Monday, December 30, 2013

Washington day cares close to polluted roads

Small children are most affected by
air pollution, experts say.
It’s a cruel fact of physiology: kids are the hardest-hit victims of air pollution.

Pound for pound, children breathe more than adults, receiving a relatively bigger toxic dose delivered to their developing bodies. And the smaller the child, the bigger the impact. What makes an 8-year-old cough could make an infant stop breathing.

That science takes on particular significance in Washington, where 126 day cares are located beside major roads and where rules about where new facilities can open are not enforced.

Researchers say air pollution from vehicle traffic can aggravate asthma, reduce lung function and boost school absenteeism, as well as promote cancer later in life and harm developing immune systems.

An additional 439 day cares sit within 500 feet of the state’s heaviest truck routes, a new analysis by InvestigateWest shows. The diesel fuel that powers these trucks can spew 100 to 200 times more soot than gasoline engines, and the exhaust is so toxic that the World Health Organization classifies it as a carcinogen.

Nationally, more than 11 million children under 5 are enrolled in regular child care.  In Washington, one-fourth of all toddlers and one-third of all preschoolers attend a licensed child care facility, according to a 2008 survey.

The pollution risks are not always reflected in where parents choose to or are able to enroll their kids.

Just south of Everett along Interstate 5, a hedge separates the playground of Kids ‘N Us Learning Academy from a highway off-ramp. Among the dozens of day cares that fall within the pollution plume of I-5, Kids ‘N Us is one of the closest, its property line just over 300 feet from the heavily traveled road.

In Washington, the murky set of guidelines governing where day cares can operate does little in practice to protect kids from air pollution risks.

State child care licensing code does not restrict where in-home day cares — limited to 12 or fewer kids — can open.

Institutional child care centers, which have an average capacity of 69 kids, are required to be on an “environmentally safe site” and in a neighborhood “free of a condition detrimental to the child's welfare,” according to a state regulation.

The licensing process for a new day care does not require a site review by health officials to determine whether a property is safe from environmental hazards like nearby freeways. Instead, the Department of Early Learning, a fire marshal and the local planning department sign off on a new location. The agency also employs four health specialists to respond to complaints and concerns.

As is the case with schools, the construction of day cares can trigger a State Environmental Protection Act, or SEPA, review. But that process emphasizes air risks stemming from construction like dust and short-term truck traffic rather than ambient air concerns like a nearby highway.

Reducing harm from near-road exposures at day cares is something of a bureaucratic hot potato, with the Washington Department of Early Learning saying it’s not its job to correct for environmental risks, and health officials saying the initial push isn’t theirs to make.

State officials acknowledge that they are a lot more worried about keeping kids safe — meaning, for starters, alive — than in heading off seemingly subtle pollution threats. The high-profile deaths of two children in state-licensed day cares — one an accidental drowning in 2004, the other a death from E. coli in 2010 — focused regulators’ attention on acute threats to children.

Editor's note: This article has been edited for length. 

Provide children with clean air

Concerned about the air quality in your children's day care centers or schools?

Electrocorp has designed efficient air cleaners for schools and universities, which provide cleaner and healthier air by removing airborne chemicals, odors, bacteria, viruses, particles, allergens and more.

The filtration system includes granular activated carbon and HEPA plus optional UV for the best all-around protection.

Contact Electrocorp for more information.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Flight attendants worry about risk of Parkinson's disease

More and more flight attendants report health effects from chemical exposure.
Flight attendants fear they could have been put at risk of long-term brain disorders including Parkinson's disease by regular exposure to insecticides sprayed on long-haul flights.

Five flight attendants who have developed Parkinson's have contacted law firm Turner Freeman to ask about taking legal action against the Commonwealth government, which requires the spraying in line with World Health Organisation guidelines to prevent the spread of potentially deadly mosquito-borne viruses.

The Daily Telegraph reported the case of former Qantas steward Brett Vollus, who has been diagnosed with Parkinson's, a degenerative brain condition that can severely impact on a person's ability to control their own movements.

Turner Freeman lawyer Tanya Segelov said she was investigating a claim on Mr Vollus' behalf.

“When Brett was diagnosed, his neurologist asked him what he did, and he said he worked for Qantas, and his response was: 'Oh, another one,' ” she said.

“We have now had four more long-haul flight attendants come forward this morning, and I think we are going to see more and more people coming out of the woodwork.”

Ms Segelov said that, until about the turn of the century, the government had mandated that all spraying had to be done while aircraft were full, whereas, now, at least for flights coming in to Australia, it was done before passengers boarded.

“We need to know why the government mandated that spraying on board, and why they switched,” she said.

Evidence needed

But there is little evidence proving that regular, low-level spraying with insecticide could cause Parkinson's disease.

The World Health Organisation is reviewing the chemicals used in insecticides sprayed on aircraft. But its last review of the available research, published in 2005, concluded that, while unnecessary exposure to the chemicals should be avoided, there was no evidence of long-term risk.

“They do not pose any significant health risk when they are used in compliance with their directions for use, which are intended to limit human exposure within the levels recommended for their specific applications,” the report found.

Parkinson's expert Kay Double, from the University of Sydney Medical School and Neuroscience Research Australia, said epidemiological evidence was beginning to emerge linking pesticides and herbicides to increased risks for Parkinson's disease.

“Most of the research is on farmers, who are using it in higher concentration, but are also using it in much more open spaces,” she said. “This is a relatively new suggestion; it's not something that has been around a long time.”

Associate Professor Double said, in her opinion, the evidence that exposure could cause Parkinson's was “tenuous”.

“Exposure to environmental toxins could contribute to it, but it's unlikely that it's going to make you get Parkinson's,” she said. “Being able to prove it scientifically or legally would be very difficult.”

A spokeswoman for the federal Department of Health said aircraft were treated with insecticides because Australia is free from several very serious diseases, including yellow fever and malaria.

“If any of these diseases became established in Australia, they could have a devastating effect on our community, as these diseases cause significant numbers of deaths and illness in many other countries,” she said.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald

Occupational health and safety is important in any workplace. In closed-off spaces or rooms, you can control airborne chemicals, odors, toxins, particles and other contaminants by cleaning the air with an industrial-strength air purifier from Electrocorp. Contact us for more information.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Anti-bacterial soaps under scrutiny in US

Triclosan and other chemicals used in
anti-bacterial products may pose risks.
Photo by graur razvan ionut/
FreeDigitalPhotos.net
After more than 40 years of study, the U.S. government says it has found no evidence that common anti-bacterial soaps prevent the spread of germs, and regulators want the makers of Dawn, Dial and other household staples to prove that their products do not pose health risks to consumers.

Scientists at the Food and Drug Administration announced recently that they are revisiting the safety of triclosan and other sanitizing agents found in soap in countless kitchens and bathrooms.

Recent studies suggest triclosan and similar substances can interfere with hormone levels in lab animals and spur the growth of drug-resistant bacteria.

