Friday, April 29, 2011

Pediatricians want tougher chemical safety law

Children are most at risk when it comes to
exposure to common household chemicals.
We are exposed to chemicals virtually everywhere, and doctors urge authorities to provide better protection.

Earlier this week, the American Academy of Pediatrics called for an overhaul of the 35-year-old federal law governing toxic chemicals in the environment, saying it fails to safeguard children and pregnant women.

"It is widely recognized to have been ineffective in protecting children, pregnant women and the general population from hazardous chemicals in the marketplace," the academy said in a policy statement that will be published in the May issue of the journal Pediatrics.

They are not the only ones sounding the alarm bells. The American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association and the American Nurses Association have previously called for changes in the Toxic Substance Control Act.

Among the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations:
  • The consequences of chemical use on children and their families should be "a core component" of the new chemical policy.
  • Chemicals should meet standards similar to those required for new drugs or pesticides.
  • Decisions to ban chemicals should be based on reasonable levels of concern, rather than demonstrated harm.
  • The health effects of chemicals should be monitored after they are on the market, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should have the authority to remove a chemical from the market if it's deemed dangerous.

Since the Toxic Substances Control Act took effect in 1976, the EPA has tested only 200 of the 80,000 chemicals in commerce and regulated just five.

"Right now, a company manufactures a chemical and puts it out on the market and reaps the economic reward," said Dr. Jerome Paulson, lead author of the policy statement. "And then the public is responsible for trying to figure out if there is any harm associated with the use of that chemical. And then it's almost a criminal procedure, requiring proof beyond a reasonable doubt."

Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey this month introduced the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011. The law would require chemical manufacturers to demonstrate the safety of industrial chemicals used in everyday household products.

Experts agree that swift action is required to protect the most vulnerable members of our society – our children.

Children face special risks because they eat, drink and breathe more pound for pound than adults, and they spend more time on the floor or the ground than adults, a possible source of exposure, the American Academy of Pediatrics pointed out in its policy statement.

As part of its policy statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended its 60,000 member pediatricians familiarize themselves with the potential adverse health effects of chemicals in the environment.
The American chemical industry is a $674 billion enterprise, employing 800,000 people, according to the industry group. Chemical manufacturers reported annual production volume of 27 trillion pounds, according to the most recent EPA data available.
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Source: CNN

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Pre-fab homes can be earth-friendly

Modular homes don't have
to be cheap and boring.
When you think of your dream home, would you think of a prefab house?

Probably not. After a brief heyday of kit homes offered by Sears, Roebuck and Co. and other vendors in the early 1900s, most people would agree that factory-built houses — also called prefab or modular homes — went cheap and boring.

Most were little more than self-contained cartons for shelter, and their humdrum looks involved a lot of plastics, formaldehyde-gassing wood panels and other non-eco-friendly features.

Now that “green” materials, sustainability and customized design are among the new buzzwords of home construction, prefab homes would seem to be more outdated than ever – but it turns out that they can meet these requirements.

Good design decisions are the foundation for a “green” home, and the environmental benefits of doing most of the actual fabrication in a controlled indoor space far outweigh the virtues of on-site construction.

While there are many variations on the theme of a “green” home, some core tenets always apply, including
  • Responsible use of materials and natural resources,
  • Low energy consumption,
  • First-rate indoor air quality and
  • Good site stewardship (especially soil and water management).

According to Michelle Kaufman, author of the book “Prefab Green”, it’s best to design a home around five key “eco-principles”:

  • Smart design: Use common sense. Keep the size modest and plan/allow multiple uses for spaces. Choose a site placement that lets you manage the sunlight, prevailing winds, water issues and so on. And always keep technological features accessible so you can upgrade or adapt to new technologies later.
  • Eco-materials: Of course, renewable or recycled materials score big points here. Consider a product’s complete life cycle — where it originated, how it was processed and transported, how durable it is, what maintenance requirements are and what happens to it when it wears out or needs replacement.
  • Energy efficiency: Since the 1970s, energy use issues have been front and center in residential design. Now, recent developments such as nontoxic foam insulation and advanced window glazing can create an efficient “envelope” that reduces energy consumption. Also, good natural ventilation reduces the need for air conditioning.
  • Water conservation: While we often take it for granted, clean healthy water is at the heart of any ecosystem. A home’s design should encourage wise use and re-use, whether through low-flow plumbing fixtures or a system to catch and use rainwater.
  • Healthy indoor environment: Indoor air that is clean of toxins or carcinogens is another critical component in a healthy home. Avoid the use of paints and solvents containing volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and don’t install engineered wood products or carpeting made with urea-formaldehyde resins, which can off-gas for months and contaminate the air.
Source: Bill Lahay, Universal Press

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Allergen-free hotel rooms – a home away from home for those with allergies

Hotels can offer much more than just a
nice clean room: Better air quality.
Indoor air quality is important – and hotel chains are catching on.

At a time when hotels promise everything from custom ice-cream room service to complete wedding proposal preparations, it's no surprise that they're also offering hypoallergenic rooms.

According to an article in the Tribune Newspapers, the Hyatt, Wyndham, Intercontinental, Fairmont and Mandarin hotel chains — among others — are experimenting with everything from small tweaks in bedding and air-purification systems to complete room remodels to help allergy sufferers have a symptom-free stay.

In hypoallergenic rooms in the Hyatt, the air is circulated up to five times an hour in these rooms, the mattresses and pillows are encased in a protective hypoallergenic covering, and the carpet and upholstery are cleaned and protected with Pure Clean and Pure Shield anti-allergen products, said Lori Alexander, spokeswoman for Hyatt.

Guests who want to stay in Hyatt's hypoallergenic rooms are charged $20 to $30 extra per night, depending on the hotel's location.

Hotel rooms considered problematic places

For those with allergies, a hotel room can trigger a swarm of reactions, said Philip Tierno Jr., director of clinical microbiology and immunology at New York University.

The hotel's mattress, pillow, rug, drapery and upholstered furniture can all easily collect dust, mites and bodily secretions — all of which are the bane of allergy sufferers, Tierno said.

