Friday, December 5, 2014

Library tested for mold problems

Excess mold in libraries can affect the
health and well-being of staff and visitors
and damage inventory.
Testing was underway after mold was found on a heating and cooling vent at the University of Missouri’s Ellis Library recently.

Environmental Health and Safety tested the area after the fungus was found and confirmed it was mold, according to a notice from library administrators. The vent was in the special collections area of the fourth floor.

“While we have confirmed there is mold in the area, that doesn’t mean anything,” Environmental Health and Safety Director Todd Houts said.

“Mold is in the air everywhere. It becomes an issue when there’s a lot. We’re not sure how much there is yet.”

Houts said workers set up “traps” to collect samples of the mold throughout the week. Later this week or early next week, environmental staff will examine the collected mold spores.

“Mold has a bad name because when people talk about it, they’re usually talking about extreme situations, but mold is present practically everywhere,” Houts said.

There is no imminent threat from the mold found in the library, he said, and no history of mold problems inside the library.

The notice from the library was sent to library staff, members of the Library Committee and the MU Faculty Council, library spokeswoman Shannon Cary said in an email.

“Environmental Health and Safety will be performing additional inspections and tests to make sure all affected areas are identified,” the notice reads.

“Any affected areas will be cleaned immediately by Campus Facilities, and other air ducts in Ellis Library will be cleaned as needed. In addition, MU Libraries administration is working with the Office of Energy Management to make sure that proper temperature and humidity levels are maintained at Ellis Library and the specialized libraries at all times.”

Last fall, mold damaged about 600,000 books the university had in off-site underground storage. Most were saved, with cleanup paid for through grants and a self-insurance fund.

Source: Columbia Daily Tribune.

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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

British government loses landmark air pollution case

Air pollution is a killer, experts say.
The Government will be forced to urgently clean up illegal air pollution in British cities, after a ruling at the European Court of Justice.

Following the case, brought by environmental group Client Earth, individuals will now be able sue the Government for breaching EU pollution laws, while ministers will be forced to prepare and implement plans to improve air quality “as soon as possible”.

In a slap-down for the Government, the court overwhelmingly dismissed a long-stated policy of seeking to comply with EU air pollution laws by simply appealing to Europe for more time.

Alan Andrews, Client Earth's lawyer, said: “Thousands of people die because of air pollution every year. This ruling will save lives by forcing the government to finally take this issue seriously. They will now have to come up with an urgent plan to rid our towns and cities of cancer-causing diesel fumes”.

In July the Government admitted that several British cities were set to meet toxic nitrogen dioxide gas limits within by 2010, at the same time in emerged NO2 legal limits were exceeded in 40 of the UK’s 43 urban zones in 2010.

Air quality campaigner Simon Birkett, founder of Clean Air in London, said “This is a massive win for Client Earth on all counts in a landmark environmental case that could be the most important in a generation."

He added: “This judgement means early next year the Supreme Court must take any necessary measure to require Defra to produce a meaningful new air quality plan that ensures the excedance period for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) limit values beyond 1 January 2010 is ‘as short as possible’. The judgement also makes clear that these limit values are absolute ‘obligations’."

Campaigners say the ruling could see many diesel cars and commercial vehicles banned from city centres to cut pollution.

These are the biggest producers of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a harmful gas linked with heart attacks and asthma.

A clampdown could lead to policies like the London Mayor's plans for an “ultra-low-emission zone” being adopted across the country.

The focus of campaigners will now shift to the UK Supreme court which is expected to interpret what the time frame should be next year.

This should see the UK Supreme Court ordering the government to take action to meet limits in a much shorter time frame.

In the London Assembly Green Party member Jenny Jones called on Mayor Boris Johnson to “urgently review” his air pollution polices in light of the ruling.

She said: “This is great news for Londoners’ health. This judgment shatters the Mayor’s complacency on air pollution. The Mayor must urgently rewrite his strategy and reinstate emergency measures to bring pollution down from its dangerous and illegal levels.”


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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

10 jobs that are bad for your lungs - Part 2

Knowing the dangers in certain occupations may help decrease the risk factors. The first five jobs that pose a threat to the lungs were:

1. Bartending and waitressing
2. Housekeeping and cleaning
3. Health care
4. Hair styling
Construction workers are often exposed
to chemicals, particles and asbestos.
5. Manufacturing

And the list continues:

6. Construction

Workers who demolish old buildings or do remodeling can be exposed to asbestos used as insulation around pipes or in floor tiles.

Even minimal exposure to its microscopic fibers has been linked to a variety of problems. One is mesothelioma, a form of cancer, Von Essen says.

Exposure also seems to raise the risk of small-cell lung cancer and can lead to asbestosis, or scarring of the lung. Removal should be left to trained and licensed crews.

"Know where the asbestos is," Von Essen says. "Follow all the rules and don't take chances."

7. Farming

Working with crops and animals can lead to several disorders. Hypersensitivity pneumonitis is a rare but serious problem caused by repeated exposures to mold-contaminated grain or hay. The lung's air sacs become inflamed and may develop scar tissue.