The government's preliminary ruling lends new support to outside researchers who have long argued that the chemicals are, at best, ineffective and at worst, a threat to public health.

"The FDA is finally making a judgment call here and asking industry to show us that these products are better than soap and water, and the data don't substantiate that," said Stuart Levy of the Tufts University School of Medicine.

While the rule only applies to personal hygiene products, it has implications for a broader $1 billion industry that includes thousands of anti-bacterial products, including kitchen knives, toys, pacifiers and toothpaste. Over the last 20 years, companies have added triclosan and other cleaners to thousands of household products, touting their germ-killing benefits.

Under a proposed rule, the agency will require manufacturers to prove that anti-bacterial soaps are safe and more effective than plain soap and water. Products that are not shown to be safe and effective by late 2016 would have to be reformulated, relabeled or removed from the market.

"I suspect there are a lot of consumers who assume that by using an anti-bacterial soap product, they are protecting themselves from illness, protecting their families," said Sandra Kweder, deputy director in the FDA's drug center. "But we don't have any evidence that that is really the case over simple soap and water."

A spokesman for the cleaning product industry said the FDA already has "a wealth of data" showing the benefits of anti-bacterial products.

The announcement affects virtually all soap products labeled anti-bacterial, including popular brands from CVS, Bath and Body Works, Ajax and many other companies.

The rule does not apply to hand sanitizers, most of which use alcohol rather than anti-bacterial chemicals.

An FDA analysis estimates it will cost companies $112.2 million to $368.8 million to comply with the new regulations, including reformulating some products and removing marketing claims from others.

The agency will accept data from companies and researchers for one year before beginning to finalize the rule.

The proposal comes more than four decades after the FDA began evaluating triclosan, triclocarban and similar ingredients. The government only agreed to publish its findings after a three-year legal battle with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group that accused the FDA of delaying action on potentially dangerous chemicals.

Triclosan is found in an estimated 75 percent of anti-bacterial liquid soaps and body washes in the U.S. More than 93 percent of anti-bacterial bar soaps also contain triclosan or triclocarban, according to the FDA.

The FDA was asked to investigate anti-bacterial chemicals in 1972 as part of a law designed to set guidelines for dozens of common cleaners. But the guidelines got bogged down in years of regulatory delays and missed deadlines. The agency published a preliminary draft of its findings in 1978, but never finalized the results until last week.

Most of the research surrounding triclosan's safety involves laboratory animals, including studies in rats that showed changes in testosterone, estrogen and thyroid hormones. Some scientists worry that such changes in humans could raise the risk of infertility, early puberty and even cancer.

FDA scientists stressed Monday that such studies are not necessarily applicable to humans, but the agency is reviewing their implications.

Other experts are concerned that routine use of anti-bacterial chemicals such as triclosan contributes to the emergence of drug-resistant germs, or superbugs, that render antibiotics ineffective.

In March 2010, the European Union banned the chemical from all products that come into contact with food, such as containers and silverware.

A spokesman for the American Cleaning Institute, a soap cleaning product trade organization, said the group will submit new data to regulators, including studies showing that company products do not lead to antibiotic resistance.

The group represents manufacturers including Henkel, Unilever and Dow Chemical Co.

Source: SFGate

Concerned about chemical exposure at work or at home? Make a difference with an industrial-strength air cleaner from Electrocorp. Its activated carbon + HEPA filter combination (and optional UV germicidal filtration) remove the widest range of indoor air pollutants, including chemicals, fumes, particles, bacteria, viruses and mold. Contact Electrocorp for more information.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Manufacturers ignore welders’ health: Experts

Welding is linked to various health risks.
A single welder produces 20 to 40 g of welding fumes per hour, which corresponds to about 35 to 70 kg per year.

Most welders understand the many health risks of working in the fabrication industry, which include electric shocks, fire, explosions and radiation exposure, but it appears that one of the biggest threats to a welder’s health - toxic welding fumes - is being ignored by many welders and their employers.

Research shows a lack of familiarity with the gases used or fumes produced during the welding processes can be a serious health risk. Workers can become ill if dangerous fumes are not removed from the workplace.

OHS groups say it is essential welders are familiar with the materials being used (such as gases, base metals, coatings and cleaners) and their possible health impact.

Research reveals fumes produced during welding processes can lead to workers experiencing eye, skin and respiratory system irritation, nausea, headaches and dizziness.

In some cases, the fumes can cause serious lung diseases and increase the risk of asthma and cancer and possibly lead to asphyxiation.

However, despite all these warnings, many manufacturers are unaware of the need for adequate fume extraction to create a safe working place.

An open roller door and a fan on the roof or in the wall may be able to affect the air changes per hour or minute, but welders are still exposed to the fumes. The area needs to be well ventilated to let toxic fumes and gases escape.

Central ventilation systems and even large extraction hoods over workbenches often fail to provide adequate protection, since the fumes still contaminate the general airflow.

Experts say that extraction-at-source is most effective – removing toxins as soon as the fumes are generated.

Fume extraction air cleaners are the most
effective when it comes to welding fumes.
Fumes from different welding methods

It has been shown that different welding methods give rise to different amounts of fumes containing different concentrations of hazardous substances.

Among the high-risk elements are hexavalent chromium Cr(VI), manganese, nickel and lead.

The particles at source are often extremely small; 0.01-0.1µm which means they are very easy to inhale deep into the lungs.

Furthermore, not only welders are at risk in unsafe environments. Production equipment, as well as end products, are negatively affected by the lack of adequate safety measures.

During welding, the intense heat of the electric arc vaporises a fraction of the metal in the electrode and weld pool.

Any metal vapour that escapes the arc area condenses as it cools and oxidises into weld fume. The vapour that develops condenses as it cools and oxidises into weld fume containing a complex mixture of metal oxides.

Particulate fume is formed mainly by vaporisation of metal and flux. As it cools, the vapour condenses and reacts with the atmospheric oxygen to form fine particles.

The size of the particles (0.01 - 1µm) tends to influence the toxicity of the fumes, with smaller particles presenting a greater danger.

Additionally, many processes produce various gases (most commonly carbon dioxide and ozone, but others as well) that can prove dangerous if ventilation is inadequate.

About 90% of the fume originates from the consumable, while the base metal only contributes very little.

The fume contains all the elements present in the consumable, but often in very different proportions. Volatile components have a higher concentration in the fume than in the consumable and the opposite is true for components with a high melting point.

The amount of welding fume varies between different welding processes: Fumes from manual metal arc (MMA) welding and fluxcored arc welding (FCAW) contain a high proportion of components coming from the electrode coating or the flux core. Comparatively little comes from the filler metal.

It has also been shown that particles in welding fumes are small enough to be suspended in the air for a long time. They can be inhaled and penetrate into the innermost area of the lungs. Over time, the particles can even reach the bloodstream.

Editor's note: This article has been edited for length.