"Unless a hotel has impervious covers on their mattresses and pillows, they're contributing to allergies and exacerbating them," Tierno said. "Even if you don't have allergies now, you can develop them over time. You don't need to be breathing in this garbage from mattresses and pillows."

But before someone with allergies pays extra for a hypoallergenic room, they should see exactly what the hotels are offering, said Stanley Fineman, president-elect of the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, and allergist with the Atlanta Allergy & Asthma Clinic.

Filtering the air and circulating it frequently is helpful, as is covering the mattresses with mite-proof allergenic casing.

"I have patients who complain about the reactions they get from sleeping in some hotel rooms, so for some people with allergies, it may be worth it to pay the premium to sleep in a room that's prepared that way," Fineman said. "This might be a benefit for certain patients."

Source: Danielle Braff, Special to Tribune Newspapers
Editor’s note: The original article has been edited for length.

Related posts:

Electrocorp has designed portable, cost-effective and low-maintenance air filtration systems for the hospitality industry.
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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

SSU Series – an air filtration system for large-volume air handling

The SSU Series is a highly versatile and
configurable air cleaner for large spaces.
In spacious areas where conventional air purifiers hardly make a difference, Electrocorp’s SSU (Square Scrubbing Unit) Series has emerged as an industry-leading system to remove airborne chemicals, gases, odors and particles quickly and effectively.

The custom-built, modular air filtration system can be constructed with up to three tiers. It is uniquely suited to remove pollutants from spacious, high-ceilinged indoor environments such as processing plants and warehouses since it can hang from the ceiling or stand on the ground.

Versatile air cleaner

Its versatility extends to the filtration media, as the SSU can be configured to draw the air through HEPA only, activated carbon only or a combination of the two.

With eight refillable cartridges, the SSU accommodates up to 576 lbs. of activated carbon, the safest and most effective filter media to adsorb chemicals, gases and odors. It moves a lot of air, with up to 5000 delivered CFM.

The SSU can be configured for three distinct functions:
  1. Scrub and circulate the entire air volume in a large space. The SSU draws contaminated air in through the sides of the unit and ejects clean air towards the ceiling.
  2. Scrub contaminated air via ducting. In this setup, the SSU draws in the contaminated air through ducts directly from the source pushes it through the filters and releases clean air through the sides of the unit.
  3. Scrub contaminated air and direct the clean air into another room via ducting. In this configuration, the SSU draws in air through the sides of the unit and releases purified air into another room through ducts.
The SSU is ideally suited for the food processing or chemical processing industry, printing and graphics, pharmaceuticals and any other applications where large rooms with high ceilings need to be cleaned of dust particles, chemicals and strong odors.

Contact Electrocorp to find out more and get a customized solution to help solve your specific IAQ problem.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Men and women react differently when exposed to dangerous substances at work

Worker health and safety:
Gender differences in
exposure patterns
Occupational health research should take the behavioral differences between men and women in the same field into account, a survey conducted by the Centre for Public Health Research of Massey University in New Zealand suggests.

A paper authored by Amanda Engl and several co-authors outlines the gender differences in occupational exposure patterns. The researchers surveyed men and women aged 20 to 64 years that were randomly selected from the electoral roll.

The participants revealed self-reported occupational exposure to specific dusts and chemicals, physical exposures and organizational factors.

The survey showed that overall, male workers were two to four times more likely to report exposure to dust and chemical substances, loud noise, irregular hours, night shifts and vibrating tools.

Women were 30 percent more likely to report repetitive tasks and working at high speed, and they were more likely to report exposure to disinfectants, hair dyes and textile dust.

Within the same occupation, gender differences were less apparent, but male workers were still more likely to report exposure to welding fumes, herbicides, wood dust, solvents, tools that vibrate, irregular hours and night-shift work.

Women remained more likely to report repetitive tasks and working at high speed, and in addition were more likely to report awkward or tiring positions compared with men with the same occupation.

This population-based study showed substantial differences in occupational exposure patterns between men and women, even within the same occupation. Thus, the influence of gender should not be overlooked in occupational health research, the authors concluded.

Protect workers from exposure to harmful toxins

Electrocorp has been designing and manufacturing commercial and industrial air filtration systems since 1985 for a wide range of industries, including welding and soldering, hospitals and healthcare, laboratories, art conservation and restoration, woodshops and environmental consulting.

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Friday, April 22, 2011

Asbestos slows down plans to remove PCBs from schools

Indoor air in schools can be contaminated
with PCBs and asbestos.
In a previous blog posting about PCBS and bad indoor air quality in schools we covered the issue of contaminated light fixtures in schools.

Tests in New York City schools had revealed that old lighting ballasts -- devices that regulate electric current for fluorescent lights -- leaked PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) onto the light fixtures and floors.

PCBs are toxic chemical compounds that have been linked to cancer. EPA issued recommendations in December urging schools across the country to replace all of the old light fixtures as soon as possible.

But it turns out that PCBs are not the only problem. NYC’s Department of Education said in a recent article that the hundreds of thousands of lighting fixtures it plans to replace in the city's schools because they contain PCBs are also contaminated with asbestos.

Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm told a City Council committee hearing that inspectors found asbestos that was used to insulate the problematic fixtures while examining them for signs of leaking PCBs. "Asbestos comes with its own special rules and containment procedures," said Grimm of the cancer-causing material.

"Asbestos comes with its own special rules and containment procedures."
— Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm

She said it can only be removed on weekends and holidays, not evenings "because we have to actually contain the area, and make sure that we're removing it properly and disposing of it properly."

This new problem will slow down the “quick action plan” that was sought to replace the PCB-leaking lighting fixtures. In fact, Grimm said it will take the city up to 10 years to remove and replace all of the lighting fixtures with PCBs from the public schools. Almost 800 schools have contaminated lighting fixtures.

The city has estimated its 10-year plan will cost $850 million. Quinn suggested that contractors might be able to do the job for less money as they make the city's lighting and heating fixtures more energy efficient.