Grain in metal bins can get moldy. Breathing dust from this grain can lead to fevers, chills, and a flu-like illness called "organic dust toxic syndrome." Farmers also are more likely to report a cough and chest tightness.

"We think about 30% of farmers who grow crops in this way have had that at some point," Von Essen says. Workers in hog and chicken barns sometimes get an asthma-like syndrome.

"Dust and ammonia levels together seem to be risk factors," she says. Keep grain from getting damp, ensure adequate ventilation, and wear a respirator.

8. Auto Body Spray Painting

People who work in auto body shops are often exposed to chemicals known as isocyanates. They're a significant cause of occupational asthma.

"It's frequently a career-ending disease where they need to leave their profession," Harber says.

The right protective equipment may
alleviate some of the risks.
Using quality respirators that are appropriate for your task can lessen the risk. It also helps to enclose the area being sprayed and to have a ventilated exhaust system. Better yet, replace hazardous materials with safer ones.

9. Firefighting

People who battle blazes are exposed not only to the fire, but also to other materials, including burning plastics and chemicals. Firefighters can significantly lower their risk of lung disease and other problems by using a "self-contained breathing apparatus" (SCBA). These devices should also be used during "mop up" or the clean-up period.

"Many of the chemicals are still in the air," Harber says. Ventilation also is critical.

10. Coal Mining

Underground miners are at risk for everything from bronchitis to pneumoconiosis, or "black lung." It's a chronic condition caused by inhaling coal dust that becomes embedded in the lungs, causing them to harden and make breathing very hard.

"This can cause progressive massive fibrosis and can kill people," Von Essen says.

Again, protective equipment can limit the amount of dust inhaled.

Source: WebMD

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Monday, November 24, 2014

10 occupations that are bad for your lungs - Part 1

Our lungs work hard for all of us - but
some occupations are worse than others.
Your lungs work hard. Most adults take more than 20,000 breaths a day. But just how well your lungs do their job may be affected by the job you do.

Chemicals. Germs. Tobacco smoke and dirt. Fibers, dust, and even things you might not think are dangerous can damage your airway and threaten your lungs.

"The lungs are complex organs," says Philip Harber, MD, MPH, professor of public health at the University of Arizona in Tucson. "Occupational and environmental exposures can lead to scarring or fibrosis, asthma, COPD, and infection or cancer."

The good news: Many on-the-job lung dangers are preventable. Depending on your line of work, making certain changes can be key: Improve ventilation, wear protective equipment, change the way you do your work, and learn more about hazards, for examples.

Here are 10 jobs where precautions may help you avoid work-related lung damage.

1. Bartending and Waitressing

Secondhand smoke has been linked to lung cancer. It remains a threat to workers in cities where smoking hasn't been banned in public places. Casino workers also can find themselves in a cloud of smoke.
Smoky environments put bartenders and
waiting staff at risk for lung disease. 

No one's going to wear a respirator while serving martinis or dealing a blackjack game. Separating smokers from nonsmokers, cleaning the air, and ventilating buildings won't keep nonsmokers from being exposed.

Short of working to change policy, the best solution may be to find another job.

"Unfortunately, the individual worker has limited options," says Susanna Von Essen, MD. She's a University of Nebraska Medical Center professor of internal medicine in the division of pulmonary, critical care, sleep, and allergy.

2. Housekeeping and Cleaning

Some cleaning supplies, even so-called "green" or "natural" products, have harmful chemicals that have been linked with developing asthma.

"Cleaners are reactive chemicals, meaning that they react with dirt and also with your lung tissues," Von Essen says.

Some release volatile organic compounds, which can contribute to chronic respiratory problems and allergic reactions. Read labels and follow instructions.

Consider using "simple cleaning agents like vinegar and water or baking soda," Von Essen says. Open windows and doors to keep the area well ventilated, too.

3. Health Care

Doctors, nurses, and other people who work in hospitals, medical offices, or nursing homes are at increased risk for lung diseases such as tuberculosis, influenza, and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).
Health care workers are at risk: Experts

So, health care workers should keep up with immunizations (including the flu vaccine) that the CDC recommends for them.

Health care workers may also develop asthma if latex is used in gloves or other supplies. Latex-free synthetic gloves are an alternative.

4. Hair Styling

Certain hair-coloring agents can lead to occupational asthma. Some salon hair-straightening products contain formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. It's also a strong eye, nose, throat, and lung irritant.

Good ventilation is important. Because wearing a respirator might cause appointments to cancel, know what's in the products you're working with. If they're not safe, find a safer product.

5. Manufacturing

Some factory workers risk getting asthma or making their existing asthma worse. Asthma not caused by work but made worse by it affects as many as 25% of adults with asthma, Harber says.

Factory workers can be exposed to everything from inhaled metals in foundries to silica or fine sand, which can lead to silicosis, a disease that scars the lung, or increased risk of lung cancer.