Remove toxins at the source with fume extractors
Electrocorp's LD450
welding fume extractor


Welding is dangerous enough, but the risk of inhaling harmful particles and fumes can be minimized by using an industrial welding fume extraction air cleaner from Electrocorp.

The air cleaning systems feature 40+ pounds of activated carbon for the removal of chemicals and volatile compounds, HEPA and pre-filters to trap airborne particles, a direct intake hood on an articulating arm to capture toxins at the source and a spark arrestor for welding applications.

Custom carbon blends are available for targeted chemical control.

For more information, contact Electrocorp.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Market growth for Chinese laser equipment slows down

The laser equipment market is expected to
continue growing at a single digit rate.
As a global processing and manufacturing center, China has continuously expanded the installation of laser processing equipment and occupied more than 10% of the global market.

However, due to weak downstream demand, the growth rate of Chinese laser equipment market in 2012 and 2013 both fell to below 10% according to the "Global and China Laser Equipment and Processing Industry Report, 2013-2017" from portal ChinaMarketResearchReports.com.

Among major enterprises, only Han's Laser Technology and Shenzhen Sunshine Laser and Electronics Technology have achieved business growth, says the report.

Other enterprises have realized little growth or negative growth. With continuous upgrading of processing and manufacturing industry, it is expected that the laser industry will see recovery growth and business performance will pick up in 2014 and 2015.

Han's Laser Technology is China's largest laser equipment manufacturer, says the report. Despite the laser industry downturn, Han's Laser Technology has maintained rapid growth, and achieved a year-on-year revenue growth rate of 18.53% in the first half of 2013. In particular, the revenue from high-power laser cutting equipment, laser welding equipment, and laser cutting equipment rose by 77.13%, 13.32%, and 35.03% year on year, respectively.

Shenzhen Sunshine Laser and Electronics Technology is China’s largest laser processing service company, says the report. The company occupies a big share of the laser template processing and laser forming service markets, which are expected to hit 21% and 13%, respectively, in 2013.

In the first half of 2013, the growth rate of its revenue from laser forming services, HDI drilling, and UV drilling  reached 41.63%, 119.33%, and 575.08%, respectively, displaying strong growth momentum.

The report also says that the European and American economic crisis, the Asian economic slowdown, and a number of other factors have affected the development of the global laser industry and reduced the growth rate of the global industrial laser sector to single digits.

The growth rate of the global laser system market declined from 16% in 2011 to 6% in 2012, and is expected to further drop to around 4% in 2013.

Working in the laser equipment industry? You could be exposed to hazardous fumes and chemicals. Electrocorp has developed air filtration systems for laser cutting and engraving businesses to remove toxins right at the source. The air cleaners feature a deep-bed activated carbon filter as well as HEPA filters to remove the widest range of potentially harmful airborne irritants. Contact Electrocorp for more information.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Lung societies plead for better health care


Lung diseases affect many people
worldwide, experts say.
Experts from the world's leading lung organizations have come together to call for a worldwide effort to improve health-care policies and systems and care delivery to make a positive difference for the lung health of the world.

Produced by the Forum of International Respiratory Societies (FIRS), the report has been launched on World COPD Day, Nov. 20, providing an overview of lung health across the globe.

Entitled Respiratory Diseases in the World: Realities of Today — Opportunities for Tomorrow, the report features five major disease areas that are of immediate and greatest concern. This includes COPD, which is the fourth-leading cause of death worldwide.

"This report aims to heighten awareness of lung disease throughout the world. We hope that this collaboration will help to shed light on the pervasiveness of these conditions and diseases and will be a call to action for health-care professionals, policy makers, patients, and advocates," said Michael H. Baumann, MD, MS, FCCP, President, American College of Chest Physicians.

Some of the key issues highlighted in this publication include the following:
  • COPD affects more than 200 million people and is the fourth-leading cause of death in the world.
  • Asthma affects about 235 million people worldwide, is one of the most frequent reasons for hospital admissions among children, and leads to approximately 180,000 deaths each year.
  • Respiratory infections account for over 4 million deaths annually, disproportionately in children, and are the leading cause of death in low-income or middle-income countries.
  • TB kills around 1.4 million people with about 8.7 million new cases of TB annually.
  • Lung cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the world, accounting for 13% of the total reported cancers and affecting over 1.6 million people annually.

Provide cleaner air for those with respiratory ailments

Respiratory illnesses, including asthma, can make breathing difficult. Among other prefention and management strategies, experts recommend using an air cleaner to remove potential irritants and contaminants from the ambient air.

Electrocorp has designed commercial and industrial air cleaners for healthcare and hospital environments that combine the most trusted air filter system of activated carbon and HEPA with a small footprint design and various configurations to match a client's needs.

For more information, contact Electrocorp.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

EPA to reduce federal inspections

The Environmental Protection Agency plans to substantially reduce inspections and civil enforcement cases against industry over the next five years, arguing that focusing on the biggest polluters would be the most effective way to clean up air and water.

In a draft strategic plan, the EPA proposes to cut federal inspections by one-third from the 20,000 inspections it conducted in the last fiscal year, ended Sept. 30.

Moreover, it plans to initiate about 2,320 civil enforcement cases a year, compared with the 3,000 cases initiated last fiscal year, a 23% reduction.

The EPA said the shift for fiscal years 2014 to 2018 is not a retreat from enforcement but a more effective allocation of resources.

Environmental groups are alarmed
over the EPA's plans.
"From our work on the biggest enforcement cases, such as the BP Deepwater Horizon spill, to aggressively pursuing smaller cases that can reduce harmful health impacts and have the greatest environmental benefit, our enforcement work will continue to save lives and protect our environment," said Alisha Johnson, an agency spokeswoman.

Representatives from industry organizations that frequently criticize the EPA, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Mining Assn., had no comment on the proposed changes.

Environmental groups said they were alarmed.

"It is bewildering why the EPA would pull cops off the beat who've been protecting our air and water from big polluters," said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. "We urge the EPA to reconsider these proposed cuts."

In the draft strategic plan, the EPA said that focusing on the biggest violators would lead to the greatest cuts in pollution. The EPA also said that it planned to emphasize real-time monitoring of emissions to prevent pollution, which, if successful, would also lead to a decline in enforcement actions.

Still, some former EPA lawyers questioned the strategy. They said the EPA has long proposed real-time emissions monitoring but industry has successfully stymied implementation.

Eric Schaeffer, a former director of the EPA's Office of Civil Enforcement, said that tough enforcement in many ways was the most effective deterrent.

"They want to get at prevention, but the government in general is measured by what it does, and that is enforcement," said Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project, a Washington research and advocacy group.

"If this is signaling some kind of wind-down in the bigger enforcement cases and bigger pushes that only EPA as the federal regulator can do, then it's worrisome," he said.

In the draft strategic plan, the agency cites budget constraints as a factor in reshaping its approach.