Grimm told council members that companies will be invited to submit their bids after a Request for Proposals is issued in June. But she repeated that the EPA is "underestimating the complexity of performing work of this type in school buildings."

The group New York Communities for Change filed notice that it intends to sue under the federal toxic substances control act if the city doesn't update its PCB removal plans.

The group also wants teachers and other union members to be more involved in the process, said Miranda Massie of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, who's representing the group.

Source: WNYC
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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Study probes effect of dust, welding fumes on women

The welding industry has an increasing number of female workers.
A study underway at the University of Alberta (UoA) may shed light on health effects that exposure to welding fumes and metal dust have on female workers in metalworking and electrical trades.

The research project, called "Women's Health in Alberta Trades - Metalworking and Electricians" (WHAT-ME), is a collaboration among researchers from the UoA, Northern Alberta Institute of Technology and the Alberta Apprenticeship and Industry Training.

It targets women in the province who have taken part in apprenticeship training in one of the relevant trades at any time during the last five years.

"It would include a variety of different trades where welding is a significant component," co-investigator Dr Jeremy Beach, associate professor with the UoA, says of the study.

Metalworking jobs include welders, boilermakers, ironworkers and blacksmiths, while electrical trades include cable installers, power line technicians, and construction/marine/plant electricians.

About 180 women recruited to date for study

Approximately 180 women, of which about 10 are pregnant, have been recruited for the study. Apart from reproductive health, the study will also look at health issues surrounding respiratory health, skin problems, nickel sensitization and musculoskeletal problems, Dr Beach says.

The initial motivation came from the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), which has raised concerns about possible health risks to pregnant welders who are exposed to welding fumes, says Dr Beach. "There have been a number of different health hazards but nobody's looked in much detail about women as a group when they come into this trade."

David Hisey, chair of the safety committee on welding, cutting and allied processes for the CSA, says that there is a need for an "increased level of safety" considering more female welders are entering the workforce in Western Canada.

"We want to make sure we know the hazards that we are putting our kids into and if there's more protection that needs to be provided for all workers, then we need to be looking at that," he adds.

Dr Nicola Cherry, the study's lead investigator and head of the occupational medicine program at the UoA, was initially concerned that the numbers of women in these trades were so small "that you just couldn't find out anything useful," says Dr Beach. 

More women taking on welding jobs

The last few years have seen an increase in women, prompted by the shortage of tradespersons in the province. "There has been definitely a noticeable increase in females in welding trades for sure," agrees Dan Tadic, director with the Canadian Welding Association in Milton, Ontario.

Welding, a process that uses high heat to melt and join metals, is widely used across various industrial sectors such as construction, shipbuilding and bridge construction. "Just about anything that uses metal can and is usually welded," says Tadic.

There are hazards, however, which can include eye injury (from intense light and flying hot slag), radiation and toxic welding fumes consisting of oxides, silicates and fluorides, notes information from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.

A 2008 study from Finland found that maternal exposure to welding fumes or metal dusts during pregnancy may increase the risk of preterm delivery and reduce intrauterine growth.

There was also some suggestive, but inconsistent, evidence that the risk of preterm delivery and reduced fetal growth is related to paternal exposure to welding fumes, the paper notes.

Results were gleaned from observations of 1,670 women who worked during pregnancy, of which 68 (four per cent) were exposed to either welding fumes or metal dusts or fumes.

The paper found that nitrogen oxide, a compound found in welding fumes and/or metal dusts, was identified as a compound responsible for low birth weight and spontaneous abortion among dental assistants.

"Prenatal exposure to [a] complex mixture of combustion products, emissions from unvented or poorly vented stoves, and ambient air pollution may also increase the risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes," the paper adds.

"It depends on how well you take care of yourself," suggests Gerald Bellehumeur, president of GRB College of Welding in Edmonton, says of welding and its effects on pregnant workers. "[I've seen] women in the trade for so many years. Women work until they are six or seven months pregnant."

Source: OHS Canada

Capture harmful welding fumes at the source

The FumeExtractor captures many
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Electrocorp has designed air filtration systems for welding and soldering applications to protect workers from many chemicals and welding fumes at the workplace.

The portable, powerful units capture many toxic fumes at the source and adsorb gases and chemicals in a deep bed of activated carbon, using 40 to 80 pounds of this efficient filtration media.

The units are designed for TIG, MIG and arc welding operations and feature a spark arrestor, flexible arm and optional custom carbon blends as well as a HEPA filter for particles.

Electrocorp also offers air purifiers specifically designed for soldering applications, including a tabletop unit with an intake hood and a smoke particle filter as well as an activated charcoal filter.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Vapor intrusion: Danger seeping out of forgotten wells

Vapors can enter homes that were built
on or around old wells.
The search for oil and gas prompted prospectors and energy companies to drill as many as 12 million holes across the U.S. in the last 150 years. Many were plugged after they dried up, but hundreds of thousands were simply abandoned and forgotten.

Government reports have warned for decades that abandoned wells can provide pathways for oil, gas or brine-laden water to contaminate groundwater supplies or to travel up to the surface, according to a recent ProPublica article.

New wells sometimes disturb layers of rock and dirt near fragile old wells, leading to new cases of contamination. For Pennsylvania and other states sitting on top of the Marcellus Shale formation, the rapid growth of gas drilling may increase the danger of such contamination.

Vapor intrusion can lead to explosions in homes

In 2008, gas from an abandoned well leaked into a septic system in Pennsylvania and exploded when someone tried to light a candle in a bathroom, killing the person, according to a 2009 draft report by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

That report also documented at least two dozen other cases of gas seeping from old wells, including three where the drilling of new wells "communicated" with old wells, leaking gas into water supplies and forcing the evacuation of a home.

In February, methane from an old well made its way into the basement of a house in West Mifflin, triggering a small explosion. Two families had to be evacuated.

Such incidents rarely receive much attention outside the states and neighborhoods they affect. But as the nation's latest drilling boom continues, abandoned wells have begun attracting more attention, particularly in states where the earth is already pock-marked with holes left by earlier waves of extraction.

