Friday, January 31, 2014

Chemical demand may be on the rise

Strong auto sales
may boost demand
in basic chemicals.
Strong auto sales and an uptick in housing starts, which combined to spur modest growth in U.S. chemical production in 2013, will continue this year. What will be new and notable in 2014 is a manufacturing revival in the U.S. and economic expansion around the globe that will buoy demand for basic chemicals.

“Manufacturing needs and exports will drive demand for basic chemicals, especially where shale gas drives competitive advantage. Europe and many emerging markets will be stronger in 2014,” says T. Kevin Swift, chief economist at the American Chemistry Council, a trade group.

Combined, the positive trends should impact most segments of the U.S. chemical industry including plastics, basic chemicals, and specialties, according to ACC.

Compared with the 1.6% growth in chemical production that the U.S. saw in 2013, this year’s expected growth rate of 2.5% will be rather robust.

But the acceleration won’t happen until mid-2014 or later, says Sergey Shchepochkin, chemical industry analyst at credit insurance provider Euler Hermes.

By then, the rise in construction will have had downstream effects on demand for appliances and other durable goods.

Consumer spending will also create more demand for plastics and electronics, Shchepochkin says; paper and textile markets, in contrast, will continue to underperform.

Consumers around the world, not just in the U.S., will demand more autos and homes, which will boost chemical exports by 6.6% this year, according to Swift.

He expects a continuing trade surplus, with basic and specialty chemical exports more than offsetting imports of pharmaceuticals and agricultural chemicals.

Last year’s slowdown in demand from China’s manufacturing sector is likely to turn around this year, to the benefit of U.S. chemical exporters.

Meanwhile, the Society of Chemical Manufacturers & Affiliates, a trade group for smaller firms, has turned its eye to Europe as it advocates for the U.S. and European Union to agree early in the year on the trade-enhancing Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership.

Another big change for the U.S. chemical industry this year should be in employment, where expansion is helping to reverse what had been more than a decade of workforce decline.

Chemical jobs grew by an estimated 1.3% in 2013, says Swift, who expects additions to continue through 2018. Employment will follow the large capital investments in the U.S. brought by shale gas; the tally of new projects has reached 135 with a combined value of more than $90 billion.

Source: Chemical and Engineering News

Increased chemical demand may be good for some industries, but it could also mean more chemical accidents, exposures and health effects. Proper protective measures are important when handling chemicals. Electrocorp's air cleaners can help remove toxic airborne chemicals, gases and fumes by drawing the air through a carbon wall and HEPA filters. For more information, contact Electrocorp today.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Toxic chemicals increase health care costs

Chemical exposures are driving up
health care costs, experts say.
Health care spending in the U.S. has surged more than eightfold since the 1960s.

Skyrocketing in that same time: Rates of chronic disease, use of synthetic chemicals, and evidence that many of these widely used substances may be wreaking havoc on human health.

"We know that these chemicals are reaching people. We know that chemicals can cause disease," said Dr. Philip Landrigan, chairman of the department of preventative medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.

"Those diseases cost money," Landrigan added.

New research published on Wednesday offers an example of this financial burden, widely overlooked in the health care debate.

The use of bisphenol A, or BPA, in food and beverage containers, according to the study, is responsible for an estimated $3 billion a year in costs associated with childhood obesity and adult heart disease.

"One could argue that's absurdly conservative," said Leonardo Trasande, an associate professor in pediatrics, environmental medicine and health policy at New York University's Lagone Medical Center and author of the study.

Trasande's calculations didn't take into account other health issues that studies have begun linking to BPA exposure, such as prostate and breast cancers, asthma, migraine headaches, reproductive disorders and behavioral problems.

Trasande added that he was conservative in what he considered a safe level of exposure to the chemical. Scientists have warned that even minute amounts may do significant damage.

Still, Trasande acknowledged, "the science remains uncertain."

The chemical industry continues to underscore this point.

BPA has been banned by the FDA from children's sippy cups and baby bottles, but remains an ingredient in many products, including the lining of metal cans for food. Trasande suggested that his study raises concerns about the refusal of the FDA to ban BPA from such uses.

BPA, which about 93 percent of Americans carry in their bodies, is just one of a growing list of chemicals suspected in America's rising rates of disease. More than 80,000 chemicals are currently in commerce. A small number of those have been fully tested for health effects.

Only a fraction of today's health concerns, meanwhile, were included in a 2011 study by Trasande, in which he tallied $76.6 billion in children's health care costs, lost working hours and reduced IQ points attributable to toxic chemicals and air pollutants.