Source: Los Angeles Times

Worried about the occupational health and safety measures in your workplace? Contact the authorities and ask the management team about prevention strategies. One way to reduce exposure to hazardous airborne toxins is to install the right air cleaners at work. Electrocorp's air cleaners remove airborne chemicals, odors and particles with an efficient Carbon + HEPA air filter system. For more information, contact Electrocorp.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Lack of fracking data a concern: Scientists

Scientists warn about lack of studies
on fracking, or hydraulic fracturing.
A group of scientists and other academics investigating the environmental, climate change and social impacts of oil and gas development, particularly hydraulic fracturing, are calling for both state and federal governments and the oil and gas industry to be more transparent and provide more data about the energy drilling and production processes.

The scientists, each presenting at the American Geophysical Union fall meeting in San Francisco, said it is difficult to determine the effects of energy development on water and the climate because little data about fracking are available and energy companies keep their energy extraction and production technology under wraps.

No representatives of the energy industry were present at the AGU presentation.

“The rapid scale of fracking has outpaced the scientific information we have on fracking and the regulatory response we have on unconventional oil and gas development,” said analyst Pallavi Phartiyal of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

A general lack of data and energy industry funding of scientific studies present significant barriers to scientific understanding of the impacts of fracking, she said.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the injection water, sand and chemicals into underground shale formations to crack the rock to release trapped crude oil and natural gas into surface-level wells.

“Release of data is still very, very difficult,” said Pennsylvania State University geosciences professor Susan Brantley, referring to the availability of consistent water quality data in Pennsylvania that would allow scientists to fully assess the extent to which the Marcellus shale gas boom may be contaminating groundwater in Pennsylvania.

“I do think my main conclusion is we need to get the data to be more accessible,” she said.

Energy companies decline to give data to scientists

Independent scientists have been asking the industry for data about their technology and operations, but energy companies decline to provide it, Brantley said.

Florida State University College of Law assistant professor Hannah Wiseman said there is a need for more data about energy development to improve both science and the public dialogue about fracking.

“Good technology can reduce the risks that have been discussed previously,” she said, adding that a good well casing can prevent methane from leaking.

“But the public and scientists need more information on the technology currently being used and available in order to understand how they impact risk," she said. "We need more information about what the environment around well sites currently is like. We need to know what is added or changed. We often lack baseline data. We need to understand what is occurring at well sites, what emissions are coming from well sites.”

Cornell University civil and environmental engineering professor Anthony Ingraffea, who was representing six of his colleagues and their work, said his team’s research shows there are numerous questions about oil and gas development that are unanswered because there is too little information available.


Also unknown is whether there’s a connection between higher health care costs in a region and the public’s exposure to hydrocarbons there, he said.

Lack of data and states’ inconsistent regulation of energy development and willingness to engage the public about fracking lead to confusion among the public about what the risks of energy development really are, he said.

The energy industry and state governments should not be allowed to overrule a community’s right to self-determination as permitted in home-rule provisions in state constitutions, he said.

Source: Climate Central

Working or living near fracking wells? Protect your indoor air quality by placing high-quality indoor air cleaners where you need them. Electrocorp's air purifiers feature granular activated carbon and HEPA filters to rid the ambient air of chemicals, gases, fumes, odors, particles, allergens and biological contaminants. Contact Electrocorp for more information.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Residents sue General Mills over TCE soil pollution

Soil vapor intrusion fears for Minneapolis homeowners

Two class-action lawsuits were filed against General Mills by residents in the Como neighborhood of southeast Minneapolis, where state-ordered testing has shown troubling concentrations of the pollutant TCE in soil below their homes.

Updated results have been published as of Friday morning for 58 of roughly 200 homes in the target area, southwest of a former General Mills facility where solvents containing TCE (trichloroethylene) were dumped decades ago and filtered into soil and groundwater. Thirty-seven have turned up with higher-than-acceptable levels of the chemical.

Testing has been completed at another 16 properties, but results haven’t been released, and has been arranged but not completed at another 65 properties, according to a map published by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), which is overseeing the cleanup project.
TCE exposure has been linked to
cancer and other health concerns.

Three property owners refused testing.

Prolonged exposure to high TCE levels has been linked to elevated risks of cancer and other health problems.

A contractor funded by General Mills is installing ventilation systems — commonly used to remove radon from homes — in the problem properties to prevent the harmful buildup of TCE.

Since the public disclosure of TCE contamination in soil gas in the neighborhood last month, only half of the property owners have scheduled testing of the soil gas below their basements.

The high number of rental homes in the area — many occupied by University of Minnesota students — has added to the challenge of securing testing agreements from the property owners.

However, three attorneys from Minneapolis and Chicago jointly sued in U.S. District Court on behalf of two residents of the Como neighborhood, Karl Ebert and Carol Krauze. And a Minneapolis firm filed a similar suit in Hennepin County District Court on behalf of resident Jill Ruzicka.

Both cases seek class-action status to represent all residents affected by TCE contamination below their homes.

Both were filed ahead of a high-profile community meeting arranged Saturday by Integrated Resource Management, a California firm tied to pollution crusader Erin Brockovich that investigates industrial contamination.

A General Mills representative could not be reached in time for publication.
Source: Star Tribune

Concerned about soil vapor intrusion near your workplace or home? Electrocorp has worked with engineers, environmental consultants and industry professionals to design the most efficient and affordable air cleaners for chemical and particle concerns. Electrocorp's air purifiers feature a deep-bed activated carbon filter, a HEPA filter and pre-filters to remove the widest range of indoor air pollutants, including TCE and many more volatile organic compounds. Find out more by contacting Electrocorp.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Inventions we need: An air-cleaning bike


A photosynthesis system would clean the air during the ride.
Bicycles are often cited as the most efficient modes of transportation in the world. They’re five times more efficient than walking, and 100 calories on a bike can send a person three miles. In a car, 100 calories would only take a passenger 280 feet.

What if a bike of the future could perform more than one function, earning even more efficiency brownie points?

A group of Thai designers and engineers has developed a plan to turn the bicycle into a machine that actually cleans polluted air while cruising down the street.

The air-purifier bike currently exists only in concept, developed by Bangkok’s Lightfog Creative & Design Company. In theory, its aluminum frame would run on a “photosynthesis system” that generates oxygen through a reaction between water and electric power from a lithium-ion battery.

The details on precisely how the air purifier bike would work--like how often the filter and battery would need to be changed, and how much air the tool could filter at which speeds--have yet to be determined. The designers only have mock-ups, which recently won a Red Dot design award. The designers also haven’t yet built a prototype, but soon plan to.

While the air purifier bike might exist comfortably as an idea, reality could challenge the ease of operating such a fleet. There would be the question of where to charge the batteries, for one, and where byproducts, (like sugar, perhaps), might go.
Source: Fast Company

Breathe cleaner indoor air

Worried about air pollution and related health effects? While outdoor pollution is beyond individual control at this point, everyone can breathe cleaner and better air at work and at home.

