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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Formaldehyde threat real: Chemical industry

Formaldehyde is often used in wood products and has
been linked to cancer and other health concerns.
For years, the chemical industry has been winning a political battle to keep formaldehyde from being declared a known carcinogen.

The industry’s chief lobby group, the American Chemistry Council, has persuaded members of Congress that the findings of both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services were wrong and should be reviewed by the National Academy of Sciences.

In 2011, the academy did indeed criticize the EPA’s report on formaldehyde for being unclear. The chemical industry then used that critique to delay dozens of other ongoing evaluations of potentially toxic chemicals.

But recently, the academy issued a second report, which found in effect that government scientists were right all along when they concluded that formaldehyde can cause three rare forms of cancer.

“We are perplexed as to why today’s report differs so greatly from the 2011” report, Cal Dooley, president and chief executive officer of the American Chemistry Council, said in a statement titled “The Safety of Formaldehyde is Well-Studied and Supported by Robust Science.”

Part of the disparity is that in the 2011 report, Congress asked the academy only to critique the EPA’s draft assessment rather than evaluate the dangers of formaldehyde itself. The panel concluded that the EPA’s report was too long, repetitive and lacked explanation.

But after reviewing the scientific evidence itself, the academy concluded that formaldehyde is indeed a known carcinogen.

Formaldehyde is widely used in wood products and clothing.

In a blog posting, Jennifer Sass, a scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the American Chemistry Council’s efforts “a vicious attack on government scientific assessments [meant] to distort and discredit any evidence linking toxic chemicals to diseases, disabilities or death.”

Using the academy to review any negative findings from the EPA has become common tactic of the chemical industry.

The Center for Public Integrity reported in June that Rep. Mike Simpson, a Republican from Idaho, got the EPA to turn its negative assessment of arsenic over to the academy. At the same time, Congress also insisted that the EPA redo all ongoing assessments to address the criticisms of the 2011 formaldehyde review. Forty-seven assessments are affected.

The American Chemistry Council said in its statement that the academy “misses an opportunity to advance the science.”

Richard Denison, a scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, countered: “One can only hope that this sorry episode and waste of public resources will help to expose the narrow self-interest of the industry, which for years it has deceptively sought to wrap in the mantle of sound science.”

Source: Center for Public Integrity

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Pilot poisoned by toxic fumes on planes: Scientists

Pilots, crew and passengers may be exposed to toxic fumes
on aircraft, studies show.
Severe headaches. Insomnia. Vision problems. Confusion. Constant pain.

British Airways pilot Richard Westgate had been suffering from a long list of health problems in the years leading up to his death in December 2012, aged 43.

He had been convinced he was being poisoned by toxic fumes that leaked on board the planes that he flew.

In fact, he was so sure about it that he had asked his lawyers to begin legal action against the airline for “breaching health and safety guidelines”.

Now scientists claim they have compelling evidence that shows he was right all along.

Published in the Swiss Journal of Biological Physics and Chemistry, it’s believed to be the first case study of a pilot with chronic ill health following exposure to contaminated cabin air.

The researchers conducted a postmortem examination, analyzed the health problems Mr Westgate had detailed before his death, and retested blood that was drawn while he was still alive.

They concluded that the most likely cause of his death was “organophosphate induced neurotoxicity”. Organophosphates are hazardous chemicals present in jet engine oil and hydraulic fluid.

Frank Cannon, of Glasgow-based law firm Cannons Law, who has been fighting for answers following his client’s death, told the UK’s Mirror : “We believe that constant exposure to fuel leaks in planes contributed to Richard’s death.

“This scientific research proves that Richard suffered from chemicals called organophosphates which cause chronic brain and other problems. This happens because of constant exposure working aboard aircraft.”

The law firm is acting for 25 people who claim they’ve been affected by fumes on planes.

So how do toxic fumes get inside planes?
The cabin air is drawn in from the aircraft’s engines or auxiliary power unit — with the exception of the newer Boeing 787 model — using the engine’s compressors. This “bleed air” heats the air inside, and pressurises the cabin altitude. However, engine seals leak over time or fail, allowing heated oil mist to escape into the bleed air.

Mr Westgate, who had flown for 15 years, had noted that the on start-up, the engines would create puffs of smoke inside the plane followed by an oily smell.

After three years of flying his symptoms started, and progressively worsened to the point where he had severe chest pain, problems walking, and would fall off his bicycle for no reason. He underwent numerous tests and took a range of medications, and was even admitted to a psychiatric hospital.

Overall, he saw 15 specialists. But it was only shortly before he was found dead in his hotel room that he was diagnosed with having symptoms related to exposure to plane fumes.

How big is the problem?

It’s believed many more illnesses and even deaths have been caused by toxic fumes on planes.

However, it’s difficult to establish a causal link as there is no standard on-board system to monitor aircraft cabin-air contamination. That’s despite a series of ad hoc tests reporting contamination events.

Earlier this year an Australian Transport Safety Bureau report ­revealed passengers and crew on Australian aircraft were ­exposed to toxic fumes more than 1000 times over the past five years. There were several occasions when crew had to divert flights or make emergency landings because of the fumes, but passengers were never warned of the dangers.