A lung disorder called "popcorn lung," or bronchiolitis obliterans, has been seen in plant workers exposed to some of the flavoring chemicals used to make microwave popcorn. Again, respirators and proper ventilation are key for those workers. (No risk of "popcorn lung" has been seen in people who eat that popcorn.)

Source: WebMD

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Police station closed due to mold, leaks

Police stations often suffer
from poor IAQ, affecting the
officers' health and well-being.
DARTMOUTH — Cracked glass, water-damaged files, corroded pipes and black mold were some of visible issues police building committee members saw during a recent tour of the closed police station.

“It blows my mind,” said Ken Vincent, chairman of the 12-member committee expected to come up with dollar figures on renovating the facility or building a new station. “It’s important for the committee to see this so we can ask the right questions when we go out to bid.”

The Russells Mills Road station has been closed for more than eight months after an officer became sick with Legionnaires' disease and the bacterium legionella was found in the hot water system.

Custodian David Saulnier said several old pipes that were blocked off during previous expansions allowed the bacteria to fester.

From corroded pipes in the boiler room to soggy boxes in the records room, Saulnier led a group of 14 through the building, identifying issues.

“Over the last three years, I kept getting new leaks in the new HVAC system that did not have some valves,” he said, pulling down drop ceiling tiles to expose dots of mold.

Pointing to a thick grey-green ooze on the floor of the locker room, Saulnier said he had no idea what it could be.

Select Board representative Stanley Mickelson, who recently replaced Lara Stone on the committee, had mixed reactions to the tour. “Discombobulating,” he said. “There’s so much to go through.”

As temperatures drop, the department continues to operate out of six trailers and portable toilets in the parking lot, a situation Traffic Officer Joseph Vieira said is “not ideal.” Representing the police union on the committee, he said the tour was “a great first step” but “long overdue.”

In the recent rains, water dripped through the dispatchers' trailer windows, said Donna Wunschel, also on the committee.

“It’s an indoor job. I don’t even have rain gear,” she said. “We are trying to deal with it the best we can.”

The town has purchased a modular station with plumbing and heat to replace the trailers. Town Administrator David Cressman said he expects it will be in place early January.

“Let’s hope for no snow until then,” Vieira said.

Source: South Coast Today


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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Combustible dust to blame for Ontario plant explosion

Companies have to make sure to protect
workers from combustible dust and more.
An explosion and subsequent fire at an industrial facility in Sarnia, Ont. left several employees hospitalized on Oct. 25. One of the workers died of his injuries two days later.

The incident took place at a plant belonging to Veolia Environmental Services, an international company that uses propane and oxygen to conduct thermal spraying of aluminum.

According to information from the provincial Ministry of Labour (MOL), a dust collection system outside of the building exploded and caused structural damage in the middle of the afternoon.

“Five workers were injured in the incident, including two who were critically injured,” confirmed MOL media representative Bruce Skeaff.

“Emergency services were dispatched and attended the scene. The five injured workers were transported to hospital.”

One of the critically injured parties was subsequently airlifted from Sarnia’s Bluewater Health hospital to a London hospital for further treatment.

Eight workers in total were inside the building at the time of the blast, according to media reports.

Skeaff added that MOL inspectors, firefighters and officials from the Ontario Fire Marshal’s office had also attended the scene of the explosion.

“A City of Sarnia engineer attended the scene and declared the building unsafe to enter,” he said.

The MOL issued a requirement to Veolia not to disturb the scene of the incident, under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. The fire was extinguished the next day, and a forensics investigator examined the scene as well.

Carol Gravelle, public relations officer with the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management (OFM), told COHSN that the office had seized evidence at the site as exhibits for testing offsite.

The OFM “worked with the Ministry of Labour, the coroner’s office, local police and local fire” to investigate the origins of the explosion, Gravelle said.

On Oct. 27, Const. Les Jones of the Sarnia Police Service (SPS) announced in a press release that one critically injured employee — the one who had been airlifted — had died earlier that morning. “Sarnia Police Service will not be releasing his name,” Const. Jones added.

A media statement from Veolia, issued on Oct. 26, said that the company was cooperating fully with the MOL and other authorities in their investigations.

“The employees of Veolia are deeply concerned for our co-workers,” the statement read, “and our thoughts and prayers are with them at this time.”

The MOL continues to investigate, as do the SPS and offsite investigators with the OFM.

Source: OHS Canada

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Monday, November 17, 2014

More chemicals added to EPA watch list

EPA adds 23 chemicals, including BPA, to key list for scrutiny, possible action

Assessing health risks for chemicals
is hard, ongoing work.
The Environmental Protection Agency has added 23 chemicals — including bisphenol A (BPA), seven phthalates and two flame retardants — to a key list of chemicals that will have particular uses carefully scrutinized for possible regulation or other controls.

The agency on Oct. 23 updated the list of chemicals in commerce that meet certain criteria, such as being used in children's products or being carcinogenic, persistent in the environment or harmful to development, reproduction or the neurological system.