Electrocorp has designed industrial-strength air cleaners with activated carbon -- the most effective air filter for airborne chemicals, gases, fumes and odors -- and HEPA for particle filtration.

The air cleaners come in different sizes and configurations to guarantee the best possible result at your workplace.

Contact Electrocorp for more information and a consultation.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Hampshire schools could expose public to asbestos

Contaminated air in schools may affect teachers, staff and
students' health and well-being.
An inquest ruled teacher Marion Potts died of mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos in school, although it could not pinpoint which one.

She was thought to be the first teacher in the region to die of the disease, but Lynne Squibb, co-founder of Hampshire Asbestos Support and Awareness Group (HASAG), said the problem was more wide-spread.

“This is not the first teacher in Hampshire to get mesothelioma through exposure at school. We’ve seen a handful of teachers that have been diagnosed with mesothelioma over the years," Squibb said.

"It is an ongoing problem, as around 90 per cent of schools still contain asbestos. The major concern is a child contracting it, but it can take anywhere between 20 and 60 years from exposure to asbestos to developing the disease, so we won’t see the effects for decades.”

Southampton-based HASAG was started by Lynne and her sister Diane in 2006, two years after their father Dave Salisbury was diagnosed with mesothelioma. The 71-year-old spent his entire career at Eastleigh railway works and died in December 2005.

Lynne added: “It’s something we have been campaigning on, along with the Asbestos in Schools group (AiS) which has been lobbying the Government to do something. But the Government is looking to keep it in situ and asks schools to keep an asbestos register and we don’t feel that is enough.

“We hear removing asbestos is too expensive because it is so specialist but you cannot put a price on just one person’s safety.

“Every time you hear a school is building a new block and knocking down other parts, asbestos could be released.”

Asbestos expert Michael Lees warned the problem was even more serious because children are more vulnerable to the effects of asbestos than adults.

Mr Lees, a founder member of AiS, said: “Exposure in school will contribute a significant amount of ‘lifetime exposure’ because you are looking at people who are more vulnerable.

“The lifetime risk for a five-year-old exposed to asbestos is five times greater than a 30-year-old.”

Both the city and county council have said asbestos is monitored in Hampshire schools and removed where possible.
Source: Daily Echo

Make good air a priority

Healthy indoor air is not only important in schools and educational facilities, it is paramount in any building where people spend the majority of their time.

Asbestos can become a problem if the fibers are disturbed in any way, for example during construction, renovation or maintenance work. Professional asbestos management is recommended.

For better IAQ, use an industrial-strength air cleaner from Electrocorp. The air cleaners for asbestos and mold remediation contain the best particle and chemical filters with activated carbon and HEPA and are easy to use.

For more information, contact Electrocorp today.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Cosmetics companies pushed to address toxic ingredients

Many companies are listening to public
concerns about toxins in their products.
An environmental group has ranked Canada’s five largest cosmetics companies based on potentially harmful ingredients in their products.

The report from Toronto-based Environmental Defence says the big five all have issues with chemicals that could be harmful to human health, but some are doing better than others.

And it says public pressure is beginning to exert influence on the ingredients companies use in everything from shampoo and moisturizers to toothpaste and deodorant.

Citing publicly available information and using a basket of five common products, Environmental Defence looked for what it called the “toxic 10″ – 10 chemicals that have faced international scrutiny for their proven or potential health hazards.

The study ranked Proctor and Gamble best among Canada’s big five cosmetics companies, followed by Johnson and Johnson, and Unilever.

Estee Lauder and L’Oreal rounded out fourth and fifth place, respectively, principally because they did not publicly post policies on eliminating toxins such as triclosan and phthalates from their products.

“The good news is that some companies are listening to the growing concerns from their customers about the risks of these chemicals,” Maggie MacDonald of Environmental Defence said in a release.

“Others need to take the old saying to heart – the customer is always right – and act to remove harmful chemicals.”


Chemicals such as formaldehyde and
parabens have been linked to health problems.
Companies starting to eliminate toxic chemicals

Procter and Gamble announced in September that it would eliminate triclosan, a commonly used anti-bacterial agent, and phthalates from its personal-care products in 2014.

Johnson and Johnson committed in 2012 to remove triclosan, phthalates, formaldehydes and parabens from its adult toiletries and cosmetics.

Wal-Mart Stores, meanwhile, announced this fall that it would be working toward reducing chemicals starting in January, and promises a public report in two years on how it has fared.

Health Canada and Environment Canada proposed in 2012 that industry should voluntarily cut the amount of triclosan it uses, particularly in personal-care products that tend to get rinsed away into lakes and rivers. A Health Canada study found triclosan is harmful to the environment, but safe for humans.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is currently reviewing the safety of triclosan, with a report expected imminently.

Concerns have been raised that the widespread use of triclosan may be triggering hormonal changes, or causing anti-microbial resistance that could lead to super bugs.

Phthalates are a family of chemicals commonly used as plasticizers, used to help make plastics flexible. They also help make soaps, cleansers and perfume adhere to skin and are commonly found in synthetic fragrances.

Studies suggest that when ingested, phthalates could cause reproductive and developmental abnormalities in young children.

Source: Global News

Concerned about airborne chemicals and toxins? Whether it's at work or at home, chemical exposure is a serious risk to human health and well-being. Electrocorp has designed commercial and industrial air cleaners not only for chemical processing companies but also for all types of workplaces and indoor environments. The air cleaners provide cleaner and more breathable air continuously by filtering the air through activated carbon and HEPA filters to remove hundreds of chemicals, odors, fumes, particles and biological contaminants. Contact Electrocorp for more information.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

How to avoid germs at the gym

Cleaning gym equipment and personal
items can help keep germs at bay - but
make sure to retain good IAQ.
Wiping down equipment after using it helps reduce exposure to germs, but there are many other hot spots for germs in the gym. Gym-goers and gym staff can help reduce risks.

Wear flip-flops in the shower
Floors in the gym’s shower stalls are germ central. If you’re standing in the stall barefoot and have even the smallest cut in your skin, you can easily introduce a fungus and end up with an infection such as athlete’s foot. Wear flip-flops in the shower so your feet are never in direct contact with the floor. That goes for the floors in the changing room and sauna, too, since a fungal infection can happen anywhere when you’re barefoot.

Drink water from a reusable bottle
Norovirus is a highly contagious intestinal virus that can easily be spread via a communal water fountain. Fellow gym-goers might hit the fountain’s spout with their mouths – and some may even spit in it. Bringing a reusable water bottle (preferably that you’ve filled at home) is a practical solution that keeps you from having to use the public fountain. Also be wary of constantly opening and closing the bottle – you’ll transfer germs from your hands to the bottle, and ultimately, your mouth. Choose a bottle that has a spout you can easily pull open with your mouth instead of your hands.

Regularly disinfect your gym bag
Your gym bag is an item you likely toss around in various places – your car, the change room, or even the floor of a public washroom – without giving it a second thought. Unfortunately, that means you’re increasing your risk of coming into contact with germs. Keep a bottle of disinfectant spray in your car or gym bag that you can use to spritz the bag’s surface before bringing it into the house.