The task of finding, plugging and monitoring old wells is daunting to cash-strapped state governments. A shallow well in good condition can sometimes be plugged with cement for a few thousand dollars. But costs typically run into the tens of thousands, and a price tag of $100,000 or more isn't unusual.

Some regulators fear that the number of abandoned wells will grow when the current drilling boom runs its course. To prevent that, states require energy companies to post bonds before they begin building their wells. But they are often so low that it can be more economical for a company to forfeit its bond rather than plug its wells. In Pennsylvania, for instance, an energy company can cover hundreds of wells with a single $25,000 bond.

Birthplace of an industry

One of Pennsylvania's worst cases of gas migration occurred in Versailles. From 1919 through 1921, more than 175 gas wells were drilled in the town. Residents put wells in their back yards to heat their homes, packing them into the 25-by-100-foot lots.

The boom dried up when most of the wells proved unproductive. But in the 1960s, pockets of gas began leaking into homes. Some houses were condemned and demolished, and Versailles became a case study for federal scientists trying to locate old wells.

Some of the old wells were plugged. But more often, vents were installed to direct gas away from the homes. Today, dozens of pipes pop out of the ground in yards, behind garages and through houses, slowly leaking methane and hydrogen sulfide so the explosive gases don't accumulate. In 2009, Versailles received a $368,600 federal grant to maintain its aging vents. About 50 methane alarms have been installed in the town.

Nobody knows how much damage abandoned wells have caused in the United States over the years. Most states don't systematically track cases of contamination that result from abandoned wells, said Mike Nickolaus, special projects director for the Ground Water Protection Council, an association of state groundwater agencies.

Some regulators are concerned that fracking, which is used in most new wells, increases the possibility that old wells will be damaged or disturbed. The process injects water, sand and chemicals into wells at high pressure to release oil or gas. But by disrupting the earth it can also push gas and other contaminants into openings created by old wells.

Source: Nicholas Kusnetz, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Editor’s note: This article has been edited for length.

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Our units can be configured with negative and positive pressure and with custom carbon blends to target specific airborne chemicals and vapors. Our engineers and air quality experts are standing by to provide you with a customized air filtration system that works.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Indoor air concerns in the healthcare industry

Patients can be exposed to
harmful pollutants at hospitals
and other medical facilities.
Facility managers in hospitals and medical facilities are faced with the daunting task of protecting both patients and staff from airborne pollutants that are known to cause health concerns as well as worsen existing conditions.

Facility managers must meet air quality limits in order to stay in compliance with government regulations.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the ambient air in hospitals is filled with chemicals like glutaraldehyde (used for equipment sterilization), diethyl ether (anesthetic gas), formaldehyde (used to preserve tissue) and of course biological agents.  Even more toxic chemicals can be added to that list if there are ongoing construction and renovation projects and out-gassing of building materials.

Mold - a serious health concern in hospitals

Inhaled fungi causes a stir in hospitals.  According to Disease Control and Prevention centers, an estimated 2 million people contract infections in the hospital while they have been admitted for entirely different ailments.  Frightfully, of these 2 million people, 100,000 die as a result.

Chemical exposure a concern in the healthcare environment

For hospital employees, chemical exposure is common.  Vapor and gases that can have both short and long-term effects on health are ubiquitous in hospital air.

A short list of these chemicals include:
  • Xylene
  • Glutaraldehyde
  • Halothane
  • Formaldehyde
  • Mercury
  • Acrylamide
  • Methyl methacrylate
  • Ribavirin
  • Nitrous Oxide and volatile anesthetics
  • Toluene
  • Volatile Organic Compounds
  • Benzene
  • Ammonia
  • Phthalates

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), exposure to waste anesthetic gases can cause a slew of negative health effects; for example:
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Irritability
  • Disorientation
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
These gases are able to escape during procedures, and many studies link waste anesthetic gas exposure to miscarriages, cancer, genetic damage and birth defects. The harrowing effect of these volatile chemicals extends to the spouses of hospital workers, with reports of higher incidences of miscarriage and birth defects.

In addition, hospital workers deal with hazardous drugs designed for cancer and other diseases, for example chemotherapy and antiviral medication. These toxic drugs pose the threat of infertility, leukemia and other forms of cancer.

Where are hazardous pollutants lurking in hospitals?

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According to OSHA, everywhere.  Hospital pharmacies, laboratories, operating rooms, radiation and x-ray areas, as well as morgues, have high concentrations of hazardous airborne pollutants.

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Monday, April 18, 2011

Boost productivity with green cleaning practices

Reduce your exposure to chemicals
by using natural cleaning products.
According to a recent article, several studies on indoor air quality demonstrate a connection between green cleaning and productivity.

Green cleaning, which means using cleaning products with natural ingredients and low (or zero) chemical count, has been shown to reduce absenteeism and boosting worker and student productivity. Many commercially used cleaners emit toxic fumes, which can lead to headaches or asthma-like symptoms as well as rashes from exposure to cleaners.

Natural ingredients ensure that workers and students are healthy enough to spend more time at work and in school.

Better air means improved work performance

According to data gathered by researchers at the California-based Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Indoor Air Quality Scientific Findings Resource Bank, “Work performance may be improved from a few percent to possibly as much as 10 percent by providing superior indoor environmental quality (IEQ). The economic benefits of the work performance improvements will often far outweigh the costs of providing better IEQ.”

Better IEQ is linked to well-ventilated air at the right temperature (around 70 degrees), free from mold, dust and other allergens, with no chemical fumes or particles to cause headaches or other ailments.

When employers at a workplace or school make an effort to create this environment, morale goes up – and, therefore, productivity. On the other hand, when the indoor air quality is uncomfortable and filled with toxic fumes, it may cost the nation tens of billions of dollars annually in lost productivity and medical care, according to estimates by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Statistics cut across both schools and workplaces. For example, poor indoor air quality in school buildings has led to an increased diagnosis of asthma in children, whose bodies are still developing. Asthma attacks are one of the top reasons children are absent from school, according to several educational studies.