Manufacturers of some of the newly added chemicals include Dow Chemical Co., DuPont, Eastman Chemical Co., Mexichem S.A.B de C.V., Momentive Performance Materials Holdings LLC and Webb Chemical Service Corp.

The EPA also removed 15 chemicals and groups of chemicals from the Toxic Substances Control Act Work Plan list.

The updated TSCA Work Plan now lists 90 chemicals and chemical groups.

The agency is assessing the risks of particular uses of chemicals on that list. It already has completed four assessments and has initiated risk management actions for trichloroethylene (TCE) and methylene chloride.

Assessments for the newly added chemicals will begin after 2017, the agency said.

Depending on the findings of its risk assessments, the agency could decide to regulate one or more uses of the chemical, work with industry to reduce exposures or conclude that its analysis showed a particular use raised no concerns.

Richard Denison, lead senior scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund, commended the EPA for updating its work plan to reflect new data.

“The work plan should be a living document that is revised as new information emerges,” he said.

Scientist questions removal of chemicals

Denison questioned the agency's decision to remove 13 chemicals because manufacturers didn't report making them in 2011, the most recent year for which the agency obtained production volume information. The agency said it concluded that these 13 chemicals were no longer in commerce.

“Reporting under the Chemical Data Reporting rule is subject to a high threshold of 25,000 pounds per site in the reporting year. In addition, numerous exemptions from reporting are provided,” Denison said.

Given the threshold and exemptions, the EPA should explain how it determined the chemicals are no longer being produced in or imported into the U.S. at any level by any company, Denison said.

The EPA's selection of some of the 23 newly added chemicals isn't surprising, as the agency voiced concerns about possible health or environmental harms they could cause in action plans it released between December 2009 and April 2011.

Those chemicals and chemical groups are decabromodiphenyl ether (decaBDE), hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD), nonylphenol and nonylphenol ethoxylates and the seven phthalates.

The EPA added the remaining chemicals for reasons such as 2011 Toxics Release Inventory data showing elevated releases into the environment; 2012 Chemical Data Reporting (CDR) rule information showing the chemicals are used in consumer products, including children's products; and the compounds being newly identified as presenting significant health or environmental hazards.

Other newly added chemicals

The 12 chemicals the agency added for such reasons are:

• 1,3-butadiene, Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) No. 106-99-0, a commodity petrochemical that the EPA said increasingly is used to make rocket fuels, plastics, commercial latex paints and other compounds. Manufacturers, including Chevron Phillips Chemical Co., Lanxess Corp. and Michelin Corp., reported making or importing more than 4.3 billion pounds in 2011.

• 2,5-furandione, CAS No. 108-31-6, a chemical intermediate that the EPA said is used to make thousands of adhesives, floor polishes, leather treatments, personal care products, water treatment chemicals and other compounds. Manufacturers, including Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Greenchem Industries LLC and Lanxess, reported making or importing more than 572 million pounds in 2011.

• dimethylaminoethanol, CAS No. 108-01-0, which the EPA said is used to make dyestuffs, pharmaceuticals, corrosion inhibitors and other compounds. Manufacturers, including BASF Corp., Huntsman Corp. and Solvchem Inc., reported making or importing more than 120 million pounds in 2011.

• 2-hydroxy-4-(octyloxy)benzophenone, CAS No. 1843-05-6, which the EPA said is used in rubber and plastic products as well as food packaging. Manufacturers, including BASF Corp., Cytec Industries Inc. and SC Johnson & Son Inc., reported making or importing 2 million pounds in 2011.

•  3,3'-dichlorobenzidine, CAS No. 91-94-1, which the EPA said is a probable human carcinogen used to make dyes. No public manufacturing or production volume data were available from the agency's CDR rule website.

• 4,4'-(1-methylethylidene)bis[2,6-dibromophenol], or TBBPA, CAS No. 79-94-7, which the EPA said is used to inhibit combustion in epoxy resin circuit boards and electronic enclosures. Manufacturers, including Albemarle Corp., LG International America Inc. and Sabic Innovative Plastics US LLC, reported making or importing 120 million pounds in 2011.

• barium carbonate, CAS No. 513-77-9, which the EPA said is used in oil well drilling and used to make products including paper, special glass, ceramics, bricks and electrodes. Manufacturers, including Chemical Products Corp., Ferro Corp. and Solvay America Inc., reported making or importing 36 million pounds in 2011.

• dicyclohexyl phthalate, CAS No. 84-61-7, which the EPA said is used to make plastics and as a heat sealer for paper finishes such as price labels and pharmaceutical labels. Wind Point Partners, Lanxess and a company that withheld its name (saying it was confidential business information) reported making or importing between 500,000 and 1 million pounds in 2011.

• isopropylated phenol, phosphate or iPTPP, CAS No. 68937-41-7, which the EPA said is used as a flame retardant. Manufacturers, including Chevron Corp., ICL-Industrial Products America Inc. and Special Material Co., reported making or importing 15 million pounds in 2011.