Bring your own workout mat
When using a communal mat during yoga or barefoot workout routines, there is, once again, a risk of contracting a fungal infection. The best option is to bring your own yoga or workout mat and make sure to clean it regularly. If you’re going to use a mat provided by the gym, sanitize it with an antibacterial wipe or hand gel and place a clean towel on top of it. Alternatively, you can purchase non-slip socks or shoes specifically designed for yoga so you don’t have to work out with bare feet.

Keep your distance
Crowded fitness classes make it easy to inhale germs – particularly influenza. As a method of defence, you might want to consider getting the flu shot. You can also try to keep a reasonable distance (for example, two arm lengths) between yourself and anyone with a cough, as they are likely contagious. When heading for the cardio equipment during non-peak periods, choose a machine that’s not right beside someone else.

Wash your hands regularly
Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water, or use an antibacterial hand gel before and after class. Regular hand washing is a habit worth developing year-round, but particularly important during flu season. Doing so prevents you from bringing germs into the gym, or leaving the gym with germs you may have come in contact with there.

Avoid touching your face
From using free weights to touching the buttons on the cardio machines, your hands are likely the part of your body that have been in contact with germs the most during your gym workout. Try not to touch your face, since germs you come in contact with can wind up in the openings of your nose, ears and mouth. Make sure to have a clean towel with you so you can wipe sweat away from your face without having to use your bare hands.  
Source: Best Health Mag

Use mobile air cleaners to remove bacteria, viruses and smells
A portable air purifier with a deep-bed activated carbon filter and a HEPA filter, plus UV germicidal filtration will provide the best all-around protection from germs, airborne chemicals, allergens and other contaminants. The air cleaners offered by Electrocorp are designed for 24/7-operation at a low setting, cleaning the air continuously and efficiently. For best results, consult with one of Electrocorp's IAQ specialists to find out which air purifier is best suited to your space. Call 1-866-667-0297.

Monday, December 9, 2013

California plans to add TCE to toxic chemicals list

Exposure to TCE can lead to reproductive problems.
California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment has announced plans to add trichloroethylene to the list of reproductive toxicants maintained under Proposition 65.

In a Nov. 27 notice of intent, the agency proposed listing the volatile organic compound based on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency findings that trichloroethylene (CAS No. 79-01-06) caused male reproductive toxicity and developmental toxicity in laboratory animals.

Under the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, better known as Proposition 65, the state must maintain a list of chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects or reproductive toxicity.

Businesses must provide clear warnings whenever the public is exposed to an unsafe level of a listed substance.

TCE is used as an industrial solvent and is found in several consumer products, including paint removers and adhesives.

TCE - Trichloroethylene
- In the vapor degreasing of metal parts.
- An extraction solvent for greases, oils, fats, waxes, and tars, a chemical intermediate in the
   production of other chemicals, and as a refrigerant.
- In consumer products such as typewriter correction fluids, paint removers/strippers,
   adhesives, spot removers, and rug-cleaning fluids
Source: EPA

In 1988, California added the chemical to the Proposition 65 list of carcinogens.

Findings in the EPA's 2011 Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) document and the Toxicological Review of TCE in support of the IRIS entry meet the criteria for listing the chemical as a reproductive toxicant under the Proposition 65 authoritative bodies mechanism, the OEHHA said.

The authoritative bodies mechanism is an administrative process that requires the OEHHA to add substances to the Proposition 65 list once the EPA or another official body formally identifies a chemical as causing reproductive harm, birth defects or cancer.

Along with the notice of intent, the agency posted its response to comments from the Halogenated Solvents Industry Alliance Inc. and another group questioning whether TCE was eligible for listing via the administrative process.

Source: Bloomberg

Concerned about TCE exposure or other airborne chemicals? Electrocorp offers a wide range of industrial-strength air cleaning systems with activated carbon and HEPA to remove chemicals, gases, fumes, particles and other contaminants from the ambient air. Contact Electrocorp for more information.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Lawsuit over pool chemical safety reinstated

Pool chemicals may be a health hazard.
A consumer group accused manufacturers of chlorine-detecting pool chemicals of violating state law by failing to disclose a cancer-causing ingredient, but an Alameda County judge dismissed their lawsuit because it failed to precisely identify the actual ingredient - which is also on the state's list of carcinogens.

But a state appeals court reinstated the suit.

The judge's hairsplitting is inconsistent with the disclosure law's purpose, "protection of the public from toxins," the appeals court said.

The suit was filed by Consumer Advocacy Group in 2007 and 2008 against eight makers or distributors of kits that test chlorine levels in swimming pools and spas.

The suit alleged that the products contained a chemical, orthotolidine, or OTO, that is on the state's list of substances known to cause cancer. A 1986 initiative, Proposition 65, requires businesses to warn the public of exposure to any chemical that can cause cancer or birth defects.

The manufacturers responded that the ingredient in their products was not OTO but another chemical, orthotolidine hydrochloride. That substance, which the appeals court described as a salt related to OTO, is also on the state's Prop. 65 disclosure list.

After a non-jury trial in 2010, Superior Court Judge Robert Freedman ruled that Prop. 65 required the consumer group to prove that the products contained OTO, but it had failed to do so.

He dismissed the suit and ordered the group to pay some of the manufacturers' court costs, which came to $60,000, according to the plaintiffs' lawyer.
The chemicals in question have been
linked to cancer in human beings.

In reviving the suit, the First District Court of Appeal said a public-protection measure such as Prop. 65 "must be construed broadly" to accomplish its goals.

The proper question in the case is whether the consumer group can prove that the products "exposed individuals to a listed chemical without a warning," said Justice Maria Rivera in the 3-0 decision.

The justices told Freedman to reconsider the case and decide whether the group's failure to specify the chemical had impaired the manufacturers' ability to put on a defense, and if not, whether they had violated Prop. 65.

Reuben Yeroushalmi, the consumer group's lawyer, said Wednesday that the manufacturers now have a Prop. 65 warning on their labels. He said the suit seeks penalty payments for past violations, which would be split 3-1 between the state and Consumer Advocacy Group.

The pool kits contain "one of the most insidious, dangerous products" sold in California, Yeroushalmi said. He said the group's lawsuits have prompted other companies to remove the ingredient from their products.

Stephen Marsh, a lawyer for the manufacturers, said the defendants are confident that they can show that they complied with Prop. 65.


Remove airborne chemicals with the right air cleaners

Storing or handling hazardous chemicals is always dangerous, but even when the products are not in use, staff may be exposed to chemical fumes and gases that can affect their health and well-being.

Electrocorp has designed commercial and industrial air cleaners with activated carbon and HEPA to remove harmful chemicals and particles in the most efficient manner.