But teachers and other school workers also become ill from dust and other particles in the air, and from breathing in fumes from cleaning supplies and mold. In fact, in a 2002 study of teachers in Washington, D.C., and Chicago, more than one-third of teachers in Chicago and more than one-quarter of teachers in D.C., reported health problems from their school buildings, which also meant missed workdays.

Data from the Berkeley National Laboratory also points to a measured difference in performance – from four percent to 16 percent -- on office tasks such as typing and addition when indoor “pollutant sources” were removed.

Sick Building Syndrome often connected to toxic cleaners and poor ventilation

Green building and green cleaning significantly improves the environment, the building itself and its inhabitants: A 2002 study by the Lawrence Berkley National Design Laboratory found that the improved air quality by use of green design, building materials and technologies can lower sick building symptoms by 20 percent to 50 percent, while cold and flu are reduced by nine percent to 20 percent, and allergies and asthma drop by eight percent to 25 percent.

Though cleaning in general certainly helps with dust and mold, it often is what is used to clean that results in “sick buildings” and sick people. Therefore, less toxic substances such as vinegar, citrus and water make for purer cleaning choices – which keep workers’ lungs and bodies pure as well.

Source: MNN

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Worker absenteeism doesn't just stem from toxic cleaning chemicals. Office printers, building materials and furniture can emit pollutants that can affect workers and students over time. Besides a well-maintained ventilation system, portable air purifiers can help clean the air in schools and universities and for facility management.

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Friday, April 15, 2011

OSHA issues health alert for hair smoothing products

Many hair straightening treatments contain dangerous chemicals.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the United States Department of Labor and several State OSHA programs are investigating questions and complaints from hair salon owners and workers about possible formaldehyde exposure from using Brazilian Blowout and other hair smoothing products.

Many agencies have already issued warnings about these products to salon owners, stylists, other salon workers, and clients.

Most hair smoothing products contain or release formaldehyde

OSHA has found formaldehyde in the air when stylists use hair smoothing products. Some had "formaldehyde-free" on the label or did not list formaldehyde on the product label or in the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). The MSDS is required to provide users information about the chemicals in a product, the hazards to workers, and how to use a product safely.

In most cases, OSHA found that hair salon owners did not know that a hair smoothing product contained or could expose workers to formaldehyde because manufacturers, importers, and distributors did not include the correct warnings on product information.

What is formaldehyde and how can it affect your health?

Formaldehyde is a colorless, strong-smelling gas that presents a health hazard if workers are exposed. You can be exposed to formaldehyde if you breathe it into your lungs, if it gets into your eyes, or if it is contained in a product that gets onto your skin. You can also be exposed accidentally if you touch your face, eat food, or drink after using a product containing formaldehyde without first washing your hands.

Formaldehyde can irritate the eyes and nose, and cause coughing and wheezing. Formaldehyde can cause allergic reactions of the skin, eyes, and lungs such as asthma-like breathing problems and skin rashes and itching.

When formaldehyde is in a product that gets sprayed into the eyes, it can damage the eyes and cause blindness. It is also a cancer hazard that is linked to nose and lung cancer. Formaldehyde is a health hazard, whether in a product or in the air.

Formaldehyde in beauty salon products

Formaldehyde in keratin-based hair smoothing products might be listed as methylene glycol, formalin, methylene oxide, paraform, formic aldehyde, methanal, oxomethane, oxymethylene, or CAS Number 50-00-0. All of these are names for formaldehyde under OSHA's Formaldehyde standard.

Workers can be exposed to formaldehyde during the entire hair straightening process, especially when heat is applied (e.g. blow-drying, flat ironing).

Reduce exposure to formaldehyde when using hair smoothing/straightening products

Salon owners should:
  • Test the air if formaldehyde-containing products are used.
  • Install air ventilation systems in the areas where these products are mixed and used to help keep formaldehyde levels below OSHA's limit and perform regular maintenance to make sure the systems work correctly;
  • Ensure workers understand the information on a product's label and MSDS;
  • Tell workers about the health effects of formaldehyde, how to use the product safely, and what personal protective equipment to wear while using the product;
  • Give employees appropriate gloves and other personal protective equipment (e.g., face shield, chemical splash goggles, chemical-resistant aprons) and train them on how to use this equipment while mixing and applying the products;
  • Give workers respirators, if needed; train them to use the respirator properly; and meet the other requirements in OSHA's Respiratory protection standard;
  • Train workers how to safely clean up spills and properly throw products out.
  • Make sure the workplace has eye and skin washing equipment if products that contain formaldehyde could be splashed onto the workers’ skin or into their eyes;
  • Get workers the right medical attention (e.g., doctor exams) if they develop signs and symptoms of an exposure to formaldehyde or are exposed to large amounts of formaldehyde during an emergency (e.g., a large spill).

Employers must also keep records of the air tests they perform, any medical attention needed by their employees, and respirator fit-testing.

Workers have a right to a safe workplace. Workers may file a complaint to have OSHA inspect their workplace if they believe that their employer is not following OSHA standards or that there are serious hazards.

Source: OSHA Health Alert

Clean Breeze 3 captures pollutants
at the source.
Air purifiers with source capture attachment provide cleaner air

Electrocorp designs air filtration systems for beauty salons and spas. Our units feature proprietary blends of activated carbon filter media that specifically target the chemicals and odors from dyes, solvents, polishes, fragrances, drying agents, peroxide, and other common salon hazards, including formaldehyde, ethanol and toluene.

The CleanBreeze 3 is designed to capture many harmful airborne contaminants at the source. Equipped with pre-filters, HEPA and an activated carbon filter that offers more inches of bed depth, the CleanBreeze 3 captures more chemicals, gases, odors and particles than ever before.

Contact one of our air quality experts for more information.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Jobcentre workers exposed to Xylene fumes

Xylene is a dangerous chemical that can
cause serious health problems when fumes
are inhaled.
Eight employees at a Jobcentre in Harrow are receiving compensation after they were left exposed to potential lethal fumes following a toxic chemical spill.