• molybdenum and molybdenum compounds, a category of chemical used as alloying agents in cast iron, steel and other metals. Because this is a group of chemicals, Bloomberg BNA could not obtain national production data.

• pentachlorothio-phenol, CAS No. 133-49-3, which the EPA said is used to make rubber more pliable. The EPA withheld production volume data for this chemical to protect the proprietary business information of Strucktol Co. of America, the sole manufacturer, which reported making or importing it in 2011.

• triphenyl phosphate or TPP, CAS No. 115-86-6, which the EPA said is widely used to slow fires in polyurethane foam, polyvinyl chloride, printed wiring boards and children's products. Manufacturers, including Albemarle Corp., Chevron and Ferro Corp., reported making or importing 10.7 million pounds in 2011.

Source: Bloomberg News

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Friday, November 14, 2014

Toxic chemicals skyrocketing near fracking sites

A study found dangerous chemicals such as
benzene and formaldehyde near wells.
Oil and gas wells across the country are spewing “dangerous" cancer-causing chemicals into the air, according to a new study that further corroborates reports of health problems around hydraulic fracturing sites.

“This is a significant public health risk,” says Dr. David Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany-State University of New York and lead author of the study, which was published Thursday in the journal Environmental Health.

“Cancer has a long latency, so you’re not seeing an elevation in cancer in these communities. But five, 10, 15 years from now, elevation in cancer is almost certain to happen.”

Eight poisonous chemicals were found near wells and fracking sites in Arkansas, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wyoming at levels that far exceeded recommended federal limits.

Benzene, a carcinogen, was the most common, as was formaldehyde, which also has been linked to cancer. Hydrogen sulfide, which smells like rotten eggs and can affect the brain and upper-respiratory system, also was found.

The health effects of living near a fracking site have been felt elsewhere, according to separate research.

A study published last month by researchers from the University of Washington and Yale University found residents within a kilometer of a well had up to twice the number of health problems as those living at least 2 kilometers away.

For Carpenter's study, trained volunteers living near the wells conducted air measurements, taking 35 “grab air” samples during heavy industrial activity or when they felt symptoms such as dizziness, nausea or headaches.

Another 41 “passive” tests – meaning samples were taken during a designated period, not merely when levels spiked – were conducted to monitor for formaldehyde. The tests were then sent to accredited labs.

Not every sample exceeded the recommended limits. But in those that did – slightly less than half the samples taken – benzene levels were 35 to 770,000 times greater than normal concentrations, or up to 33 times the exposure a driver might get while fueling his or her car.

Similarly, hydrogen sulfide levels above federal standards were 90 to 60,000 times higher than normal – enough to cause eye and respiratory irritation, fatigue, irritability, poor memory and dizziness after just one hour of exposure.

Excessive formaldehyde levels were 30 to 240 times higher than normal, which a statement on the study described as “more than twice the formaldehyde concentration that occurs in rooms where medical students are dissecting human cadavers, and where most students report respiratory irritation.”

A law passed in 2005 by Congress included what's commonly known as the "Halliburton loophole," which exempts oil and gas companies from federal regulations involving the monitoring and disclosure of fracking chemicals.

“It’s the gift that keeps on giving, the longer you’re exposed to these things,” says Wyoming resident Deb Thomas, who saw a well open across the road from her in 1999 and helped collect air samples for Carpenter’s study.

“I had an asthmatic episode – I’ve never had any asthma, I don’t have a history of asthma. I ended up at the hospital where they gave me breathing treatments. I’ve had really bad rashes.”

Thomas has come across similar symptoms at other unconventional oil and gas sites across the country, where as executive director of the nonprofit group ShaleTest, she’s helped take air samples for low-income families and communities affected by fracking.

“We see a lot of cognitive difficulties,” she says. “People get asthma or breathing difficulty or nose polyps or something with their eyes or their ears ring – the sorts of things that come on very subtly, but you start to notice them.”

However, it’s difficult to determine which health issues are a result of oil and gas operations and which stem from other factors, because symptoms often start only gradually and government air quality studies have proved limited in scope.

“It’s really hard to say what’s from the actual exposure,” Thomas says. “It’s very scary. It’s very hard to get information about what the development is. One minute you’re living your normal life, the next, people start to get really sick and they can’t get any answers.”

Occupational risks for workers

The chemicals may pose major risks to oil and gas workers, too.

“The occupational exposures we’re not even talking about,” Carpenter says. “If anybody is exposed at the levels our results show, these workers are exposed at tremendous levels.”

The American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas industry’s largest trade and lobbying group, and America’s Natural Gas Alliance, which represents independent gas exploration and production companies, both declined to comment ahead of the study’s release.

Spokesmen at each group referred questions to another industry organization, Energy In Depth, which dismissed the study's methods and conclusions as "dubious."

"Their commitment to banning oil and gas development, and their ideological position that fracking can never be adequately regulated, is clearly why this report comes to such harsh conclusions," says Energy In Depth spokeswoman Katie Brown, referring to the group that trained the volunteers, Global Community Monitor. "They were probably determined before the project ever began."