Contact Electrocorp for more information.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Dangerous chemicals applied in Indiana workplaces

Dangerous chemicals found inside Indiana restaurants, nursing homes, hotels and health clinics

Restaurants, hotels and health care
facilities might have been treated with
harmful pesticides.
Products such as Fipronil, more well known by its brand name Termidor, arrived on the market nearly a decade ago, and have since been adapted to a number of uses, including commercial and agricultural pesticides. It’s even used in very low doses in some pet flea treatments, including the brand name Frontline.

Used safely, as directed, Fipronil can be a game changer in the elimination of pests, especially ants.

The product works so well that it has to be diluted and combined with water when its sprayed as Termidor. It also comes with a long list of use restrictions backed by federal law.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists Fipronil as a "possible human carcinogen," meaning it has the potential to cause cancer.

Termidor is only approved for outdoor use in areas far away from humans and animals. Using it indoors around children whose immune systems are still developing is of particular concern, the EPA noted.

But, in early 2012, state regulators began getting tips from whistle blowers alleging that wasn't what was happening in the field, and that the pesticides were being used indoors.

Last summer, investigators from the Office of the Indiana State Chemist (OISC), based at Purdue University, opened their first Fipronil case file, and began gathering samples across the state.

Swabs were taken inside restaurant kitchens and retirement homes, churches and health clinics, hotels and even grocery stores.

From Mooresville to Muncie, Bloomington, Greenwood, Indianapolis and dozens of other Central Indiana cities, nearly every test so far has come back positive for Fipronil.

OISC and the EPA are still gathering evidence on the effects of long term exposure to Fipronil, but both agencies are concerned by their findings so far.

The state fined one company, Ecolab, $18,000 for violations of Fipronil use. A settlement was recently reached requiring the company to pay $9,000 of that fine.

But Ecolab isn't the only company now accused of illegally applying Fipronil indoors.

State investigators are now tracking at least three additional active cases.

Investigators are also asking for the public’s help. Those looking to hire a pest control company should

  • ask if they are licensed with the state and the appropriate agency
  • get two or three references and use them
  • check the accuracy of what they have been told

The state’s ultimate goal is to cut the risk of indoor Fipronil use to zero.

Editor's note: This article has been edited for length.

Source: WishTV

Concerned about pesticide use or airborne chemicals in your workplace or building? Electrocorp manufactures commercial and industrial-strength air cleaners with deep-bed activated carbon + HEPA air filters. Activated carbon is the most effective and trusted filter media to remove airborne chemicals, gases and fumes, while HEPA traps particles and dust. Electrocorp offers air purifiers in various sizes and configurations. Contact Electrocorp for more information.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Nursing home cited for workplace hazards

OSHA fines New Jersey nursing home for exposing workers to excessive heat and health hazards

CARNEYS POINT, N.J. – The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Carneys Point Care Center for 10 alleged serious violations and one other-than-serious violation found at the nursing home in Carneys Point.

OSHA's May inspection was initiated as part of the agency's national emphasis program for nursing and residential care facilities.

Nursing facilities can harbor many
health hazards.
"The increasing rate of injuries and illnesses among hospital and health care workers underscores OSHA's concern about the safety and health of these workers," said Paula Dixon-Roderick, director of OSHA's Marlton Area Office.

"The workers that care for our loved ones deserve a safe workplace. OSHA is committed to ensuring effective hazard prevention measures nationwide."

Among the serious violations cited involves OSHA's general duty clause because workers in the laundry department were exposed to excessive levels of heat. OSHA proposed a fine of $6,300 for this violation.

Serious violations, carrying $42,300 in proposed penalties, include

  • failing to ensure workers wore appropriate eye protection; 
  • ensure easy access to a sharps container; 
  • correct exposed wires from an industrial washer; 
  • provide suitable eyewash facilities, bloodborne pathogen training, Hepatitis B vaccines and effective information and training on hazardous chemicals in the workplace; 
  • properly use flexible electrical cords and label hazardous chemical containers; 
  • develop a written hazard communication program; and 
  • have material safety data sheets and safety data sheets for each hazardous chemical used in the workplace. 

A serious violation occurs 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.

To ask questions, obtain compliance assistance, file a complaint, or report workplace hospitalizations, fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, the public should call OSHA's toll-free hotline at 800-321-OSHA (6742).

Source: OSHA

Protect nursing home workers and patients

The indoor air quality in a nursing home can suffer from airborne chemicals, certain odors, bacteria, viruses, mold, particles, dust and other contaminants.
A well-placed air purifier
helps provide cleaner and
healthier air in rooms and
gathering places.

With strict source control, proper ventilation and the right air cleaning system, staff and patients will be able to breathe healthier air.

Electrocorp has developed a range of indoor air purifiers for nursing homes, hospitals and health care settings that feature a highly efficient activated carbon and HEPA filter system plus optional UV germicidal filtration.

Activated carbon (or charcoal) is the best way to remove airborne chemicals, odors, volatile organic compounds and gases, while HEPA traps particles and dust. UV helps neutralize biological contaminants such as bacteria, viruses and mold, so that they won't affect human health anymore.

For more information and a free IAQ consultation, contact Electrocorp today.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Diesel fumes cause 6 percent of lung cancer deaths: Study

The World Health Organization concluded last year that diesel exhaust is carcinogenic

An estimated 6 percent of lung cancer deaths in the United States and the United Kingdom – 11,000 deaths per year – may be due to diesel exhaust, according to a new study.

Emission standards for diesel engines have become more stringent in recent years, but their exhaust still plays a significant role in lung cancer deaths among truckers, miners and railroad workers, the authors wrote. In addition, diesel exhaust still poses a major cancer threat for people living in dense cities or near highways, they said.

Truckers and miners exposed over their careers to diesel exhaust face a risk of deadly lung cancer that is almost 70 times higher than the risk considered acceptable under U.S. occupational standards.

Traffic exhaust can
affect people's health.
The scientists calculated the lifetime risk for these workers at up to 689 extra lung cancer deaths per 10,000 workers exposed. In comparison, one cancer death per 1,000 workers is used to set federal workplace standards.

In addition, people in urban areas face a lifetime risk of lung cancer that is 10 times higher than the acceptable risk used in U.S. health standards, according to the study.

An estimated 21 per 10,000 people exposed to the amount of diesel exhaust commonly found near U.S. highways would be at risk of dying of lung cancer over their lifetime. That compares to the risk of one death per 100,000 people that is used to set air-quality standards.

To come up with their calculations, the researchers from Emory University and several other U.S. and European institutions used data from three previous studies of workers – two of truckers and one of non-metal miners – as well as national death statistics for the United States and United Kingdom.

They estimated that 4.8 percent of lung cancer deaths in the United States and 1.3 percent in the United Kingdom were due to environmental and occupational exposures to diesel exhaust.

“With millions of workers currently exposed to such levels, and likely higher levels in the past, the impact on the current and future lung cancer burden could be substantial,” the authors wrote.

The researchers said their estimates “are far from precise and depend on broad assumptions.” But they said their findings are “generally consistent” with past findings.