Former pilot Dr Susan Michaelis, now head of research at the Global Cabin Air Quality Executive, says she collapsed from fumes.

“Sitting in an unhealthy environment and being exposed to chemicals every day made me sick,” she told the Daily Telegraph .

She said there is compelling evidence of the impact these events have on health.

“There is a pattern of chronic ill-health … and it needs to be looked at further. My research has found clusters of pilots with brain cancer in the UK. They were mostly flying short-haul journeys.”

“The way the engines are designed means crew and passengers are exposed to hazardous fumes. These have both short- and long-term health impacts including cancer.”

A British Airways spokesperson told “It would be inappropriate to comment or speculate on the cause of death of an individual. The safety and security of our customers and crew are of paramount importance to British Airways and will never be compromised.”


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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Sawmill ordered to pay for fatal fire

WorkSafeBC orders mill to pay $724,000 in penalties, levies for 2012 fire

Woodworking can cause a buildup of explosive sawdust.
The company that owns the northern British Columbia sawmill where two workers were killed and 22 others injured in a explosion and fire has been ordered by WorkSafeBC to pay more than $724,000 in penalties and levies.

The April 23, 2012 blaze at Prince George's Lakeland Mills Ltd. claimed the lives of Alan Little, 43 and Glen Roche, 46 and followed a similar deadly explosion only months earlier at the Babine Forest Products sawmill in Burns Lake, B.C.

The province's Criminal Justice Branch announced earlier this year it would not lay charges against either of the companies in the mill blasts because it feared the evidence collected wouldn't be admissible in court.

But WorkSafeBC said recently that Lakeland Mills breached the Workers Compensation Act and Occupational Health and Safety Regulations and ordered it to pay a $97,500 administrative penalty and a $626,663 claims-cost levy for violating the act and the regulations.

"The dollar value of a penalty or claims cost levy does not and cannot reflect the loss of lives and the pain and suffering of workers and families,'' the agency states on its website, adding the company has the right to appeal and review the penalties.

The order follows a similar $1-million ruling in April by WorkSafeBC against Hampton Affiliates, the owners of the Babine mill.

Lakeland Mills president Greg Stewart responded to Tuesday's report with a written statement, saying the company had just been notified earlier in the day.

"It will take some time to review the information,'' he said. "Only then will we be in a position to respond to WorkSafeBC's allegations.''

Shane Simpson, the New Democratic labor critic, called the penalties and assessments a slap on the wrist and of cold comfort to the families of the workers killed and the survivors.

He reiterated calls for an independent inquiry.

"We haven't got to the bottom of this,'' he said. "We haven't found closure for the families, and I'm afraid that's not going to happen until we have the kind of independent inquiry that has been called for across the board by most people other than the government.''

The fire at the mill broke out at about 9:30 p.m. on April 23, 2012, and WorkSafeBC found the mill's northeast corner exploded outward. A few seconds later another section, known as the bag house, erupted in flames, it found.

The explosion traveled east to west through the mill's operating level, destroying the mill, killing and injuring the workers.

All the evidence indicated wood dust was dispersed throughout the mill and in a high-enough concentration to explode, stated a WorkSafeBC report issued in May.

The report noted the primary explosion occurred an area of about three-square meters which was surrounded by a conveyor, steel-plated ceiling and exterior wall.

The report described the important relationship between containment and a fuel-like wood dust.

"If these components are contained and ignition occurs, the pressure develops to a degree that typically is violent and destructive,'' it stated.

The friction that ignited the blaze was caused when a piece of equipment known as a gear-reducer cooling fan failed, and a rotating shaft generated friction, heat and a temperature of 577 degrees Celsius, the report added.

As a result, the airborne dust burned away in the containment zone during the primary explosion and the secondary explosions, and fire leveled the mill, it stated.

The report also cited several underlying factors.

There was a lack of a dust-collection system and ineffective dust-control measures, as well as ineffective maintenance and inspection of the gear reducers, it found.

The configuration of the waste conveyor increased airborne wood dust as well, and wood and weather conditions played a role, the report noted.

"The weather conditions resulted in a very dry environment with low humidity,'' it stated. "The condition was compounded by the very dry beetle-killed wood. The dusts produced were drier, finer and migrated throughout the mill.''

Finally, the report cited "inadequate supervision of clean-up and maintenance staff.''

The agency said it has ordered every B.C. sawmill to assess the risks and hazards of combustible dust and implement effective dust-control programs.

Followup inspections have been ordered by WorkSafeBC at other sawmills and wood-processing operations, and the agency has ordered hazard alerts for gear reducers and wintertime conditions when there are increased risks.

Source: The Canadian Press via OHS Canada

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Monday, August 11, 2014

Lab lets public use 3-D printing and laser tools

Laser engraving and cutting may release toxic
fumes that can affect people's health, studies show.
On any given day, an unusual cross-section of artists and entrepreneurs might be found tooling away on the cutting and industrial printing machines at a Central Square lab in Cambridge: a maker of percussion instruments, a fashion designer, even the owner of an electronic cigarette retailer.