The study's findings came as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo weighed whether to end a state moratorium on fracking. Cuomo, a Democrat, had delayed the release of a state health department study on the industry until after elections.

As a professor and researcher in the New York state capital, Carpenter says he hopes his study “does influence the debate.”

“There’s certainly economic reasons to explore fracking,” he says. “I’m not religiously opposed to fracking. While I prefer renewable fuels, we’re a long way from that. I just want it done safely. There’s been debate about how safe or unsafe it is, and our results say there is a problem.”

Source: US News

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Boston area shop owners opt for carcinogen-free business

The dry-cleaning chemical perc has
been linked to cancer and health issues.
When Myra Vargas and her husband took over a dry-cleaning business in Jamaica Plain last spring, they had to make a tough decision: whether to use a common chemical called perchloroethylene, known as perc, or institute a costly change.

Vargas knew that perc, which they’d been using to clean clothes at their Roslindale shop for nearly two decades, was dangerous.

Years earlier, she’d been warned to stay away from it while pregnant. But she’d recently learned that perc probably causes cancer in dry-cleaning workers.

“We went seventeen years using something that was dangerous for everybody,” she says.

Extra encouragement to make the change to a safe system known as wet cleaning came from a group called Jamaica Plain New Economy Transition, but it wouldn’t be easy.

The couple would need to buy all new machinery and pay to get rid of their old, perc-based equipment. And making the switch would cost more than $100,000, a daunting hurdle. Plus, they’d heard conflicting stories about whether wet cleaning worked as well. But then the project helped them get a $15,000 state grant and launch a Kickstarter campaign that raised another $18,000.

On September 11, J&P Dry Cleaners celebrated its grand opening as the neighborhood’s only wet cleaner and one of only about a dozen in the state.

The shop’s opening was the first success in an ambitious effort to rid Jamaica Plain businesses of chemicals likely or suspected to cause cancer.

Across the nation, Main Street businesses routinely use such chemicals: at beauty and nail salons, hair straighteners and polishes that may release formaldehyde, for instance; at auto shops, brake cleaners that can include perc and solvents with trichloroethylene.

By persuading companies to switch to safer alternatives, the JP project aims to create locally what its leaders are calling “a cancer-free economy.”

Although nationally cancer rates are declining slightly, an estimated 1.7 million Americans will be diagnosed with the disease this year and more than half a million will die of it.

But most of us don’t need stats to tell us there’s a lot of cancer around — everyone seems to know someone.

“Not enough effort, not enough research, not enough funds have been directed toward upstream efforts to prevent carcinogens from getting into the human environment in the first place,” says Richard Clapp, an epidemiologist at the University of Massachusetts Lowell Center for Sustainable Production, which is partnering on the Jamaica Plain project.

 “How do we get to the point where we don’t pour this fire hydrant of carcinogenic chemicals into the environment?”

To be sure, exposure to chemicals doesn’t cause all (or even most) cancers. The American Cancer Society attributes 30 percent of US cancers to cigarette smoking and 35 percent to poor diet, inactivity, and obesity.

Other factors, such as genetics and infections, also contribute. But any given cancer case is now understood to have more than one cause, Clapp argues, so the idea of dishing out blame to one factor is flawed.

The JP project, which received a $20,000 grant from UMass Lowell’s Toxics Use Reduction Institute last year and was recently awarded another, is gearing up to approach other neighborhood businesses like auto shops and beauty salons.

And it’s trying to persuade local hospitals, hotels, and senior living facilities to use Vargas’s shop for dry cleaning.

In addition to reducing carcinogens, the project aims to support minority- and immigrant-owned small businesses in JP’s gentrifying economy — communities all too often left out of environmental and health discussions.

The Lowell Center for Sustainable Production is taking an even wider-angle look at creating cancer-free economies.

In partnership with two national groups, it secured foundation support — around $1 million for each of the next three years — to build a network of organizations that will strategize how best to wean the national economy off cancer-causing chemicals, then fund a series of initiatives to help do just that.

Whether the JP project or even the national one can credibly reduce our economic dependence on carcinogens remains to be seen. But we need more of this kind of bold, creative thinking.

And if we want businesses, especially small ones, to change their ways, they are going to need help.

Fortunately, Massachusetts has other like-minded initiatives, including Boston’s Green & Clean small-business certification program and the Toxics Use Reduction Institute’s statewide assistance program.

Without the JP project’s help, Vargas says she would never have given up perc.

But she’s thrilled with the decision: There’s no chemical smell in the shop, wash loads take half the time and less energy, and the whites come out whiter. Her utility bills have dropped, and there are no more fees for disposing of perc.

“At the end, it’s worth it, because now we see the results,” she says. “People like it. It’s better.”

Vargas is planning to send other neighborhood business owners to the group and is helping spread its message of a carcinogen-free Jamaica Plain.