The Jobcentre Plus workers, based in Kings House, in Harrow town centre, suffered from nausea and headaches for months after the spill on the pavement outside the offices last year.

Contractors carrying out work for Harrow Council spilled Resiblock Ultra Matt, a type of paving sealant, which contained Xylene, a potent chemical which can cause death on exposure to very high levels.

In smaller doses, exposure to Xylene can cause loss of balance, nausea, headaches and confusion leading to the staff members seeking advice from the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS).

They contacted Thompsons Solicitors who secured the £12,600 compensation, which has been split between the workers. The cash was forked out by Harrow Council and The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), who both rejected liability but agreed to settle out of court.

Robert Lemon, from Thompsons Solicitors, said: "These eight Jobcentre Plus workers were unwell for months after being exposed to a highly toxic chemical. The employer failed to act despite complaints about the strong smell of fumes and the Council failed to make sure surrounding businesses and organisations were aware of the spill so they could take the necessary steps to safeguard their employees."

It is thought that members of the public would have been exposed to the fumes too but that symptoms only occur after enclosed, prolonged exposure.

Carl Banks, PCS health and safety officer, added: “We are delighted these members have been compensated for the failure of both the DWP and the council to take this chemical spill seriously.

“Our members spent weeks wondering what was wrong with them before finally finding out that they were suffering from the side effects of exposure to noxious chemicals.”

Source: David Baker, Harrow Observer 

Air purifiers for Xylene and Formalin

RAP Series: Industrial-strength air
filtration systems that remove
chemicals, fumes, gases and particles.
Electrocorp air purifiers for Xylene and Formalin are stand-alone air scrubbers that offer enhanced protection from airborne chemicals. Fitted with the deepest, most extensive carbon beds in the industry, our air purifiers for laboratories are designed to target compounds with high molecular weights such as xylene.

Our carbon can also be impregnated with potassium permanganate for lower molecular weight compounds such as formaldehyde. These deep-bed carbon filters physically bind the chemical contaminants, while a medical-grade HEPA filter captures contaminated airborne dust and other particulate.

Contact us for more information.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

EPA to take action on two harmful chemicals

Floor finishes, spray foam insulation and
concrete sealants may expose homeowners
and workers to dangerous chemicals.
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released action plans to address the potential health risks of methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI), toluene diisocyanate (TDI), and related compounds.

Americans may be exposed to these chemicals when they are used in certain applications such as spray foam insulation, sealing concrete or finishing floors.

The action plans are part of Administrator Lisa P. Jackson’s commitment to enhance EPA’s chemical management program. The plans identify a range of actions the agency is considering under the authority of the Toxic Substances Control Act.

“There has been an increase in recent years in promoting the use of foams and sealants by do-it-yourself energy-conscious homeowners, and many people may now be unknowingly exposed to risks from these chemicals,” said Steve Owens, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. “EPA is working to protect the health of the American people and the environment.”

Diisocyanates are used to make polyurethane polymers. Most polyurethane products, such as foam mattresses or bowling balls, are fully reacted or "cured," and are not of concern. Some products, however, such as adhesives, coatings, and spray foam, continue to react while in use, and may contain "uncured" diisocyanates to which people may be exposed.

Diisocyanates are known to cause severe skin and breathing responses in workers who have been repeatedly exposed to them. The chemicals have been documented as a leading cause of work-related asthma, and in severe cases, fatal reactions have occurred.

To protect worker health, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulates workplace exposures through permissible exposure limits. In contrast to the availability of exposure data for professionals who work with diisocyanates, there is very limited information available about the use and exposure patterns of consumers  who may be exposed to products containing uncured MDI and TDI. EPA plans to carefully consider the potential risks from consumer exposure to these chemicals.

Actions to address concerns associated with TDI, MDI, and related compounds include issuing rules to call in data on any past allegations of significant adverse effects, obtain unpublished health and safety data from industry sources, require exposure monitoring studies for consumer products, and possibly ban or restrict consumer products containing uncured MDI or TDI.

EPA will continue to work with other federal agencies, the polyurethanes industry, and others to ensure improved labeling and provide comprehensive product safety information for polyurethane products containing uncured compounds, especially in consumer products.

More information about spray polyurethane foam.

Source: EPA

Asbestos lawsuit results in $9 million award for former employee

Costly lawsuits can affect companies who
don't protect their workers' health and safety.
If companies willingly expose workers and employees to harmful pollutants, they may have to pay a hefty price.

One the most recent examples is a mesothelioma wrongful death lawsuit against Dow Chemical, which has resulted in a $9 million jury award for the family of a former worker.

Robert Henderson, of Dallas, Texas, died from mesothelioma after working for years as a Dow contract employee, where he was allegedly exposed to asbestos contained in Dow insulators on a regular basis.

According to allegations raised in the asbestos lawsuit, Dow Chemical determined in 1968 that any case of mesothelioma had to be attributed to asbestos exposure, but continued to allow workers, including Henderson, to be exposed.

Last month, a Texas jury awarded $9 million to Henderson’s family, determining that Dow Chemical was 30% responsible for the former worker’s death. Dow officials have said that they will appeal the verdict, indicating that juror sympathy for the Henderson family played more of a factor in the verdict than the evidence presented.

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer found in the lining of the chest and lungs, which is only known to occur as a result of exposure to asbestos. The disease has a very long latency period and is often not discovered until decades after exposure, leading to a limited life expectancy after a mesothelioma diagnosis.

Asbestos was widely used throughout the last century, with use peaking in 1973. Most uses of asbestos were banned in the mid-1980s, but given the long period of time that usually passes between exposure and diagnosis, the number of mesothelioma deaths has continued to rise, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mesothelioma lawsuits over asbestos exposure are the longest running mass tort in U.S. history, with the first case filed in 1929. Over 600,000 people have filed lawsuits against 6,000 defendants after being diagnosed with mesothelioma, asbestosis or other asbestos-related diseases.