The lab is called Danger!Awesome, and it is helping to introduce 3-D printing and laser-cutting technologies to people who don’t have the knowledge or access to factory- grade equipment to turn their big ideas into products.

The lab also performs professional-grade jobs for corporate clients, including the nearby Google Inc. offices. But to get 3-D printing to become an everyday technology adopted by the masses, cofounder Ali Mohammad said Danger!Awesome’s main calling is to teach hobbyists and entrepreneurs the technology isn’t all that difficult to master.

“Even if you don’t think you can make something, we will hold your hand through the entire process,” Mohammad said.

Like other labs, Danger!Awesome has both 3-D printers and laser cutters.

The former create solid objects by slowing extruding layers of plastic or other materials, based on a pattern designed in a computer program.

The latter starts with a block of material and meticulously burns away everything except the desired shape.

“You get this satisfaction from creating things,” Mohammad said. “There is something deeply, primally satisfying about building something you can touch.”

The company is among a number of startups in the Boston area anticipating that people will pay for training and access to bleeding-edge fabrication technologies.

In Somerville, Astisan’s Asylum trains members to use a Stratasys uPrint. The Printing Bay in Waltham offers classes and access to a MakerGear M2.

And on Newbury Street in the Back Bay, the 3-D printer manufacturer MakerBot has opened a store where the public can watch demonstrations of 3-D printing, scan and print their own designs, and buy a machine for their own use.

In Burlington, Einstein’s Workshop offers science and engineering classes aimed at children — including courses in 3-D printing and laser cutting for kids as young as second-graders.

“When you give kids access to these machines, it’s amazing what projects they think of themselves,” said workshop founder Henry Houh, who took a laser-cutting class at Danger!Awesome.

Visual artist Lannie Hathaway got so hooked on the new technology that she now works at Danger!Awesome, where she continues to use the machines for her own engraving and illustration projects.

“Using the tools that are used for engineering to make my own work come to life was very exciting,” Hathaway said.

The 3-D groundswell is being embraced by academia, as well.

Northeastern University, for instance, opened a comprehensive 3-D printing, 3-D scanning, and laser-cutting lab as part of its library system last year, and is developing coursework around it.

And the Massachusetts Institute of Technology supports a global network of 3-D printing laboratories through the Fab Foundation,a nonprofit started by the school’s Center for Bits and Atoms.

Mohammad was a doctoral student at MIT in computational linguistics when he stumbled on the technology, sneaking into the labs with laser cutters late at night to try out the equipment.

He became friends with Nadeem Mazen, and they decided to start a business. Their lab does about 50 orders a week, more around the holidays.

This article has been edited for length. 
Source: Boston Globe

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Friday, August 8, 2014

Fathers' solvent exposure linked to cancer in children

Parents' exposure to chemicals such as benzene, toluene and
TCE could be linked to brain tumors in their children.
Brain tumors in children could have as much to do with the father's occupational exposure to solvents as they have to do with the mother's, a new Australian study has found.

The study, published in the British Journal of Cancer, has found a link between parents' exposure to chemicals such as benzene, toluene, and trichloroethylene and brain tumors in their children.

Lead author Dr Susan Peters, occupational epidemiologist at the University of Western Australia, says while brain tumors are relatively rare they are a major cause of cancer death among children, and the causes are largely unknown.

"Because most of the cases occur before age five, the question is what are the risk factors because there are some genetic syndromes that are known to cause brain tumors but only in less than five per cent of cases," says Peters.

"The children are pretty young, [so] it could be that some of the parental exposures before or during pregnancy may be a cause."

The new study surveyed nearly 306 cases of parents of children up to 14 years old with brain tumors, which were diagnosed between 2005 - 2010 in Australia.

The researchers compared the parents' occupational exposures to solvents with those of 950 parents whose children did not have brain tumors.

The findings suggest that fathers working in jobs where they are regularly exposed to benzene in the year before their child is conceived are more than twice as likely to have that child develop a brain tumor.

Women working in occupations that expose them to a class of compounds called chlorinated solvents -- found in degreasers, cleaning solutions, paint thinners, pesticides and resins -- at any time in their lives also have a much higher risk of their child developing a brain tumor.

Building on previous studies

While brain tumors in children are relatively rare, previous studies have suggested a link between parental occupation and childhood brain tumors, finding parents working in industries such as the chemical and petroleum industries, car-related jobs, and jobs with regular exposure to paint, have a higher risk of their children developing brain tumors.

Peters says a previous study in rats also found that toluene -- found in petrol, paints, and inks -- had an effect on sperm cells, which points to a possible explanation for the link in humans.

Commenting on the study, Emeritus Professor Michael R. Moore, vice president of the Australasian College of Toxicology and Risk Assessment, says the data shows paternal exposure was a key issue.

"This is the children being directly affected by the father and the father's exposure is taking place prior to the children being conceived," says Moore.

"Parents who are thinking of having children should be thinking about not just what's happening with the mums but also with the dads."

Peters stressed that the study only involved relatively small numbers of cases, and it was still too early to say whether solvent exposure was the cause of childhood brain tumors.

However she said these solvents were associated with a range of other effects so exposure should be kept as low as possible anyway.

Source: ABC
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