“It’s a big problem and a hard process . . . for them to convince people,” she says. “But I’m hoping they do it.”

Source: Boston Globe

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Gyms plagued by bad air

Indoor air in gyms may be polluted by dust
and chemicals such as formaldehyde.
Photo: Freedigitalphotos.net
A new study of air quality in gyms raises questions about whether the places in which we work out are as healthy as they should be.

Science and common sense tell us that exercising in polluted air is undesirable.

People who frequently run alongside heavily trafficked freeways and breathe great lungfuls of exhaust have been shown to have an increased risk of heart disease, even if they are otherwise in admirably good shape.

But few studies systematically have examined the air quality inside gyms.

So for the new study, which will appear next month in the journal Building and Environment, researchers at the University of Lisbon in Portugal and the Technical University of Delft in Holland decided that they would place air-quality monitoring equipment in gyms throughout Lisbon.

Portuguese fitness sites are similar to those in the United States, said Carla Ramos, a graduate student at the University of Lisbon who led the new study.

Most feature a weight room and multiple, smaller studio spaces for aerobics classes, yoga sessions and similar programs.

For the new study, Ms. Ramos obtained permission from 11 Lisbon gyms to position air-quality monitors in each site’s weight room and several studios. The machines were set to measure pollutants during the late afternoon or evening hours, when the gyms were at their most crowded.

For about two hours at each gym, the monitors measured the levels of commonly found indoor pollutants. These include carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, ozone, airborne particulates such as dust, and various chemicals released by carpeting, cleaning products, furniture or paint, including formaldehyde.

To gain even more detailed readings, the scientists subsequently placed additional monitors in three of the gyms, which measured air quality throughout the building and throughout the entire day.

Then they checked the pollutant levels from all of the gyms.

Their findings were disquieting. In general, the gyms showed high levels of airborne dust, formaldehyde and carbon dioxide. The concentrations of these substances generally exceeded most accepted standards for indoor air quality. (No government agency in the United States formally monitors air quality in gyms.)

The levels were especially high during evening aerobics classes, when many people were packed into small studios, stirring up dust and fumes and puffing heavily, producing carbon dioxide with every breath.

The high concentrations of dust and chemicals like formaldehyde in the air at the gyms represent perhaps the greatest potential concern, Ms. Ramos said.

In sufficient concentrations, these substances can contribute to asthma and other respiratory problems, she said. Almost all of the gyms in the study had levels of these substances that significantly exceed European standards for healthy indoor air standards.

Carbon dioxide, though not toxic to people, could also be cause for concern. In high concentrations, Ms. Ramos said, it has been found to contribute to bodily fatigue and cognitive fogginess, neither of which is desirable during a high-intensity aerobics class.

Elevated levels of carbon dioxide can also indicate a poorly ventilated building, she said, especially if they remain inflated for hours, as they did in her study.

“We consider that the gymnasiums meet the criteria for a poor indoor quality,” Mr. Ramos said.

Poor indoor air quality is a particular issue in gyms, of course, because people there tend to be breathing heavily.

“When we exercise, we take in more air with each breath and most of that air goes through the mouth, bypassing the natural filtration system” in the nostrils, Ms. Ramos said. “The pollutants go deeper into the lungs compared to resting situations.”

The findings should not, however, discourage anyone from visiting a gym, Ms. Ramos said. None of the sites in the study had measurable levels of carbon monoxide, she pointed out, one of the most dangerous of known air pollutants.

The data might, though, prompt diligent gymgoers to perform a sniff test. If the air at your fitness center smells chemical-laden and stale, consider talking with the site manager, Ms. Ramos said.

Ask about ventilation and if the building has undergone a recent indoor-air-quality assessment.

Inquire, too, about the types of cleaning products used at the gym and whether floors are swept or mopped; the latter is better at reducing airborne dust, Ms. Ramos said.

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For her part, Ms. Ramos conducted a formal air-quality assessment at the gym she attends (separately from her study) and offered the manager advice about how to reduce some of the pollutants that turned up.

“I prefer to be indoors to practice physical activity,” she said, as long as the air is as healthy as the activity.

Source: NY Times blog

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Friday, November 7, 2014

Failing to address serious hazards may be costly for companies

Workers exposed to combustible dust and other hazards at Illinois cornstarch processing facility

Longtime exposure to chemicals and other
contaminants may affect workers' health.
PARIS, Ill. – Workers were exposed to combustible cornstarch dust, dust particles in excess of permissible exposure limits and other hazards at Septimus Inc.

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited the company for 21 serious safety and health violations, carrying proposed penalties of $46,400.

A complaint prompted the inspection at the facility, which processes cornstarch for use in laundry detergent and other products.

"Combustible dust can burn rapidly and explode with little warning, putting workers at risk for severe injury and death," said Thomas Bielema, OSHA's area director in Peoria.

"OSHA's inspection found that Septimus used potential ignition sources, like forklifts and electrical equipment, in areas where combustible dust was present."

OSHA's April 30, 2014, inspection found workers were exposed because processing and dust collection equipment lacked protective covers.