Electrocorp offers air filtration systems for asbestos and mold abatement. Our complete air cleaning systems with activated carbon and HEPA filters can remove a wide range of harmful chemicals, gases, fumes and particles from the air. Contact us for more information:

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Demand for purer air and water on the rise

Portable air cleaners like the
RAP Series are in demand.
Consumer demand in the US for water purification and air cleaning systems will increase 5.2% per year to US$1.7 billion in 2014, according to a new report.

This is a result of a projected rebound in consumer spending on durable goods and in residential construction spending, which both suffered during the 2007-2009 recession, says The Freedonia Group, Inc in its Consumer Water Purification & Air Cleaning Systems study.

Consumers will also have increasing concerns about the quality of the air and water in the home and increased awareness of the health and aesthetic benefits of these systems, it suggests. In general, the market size depends on the quality, or the perceived quality, of local tap water supplies. 

Water purification systems incorporating conventional filtration media accounted for the majority of demand for water systems in 2009, with 76% of sales value. Faster growth will be registered by higher-value reverse osmosis and distillation systems.

In 2009, point-of-use (POU) systems, which are installed at a single outlet, had the larger share of demand for water purification systems and sales of these types of systems are expected to grow faster through 2014, albeit from a very low base, due in part to the rebound of single family home construction.

Among air cleaners, conventional filtration systems accounted for the largest share of value demand with 47% in 2009, while electrostatic air cleaners, which often operate more quietly and efficiently, are projected to achieve faster gains through 2014.

Portable air cleaners accounted for the larger share of air cleaner sales in 2009 and sales of the cleaners are expected to continue to grow at a rate faster than that of whole-house air system sales.

Source: Filtration + Separation

Monday, April 11, 2011

Poor indoor air quality in university

Bad air quality in schools and universities can inhibit the learning process
Universities are designed for higher education, but what if the university air quality was affecting your grades by causing headaches, nausea and fatigue?

With old buildings, on-going renovation projects, laboratories, art studios and print shops, schools and learning institutions are a hub for indoor air pollution.

Here are a few areas of concern: 

Administration Offices and Print Shops

Carpeting, copy machines, printers, upholstery and even cleaning products all contribute to indoor air pollution in your school, the associated offices and print shops. Administrative staff, print shop workers and students are all susceptible to short and long-term effects associated with printing.

Acute symptoms may include headaches, fatigue, nausea, dizziness and skin rashes; however, repeated long-term exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOCs), ozone and paper particulate may cause damage to the lungs, liver and central nervous system.

Fine Arts & Art Studios

Your university may produce some of the most brilliant artists, but the fine arts department and art studio contributes to poor university air quality. Art studios may be producing some of the most hazardous chemicals, gases, odors and particles. Many Fine Art disciplines require supplies such as paints, pastels, ceramics and plasters that produce both gaseous and particle pollutants.

Paint, used with brushes or as an aerosol, contains turpentine and other solvents and pigments that can prove hazardous to your health. Similarly, ceramics contain lead, which may cause anaemia, as well as damage to the brain and nervous system. Additionally, plastics, pastels and ceramics may produce wood, rock, pigment and silica particles that are capable of causing a number of respiratory problems when inhaled.

Architectural Modeling

In Civil Engineering and Architectural departments, laser engraving is used for exterior, interior, landscaping and urban modeling.  Materials such as wood, plastics and foam are often used to create these models.  As a result, students and staff are regularly faced with particulate smoke from wood, metals, polyethylene and acrylic, most of which produce noxious particles, VOC gases and carcinogens.

Air Quality in the Science Department

A science laboratory is an excellent place for learning and research; however, science departments and laboratories are home to numerous biohazards, pathogens, airborne chemicals, bacteria, animal dander and toxic dust particles.

Libraries and Archives

Libraries and archives are a place of study and research, but some of the most caustic pollutants in museums, galleries and archives are chemical gases released from the books and artifacts as they decompose.  Combined with mold, dust mites and particles, the university air quality in these areas make it hard to concentrate.

Improving university air quality will help both students and staff members perform better.  When you’re not coughing, sneezing or fighting a painful headache, it is a lot easier to concentrate.  Department heads should consider investing in air purification, because cleaner air equals brighter minds.

Electrocorp's portable, plug-and-play air filtration systems with activated carbon and HEPA filters provide a fast and effective way to mitigate chemicals, odors, fumes and particles in schools and universities. Contact us today for more information.

Friday, April 8, 2011

ASHRAE issues new guideline for indoor environments

The new guideline considers interactions of air quality, thermal conditions, lighting, and acoustics especially for low-energy buildings.

Many buildings suffer from indoor air
quality problems.
ASHRAE has published a new guideline to facilitate improved indoor environments by considering interactions of air quality, thermal conditions, lighting, and acoustics.

ASHRAE Guideline 10-2011, Interactions Affecting the Achievement of Acceptable Indoor Environments, contains an assembly of knowledge on the complexity of indoor environments and the impact they have on building occupants.  Guideline 10 is especially significant in the design of low-energy buildings.

“The guideline summarizes what research and experience have taught us about the complex interplay of the wide range of factors that determine occupants’ reactions to the buildings they inhabit,” Hal Levin, chair of the committee writing the guideline, said.

The guideline is intended to help users understand existing documents dealing with indoor environments, including all applicable ASHRAE standards related to energy, ventilation, indoor air quality, and thermal conditions with a focus on the effect of these systems on occupants.

“It can provide assistance to building design professionals and building operators by making them aware of the major interactions that have the potential to impact the indoor environment,” Levin said.

“We believe the guideline will help draw attention to the narrowly-defined scopes of the widely-used standards and the significance of combined or interactive effects in determining the acceptability of an indoor environment.”

Visit the ASHRAE bookstore for more information.


Electrocorp has designed air filtration systems for facility management, odor control, and offices as well as a wide range of industries where indoor air quality is an issue.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Welders may be at increased risk for early brain damage

Welding exposes workers to manganese and
other toxic welding fumes.
New research suggests that workers exposed to welding fumes may be at risk for developing brain damage in an area of the brain also affected in Parkinson's disease.

