breast cancer in female firefighters.

The project, known as the Women Firefighters Biomonitoring Collaborative Study, has been under way for about a year.

“Since breast cancer is a cancer that more commonly affects women, and because of anecdotal evidence that the firefighters have been experiencing (many cases of breast cancer), we wanted to see if there was a link,” said Jessica Trowbridge, a UC Berkeley researcher who is coordinating the study.

Trowbridge and her colleagues are gathering blood and urine samples from about 160 women — 80 San Francisco firefighters and 80 city office workers who will serve as the control group — to use in measuring chemical, hormone and melatonin levels.

They will also measure the lengths of the women’s telomeres, caps on the ends of chromosomes that are associated with aging and cancer, also thought to be related to chemical exposure and working demanding night shifts.

Firefighters in general have higher rates of cancer, especially respiratory, digestive and urinary system varieties, a recent National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health study found.

That study included women, but there weren't enough of them to draw robust conclusions about their cancer risks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

With about 225 female firefighters, San Francisco is better equipped than most cities for a study like this: Women make up about 13 percent of its firefighting population, said Heather Buren, a lieutenant and paramedic with the fire department who is working on the study.

In 2011, less than 5 percent of firefighters nationwide were women, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Researchers will also test for other chemicals that could contribute to higher rates of cancer in both groups of women, who are probably exposed to personal care and household products as well.

There has been a cultural shift with respect to chemical exposure. For one, firefighters now have better breathing masks, which they’re encouraged to wear for longer periods of time in toxic environments.

There are also rules prohibiting members of the department from storing their turnouts — the suits they wear to fight fires — in firehouse rooms where they eat and sleep.

The San Francisco Firefighters Cancer Prevention Foundation, which organizes screenings and promotes cancer prevention in the department, is partially responsible for those changes. It was formed in 2006 by Tony Stefani, a retired firefighter who himself fought cancer.

Researchers have nearly finished enrolling participants for the breast cancer study. They hope to have results published in two years. The women who participate in the study will be able to see their individual results when they are complete.

Source: San Francisco Gate. This article has been edited for length.

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Friday, October 24, 2014

List of cancer-causing chemicals grows

Many chemicals have been linked to
cancer, researchers say.
Four new substances have been added to a list of chemicals that may cause cancer compiled by the U.S. Department of Healthand Human Services (HHS).

The list of known carcinogens now includes a chemical called ortho-toluidine, which is used to make rubber chemicals, pesticides and dyes.

Recent research has linked the substance to bladder cancer in people.

Three other substances were added to a list of agents that are "reasonably anticipated to be human carcinogens."

These include a cleaning solvent called 1-bromopropane, a wood preservative mixture known as pentachlorophenol and cumene, which can be found in fuel products and even tobacco smoke.

"Identifying substances in our environment that can make people vulnerable to cancer will help in prevention efforts," Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program, said in a statement.

"This report provides a valuable resource for health regulatory and research agencies, and it empowers the public with information people can use to reduce exposure to cancer-causing substances."

Ortho-toluidine was originally classed as "reasonably anticipated" to be a human carcinogen in 1983. But HHS scientists re-evaluated the substance, looking at three studies of dye workers and two studies of rubber-chemical workers who were regularly exposed to ortho-toluidine.

They found enough evidence of a link between ortho-toluidine exposure and an increased risk of bladder cancer to call the chemical a known carcinogen, according to HHS. Rats also developed bladder tumors after they ingested ortho-toluidine.

Ortho-toluidine is no longer produced in the United States, but at least 1 million lbs. (450,000 kilograms) of the substance is imported into the country each year, according to HHS.

The people who have the greatest risk of exposure are employees who work in chemical plants where ortho-toluidine is used to make rubber chemicals, dyes and pesticides.

HHS officials said they didn't have enough evidence to definitively prove that exposure to the other three chemicals can cause human cancers. But these substances do cause rats and mice to develop tumors, according to the agency.

In experiments, rodents that inhaled fumes of 1-bromopropane — a colorless to light yellow liquid solvent — developed tumors in several organs, including their skin, lungs and large intestine.

The substance is used as a cleaner for optics, electronics and metals. It has also become popular in dry cleaning as a replacement for perchloroethylene, another chemical considered a health and environmental hazard.

Mice that inhaled cumene fumes developed lung tumors and liver tumors, according to HHS's review. The flammable liquid with a gasoline-like odor is found in coal tar and petroleum, as well as tobacco smoke. It is used primarily to make acetone and phenol.

Pentachlorophenol — a substance used to treat utility poles, wood pilings and fence posts — caused tumors in the liver and other organs of mice.

In small studies of humans, exposure to this compound was associated with an increased risk of the blood cancer non-Hodgkin lymphoma, but the HHS said it considered the evidence too limited to call pentachlorophenol a known carcinogen.

The HHS's 13th Report on Carcinogens, which now includes 243 listings total, is available online:

Source: LiveScience

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