If this dust is suspended in the air in the right concentration, under certain conditions, it can become explosive.

The inspection found the company operated powered industrial vehicles in poor repair that were not rated for use in environments where combustible dust was present.

These vehicles, along with numerous electrical violations, provided potential ignition sources for the dust. The force from such an explosion can cause employee deaths, injuries and destruction of buildings.

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board identified 281 combustible dust incidents between 1980 and 2005 that led to the deaths of 119 workers, 718 injuries and numerous extensively damaged industrial facilities.

Workers were also exposed to airborne concentrations of dust in excess of the permissible exposure limit, which can cause respiratory illness and lung disease. The company failed to implement administrative and engineering controls to reduce exposure limits.

Additional serious violations involved amputation hazards and included lack of machine guarding, failure to implement specific lockout/tagout procedures to prevent machinery from operating during service and maintenance, and workers exposed to fall hazards of 7 feet or greater from unguarded working platforms.

The company also failed to train workers about hazardous chemicals in use at the facility and to mark exit routes clearly and ensure they were free of obstructions.

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.

Septimus has a contract with Tate & Lyle to extrude, dry blend and package cornstarch. The company is owned by The Faultless Starch/Bon Ami Co. of Kansas City, Missouri.

Septimus has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees.

OSHA's role is to ensure these conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance.

Source: OSHA

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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Scientists rank chemicals according to exposure levels

Researchers developed a mathematical
model to see which chemicals people
are exposed to the most.
An overwhelming number of chemicals from household and industrial products are in the environment – and hundreds are in our bodies.

But for most of them, scientists have yet to determine whether they cause health problems.

Now they've taken the first step toward doing that by estimating which substances people are exposed to the most. Their new method is published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.

John F. Wambaugh and colleagues note that the risks to human health of any given substance depend primarily on two factors: the potential hazards a chemical presents, and how much of it people are getting exposed to.

But public data on these variables are lacking for many substances already in widespread use.

About 80,000 chemicals are registered in the U.S. under the Toxic Substances Control Act, and industry adds 700 to 1,000 new chemicals every year.

Directly measuring how much of these substances people are getting exposed to would be a Herculean task requiring the time-consuming analysis of thousands of blood or urine samples.

Wambaugh's team sought a more practical approach.

The researchers developed a mathematical model to predict which household and industrial chemicals people are exposed to the most.

They based their method on answering five simple questions about the substances, such as whether they are used in consumer products or whether they are pesticides.

They used this approach to rank nearly 8,000 chemicals, from highest potential exposure level to lowest.

While a few of the top 10 were familiar compounds such as DEHP, a common phthalate that has been shown to cause reproductive problems in rodents, most were substances that scientists know very little about.

The researchers say the ranking could help prioritize future efforts that aim to understand potential health risks of thousands of chemicals.

Source: American Chemical Society via EurekAlert!


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Monday, November 3, 2014

Pollution choking China's tourism industry

Poor air quality a drawback for tourists.
China's inbound tourism market is still struggling to bounce back in the midst of rising concerns about issues such as air pollution, according to a new report from the China Tourism Academy.

The number of inbound tourists reached 129.08 million in 2013, down 2.51 percent year-on-year, the report said.

About 75.4 percent of inbound tourists were satisfied with their visits in 2013, down 11.41 percent compared with the previous year. Some tourists from overseas expressed dissatisfaction with the water supply, air quality and barrier-free facilities.

"Since the first quarter of 2012, the number of inbound tourists has been down for nine consecutive quarters both on an annual and quarterly basis, and there is no sign that it will bounce back soon," said Dai Bin, head of the academy. "China's inbound tourism market is in a grave situation unseen before."

"And the complicated exterior environment has added uncertainties to the development of inbound tourism," Dai added. "Besides the economic situation and international relationships, issues of weather, environment and terrorism have cast a shadow on the industry."

Jia Zhirong, deputy general manager of Lvmama, an online travel service provider in Shanghai, said his company has seen decreases both in the number of inbound tourists and the money they spend in China in the past three years.

"The majority of our clients are from South Korea, Japan, the United States and Canada," said Jia. "In 2011, the average spending in China for each overseas tourist was around $2,000, excluding transportation and accommodation. The number has been dropping every year."

"I think air pollution is a very important reason," Jia said. "Overseas visitors will not consider traveling to a destination with a potential health risks.

"Besides, the reason overseas visitors found China attractive is the natural beauty of lakes, mountains and ancient architecture. With heavy smog, it is very difficult for them to enjoy that."

Beijing, one of the most important tourism destinations in China, has been plagued by heavy smog for days. The capital's tourism authority told China Daily that it is aware of the impact of air pollution on tourism, but there are more reasons behind the declines.


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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: http://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/pubhealth/roc/roc13/index.html

Source: LiveScience

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

EPA guide aims to improve indoor air quality in schools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: EPA press release

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Nursing home infection rates climbing: Study

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Columbia University

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