The study is published in the April 6, 2011, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Fumes produced by welding contain manganese. Manganese is a chemical element that, even at low levels, has been linked to neurologic problems, including Parkinson's disease-like symptoms.

More than 1 million welders in the US

"There are over one million workers who perform welding as part of their job functions in the United States," said Brad A. Racette, MD, with Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and a Fellow with the American Academy of Neurology. "If a link between neurotoxic effects and these fumes were proven, it would have a substantial public health impact for the U.S. workforce and economy."

The study involved 20 welders with no symptoms of Parkinson's disease, 20 people with Parkinson's disease who were not welders and 20 people who were not welders and did not have Parkinson's. The welders were recruited from two Midwest shipyards and one metal fabrication company.

Manganese levels high in welders

All participants were given brain PET and MRI scans, motor skills tests and examined by a neurologist who specializes in movement disorders. The welders had an average of 30,000 hours of lifetime welding exposure. Their average manganese levels were found to be two times the upper limits of normal.

Scientists found that welders had an average 11.7 percent reduction in a marker of dopamine in one area of the brain on PET scans as compared to people who did not weld. Dopamine is a chemical messenger that helps nerve cells communicate and is decreased in specific brain regions in people with Parkinson's disease. The welders' motor skills test scores also showed mild movement difficulties that were about half of that found in the early Parkinson's disease patients.

"While these changes in the brain and dopamine dysfunction may be an early marker of neuron death related to welding exposure, the damage appeared to be different from those of people with full-fledged Parkinson's disease," said Racette. "MRI scans also revealed brain changes in welders that were consistent with manganese deposits in the brain."

More research needed on welding fumes and health risks

"Although this study shows that these workers had dopamine dysfunction in the brain, the study authors could not determine whether this was specifically related to manganese," said W. R. Wayne Martin, MD, who wrote an accompanying editorial on the topic. Martin is with the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and a member of the American Academy of Neurology.

"Will these individuals develop full-fledged Parkinson's disease? We can't answer that question based on the study but more research should be done to explore this possibility."

For more information, visit

The FumeExtractor at work.
Electrocorp has designed air filtration systems for welding and soldering applications to protect workers from many chemicals and welding fumes at the workplace. The portable, powerful units capture many toxic fumes at the source and adsorb gases and chemicals in a deep bed of activated carbon, using 40 to 80 pounds of this efficient filtration media.

The units are designed for TIG, MIG and arc welding operations and feature a spark arrestor, flexible arm and optional custom carbon blends. Electrocorp also offers air purifiers specifically designed for soldering applications, including a tabletop unit with an intake hood and a smoke particle filter as well as an activated charcoal filter.

Contact us for more information.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

EPA moves to electronic reporting of new chemical notices

WASHINGTON – As part of EPA’s commitment to promote transparency and eliminate paperwork burden, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will require electronic submissions for new chemical notices under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Beginning today, companies can no longer submit their new chemical notices and support documents on paper for EPA’s review.

“This is the latest in a series of actions that EPA is taking to improve the reporting of information on chemicals, and, importantly, increase the public’s access to that information,” said Steve Owens, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. “The agency used an out-dated process that depended on paper filings for far too long,”

On April 6, 2010, EPA issued a final rule that put in place a two-year phaseout of paper and optical disc reporting for new chemical notices to the agency. The rule included a one-year phaseout of paper reporting and a two-year phaseout of optical disc reporting.

 Under TSCA, companies are required to submit new chemical notices, including pre-manufacture notices (PMNs), to EPA at least 90 days (in the case of PMNs) prior to the manufacture or import of the chemical. EPA reviews the notice and can set conditions to be placed on the use of a new chemical before it enters into commerce.

EPA typically receives 1,000 new chemical notices each year, which can include hundreds of pages of supporting material. Companies are required to submit these notices using EPA's electronic PMN software either on optical disk (for one more year) or via EPA’s Central Data Exchange (CDX).

More information on EPA’s electronic reporting software and CDX:

More information on EPA’s efforts to increase access to chemical information:

Nonsmoker sues employer, wins secondhand smoke lawsuit in France

Companies may be held liable if they
don't enforce anti-smoking laws and
expose workers to secondhand smoke.
PRLog (Press Release) – Apr 01, 2011 – In France, apparently for the first time, a nonsmoker has successfully sued her employer and won money damages for being exposed to tobacco smoke in the workplace. 

This victory follows a long string of successful legal actions in the U.S. by nonsmokers against the major tobacco companies, their employers, and "places of public accommodation" including everything from an airline to a fast food company, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf, who helped bring the first successful lawsuit in 1976.

"In the U.S., nonsmokers have brought successful legal actions against big tobacco, employers with smoky workplaces, public places like fast food outlets, their neighbors in condo and apartment buildings, and even against parents who smoke around the children, and in at least one case the legal action was based not upon secondhand tobacco smoke but rather third-hand tobacco smoke - the residue of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals which linger on surfaces long after smoking has ceased," says Banzhaf, a professor at George Washington University Law School.

The French lawsuit was brought by a teacher in an art school in Toulouse.  She claimed that she got lung cancer because the school didn't enforce the anti-smoking law from 1992 and, as a result, many teachers kept smoking and exposed her to smoke.  The court agreed with her claim, and awarded her money damages.

"It has been well known and established since at least the 1990s the secondhand tobacco smoke causes lung cancer, and lung cancer deaths, in nonsmokers, and, indeed, is the major cause of such cancers after smoking by the smoker himself.  Secondhand tobacco smoke has been officially classified as a known human carcinogen - in the same category as asbestos, plutonium, benzene, etc. - for many years," Banzhaf explains.

No one would doubt for a moment that a school which willfully exposed a teacher to radioactive plutonium or asbestos would be subject to legal liability, and it should be no different if it is secondhand tobacco smoke - a substance estimated to kill over 600,000 people a year, argues Banzhaf.

"This decision puts other French companies - which often do not enforce the no-smoking law in their workplaces - on notice that they may be faced with a lawsuit under French law and held liable for damages.”