Other factors, such as smoking, were not taken into account. They used the assumption that smoking does not modify effects of diesel exhaust.

The World Health Organization concluded last year, after reviewing health data for workers, that diesel exhaust is carcinogenic.

Diesel emissions have declined substantially over the past few years in the United States and Europe since new engine standards were initiated.

More than 50,000 high-polluting diesel engines were cleaned up or removed from U.S. roads between 2008 and 2010, according to an Environmental Protection Agency report. About 230,000 tons of soot and smog-causing pollutants were eliminated, according to the report.

However, while buses and trucks have largely adopted cleaner technology, it’s taken longer for off-road engines, such as farm and construction vehicles.

Do you work or live close by a major roadway or traffic zone? You could be exposed to diesel fumes and other contaminants making their way indoors through windows, doors and building cracks. An industrial-strength air cleaner with activated carbon and HEPA helps remove these indoor air contaminants (including chemicals, odors, particles, mold and more). Electrocorp offers air cleaners for offices and warehouses, manufacturing facilities, healthcare settings, schools and many other workplaces. Contact Electrocorp for more information.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Follow-up needed to ensure workplace safety, Canada auditor says

Prevention measures are more important
than other tactics, officials say.
HALIFAX, N.S. - Only a small fraction of employers in Nova Scotia were given tickets for workplace safety violations over a one-year period despite missing deadlines, the province's auditor general says.

Provincial auditors found 10 summary offence tickets were issued in 1,228 cases where workplaces failed to comply in time with safety orders between April 1, 2012, and March 31, 2013.

Auditor general Jacques Lapointe says Labour Department inspectors need to do a better job of following up after identifying safety issues.

"The department should focus more on prevention by better enforcing compliance with work orders,'' Lapointe told a news conference after his fall report was released Wednesday.

The department's response in the report says 95 per cent of employers did eventually comply with the orders.

A department spokeswoman said inspectors also used administrative penalties under the Occupational Health and Safety Act as a way to push employers to comply with orders.

Labour Minister Kelly Regan said her department agrees it has to be more consistent in enforcing its rules.

"If people continue to break safety rules we will use the toughest tools we have to protect workers,'' she said in an interview. "Non-compliance is not an option.''

Lapointe said the department's health and safety division needs to target higher-risk workplaces using Workers' Compensation Board data.

Only 27 of 100 workplaces with the worst safety records were targeted for inspection during the one-year period examined, said Lapointe.

The report says the current system identifies higher-risk workplaces, but it fails to create a specific plan for their inspection over the course of a year.

As a result, some of the province's more dangerous workplaces -- such as health and social services facilities -- aren't receiving enough attention, says the report.

"Part of this involves focusing a little better on inspecting targeted workplaces, the higher risk ones ... and being a little more organized,'' said Lapointe.

Auditors say the department's health and safety division also lacks a system to log and track complaints to ensure they are recorded and investigated.

Tony Tracy of the Canadian Labour Congress said it's clear the province needs more inspectors and described the number of summary tickets that were issued as "ridiculously low.''

"People are stretched very thin,'' he said. "We need to ensure the (inspector) staffing levels are adequate to ensure inspections after an accident as well as pre-emptive inspections.''

Regan says the department is hiring five new employees to bring the total number of investigators and inspectors to 40.

She said with more employees, more unannounced inspections will take place.

But Lapointe said it's premature to conclude the problem is a shortage of staff.

"It's hard to say what the right number [of inspectors] would be,'' he said. "It's a question, first, of making sure that what they're doing is as efficient as possible.''

Source: The Canadian Press via OHS Canada

Concerned about occupational health and safety and airborne health hazards? Electrocorp offers a wide range of industrial and commercial indoor air cleaners that can remove chemical fumes, odors, VOCs, gases, particles, mold and more. Contact Electrocorp for more information.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Hashtag health: Using social media to track flu outbreaks

Monitoring tweets can help experts
identify flu patterns, researcher says.
A social media–monitoring program led by San Diego State University geography professor Ming-Hsiang Tsou could help physicians and health officials learn when and where severe outbreaks are occurring in real time.

In results published last month in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, Tsou demonstrated that his technique might allow officials to more quickly and efficiently direct resources to outbreak zones and better contain the spread of the disease.

"There is the potential to use social media to really improve the way we monitor the flu and other public health concerns,"Tsou said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines flu season as the period from October through May, usually peaking around February.

But the unpredictability in exactly when and where outbreaks occur makes it difficult for hospitals and regional health agencies to prepare for where and when to deploy physicians and nurses armed with vaccines and medicines.

There's about a two-week lag in the time between hospitals first noticing an uptick in flu patients and the CDC issuing a regional warning. Tsou and his colleagues, funded by a $1.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation, wanted to find a quicker, more efficient way to identify these patterns.

They selected 11 U.S. cities and monitored tweets originating from within a 17-mile radius of those cities. Whenever people tweeted the keywords "flu" or "influenza," the program would record characteristics about those tweets, including username, location, whether they were original tweets or retweets, and whether they linked to a Web site.

From June 2012 to the beginning of December, the algorithm recorded 161,821 tweets containing the word "flu," 6,174 containing "influenza."

Tsou compared his team's findings to regional data based on the CDC's definition of influenza-like illnesses (ILI). Nine of the 11 cities showed a statistically significant correlation between an increase in the number of tweets mentioning those keywords and regionally reported outbreaks.

Method picked up on outbreaks earlier

In five of those cities, Tsou's algorithm picked up on the outbreaks earlier than the regional reports. The cities with the strongest correlations were San Diego, Denver, Jacksonville, Seattle and Fort Worth.

"Traditional procedures take at least two weeks to detect an outbreak," Tsou said. "With our method, we're detecting daily."

Original tweets and tweets without Web site links also proved more predictive than retweets or those that did include links, possibly because original and non-linking tweets are more likely to reflect individuals posting about their own symptoms, Tsou said.

The next step in Tsou's ongoing research will be hunting for even finer-grained correlations between ILI data and specific symptomatic keywords like "cough," "sneeze," "congestion," and "sore throat."

Tsou envisions this kind of "infoveillance" applying to a range of public health, such as monitoring regional incidences of heart attack or diabetes. The project is connected to a larger SDSU initiative, Human Dynamics in the Mobile Age, one of the university's four recently selected Areas of Excellence. Tsou is a core faculty member for the initiative.

"In social media, there's a lot of noise in the data," Tsou said. "But if we can filter that noise out and focus on what's relevant, we can find all kinds of useful connections between real life and cyberspace."

Source: San Diego State University

Concerned about exposure to the flu virus or other indoor air contaminants that can affect health and well-being? Electrocorp has designed commercial and industrial air cleaners for a wide range of applications, including offices and other workplaces. The air purifiers can remove airborne viruses, bacteria, mold spores, chemicals, gases, odors, particles, allergens and dust. Contact Electrocorp for more information.