The $1.49 billion in childhood obesity costs that he found in his new study, for example, could be added to this total.

Chemicals not tested before they come onto market

"Most Americans believe the government is protecting them, that chemicals are tested before they go into lipstick or food packaging. But the truth is completely the opposite: They come onto the market with little or no scrutiny," said Landrigan, referring to the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.

Two recent moves in California illustrate just how difficult and time-consuming it can be to force something off the market, he added.

In early January, a California Superior Court judge ordered three former lead paint manufacturers to pay $1.15 billion to replace or contain lead paint in millions of homes. The U.S. government banned lead paint for residential use in 1978, after nearly a century of scientific studies linked low levels of lead paint to everything from low IQ and learning disorders to sociopathic behavior.

Also this month, California officially removed a decades-old requirement that flame retardants -- increasingly implicated in neurological and reproductive disorders, and cancers -- be included in the filling of upholstered furniture. (A flame retardant maker has filed suit over the new law.)

Still, Landrigan said, the actions are better late than never.

"Previous efforts to control toxic chemicals have produced massive cost savings," Landrigan and his colleague, Dr. Lynn Goldman, dean of The George Washington University School of Public Health, wrote in a paper on chemical safety and health care costs published this month.

They referenced the Environmental Protection Agency's removal of lead from gasoline, which resulted in an estimated savings since 1980 of more than $3 trillion. While the heavy metal remains a menace in the U.S., mostly due to lingering lead paint, millions of children have been able to dodge lead's notorious effects on the brain, kidney and cardiovascular system.

The price tags associated with chemical exposures may seem significant. Yet mostly missing in heated rhetoric about health care spending, experts say, are these and other factors driving Americans to seek costly care.

Bisphenol S, now widely used in "BPA-free" products, further illustrates potential problems with the government's innocent-until-proven-guilty regulatory strategy. BPS is chemically similar to BPA and, since its appearance on the market, has been documented to have the same if not more hazardous properties as its cousin compound.

In other words, BPS may be sending just as many Americans to doctors, pharmacies and emergency rooms as BPA.

The article has been edited for length. Source: Huffington Post

Toxic chemicals can affect your health and well-being - whether exposure occurs at work or at home. Electrocorp offers industrial-strength air cleaners for a wide range of applications. They remove toxic chemicals, odors, fumes, particles, allergens, mold and other contaminants from the ambient air. Contact Electrocorp for more information.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Schools need to protect students and staff from radon

This January,U.S. EPA encourages you to test your school facilities for radon

Children may be exposed to radon
at school.
Radon — a colorless, odorless, radioactive gas — is one of the most hazardous indoor pollutants.

It is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. And it might be affecting your children.

Without proper mitigation, radon can enter school facilities from the soil through cracks and openings in building foundations.

Thousands of classrooms nationwide have radon levels above EPA's action level of 4 pCi/l (picocuries per liter), exposing occupants to this serious health risk. The only way to determine if your school building has elevated radon levels is to test.

Using the Framework for Effective School IAQ Management: Key Drivers can help you address radon risk as part of a comprehensive IAQ management program:

  • Organize: Develop a systematic approach by using the IAQ Tools for Schools Action Kit to tie your goals for radon testing to your overarching IAQ, health and environmental program goals. Establish a multidisciplinary team to plan for radon testing and mitigation, and develop district-wide radon management procedures.

  • Communicate: Include radon awareness as part of your overall IAQ management training and education efforts. Share your testing results, mitigation plans and follow-up testing plans. In cases of elevated radon levels, ensure that your mitigation plan is in place so you can communicate those plans to parents and staff.

  • Assess: Perform radon testing in conjunction with your regular IAQ walkthroughs. If elevated radon levels are found, survey your building for potential radon entry points and mitigate.

  • Plan: Working with your IAQ team, identify your action steps and set a schedule for your testing plan. Determine what type of test kits to use and which rooms will be tested. Your state radon program can help identify next steps and offer other guidance throughout the process of testing and mitigation.

  • Act: Test according to your IAQ management plan. EPA suggests initial short-term testing in all frequently-occupied, ground contact rooms. Attend radon training to learn about radon and how to effectively test, mitigate and maintain radon reduction. Empower maintenance and facilities staff to become radon champions, school district staff will likely refer to them for answers about the testing plan and mitigation actions.

  • Evaluate: Determine additional testing needs and follow-up. Schedule re-testing after all major renovations, and consider how HVAC modifications or upgrades may affect radon intrusion.

Learn more about radon testing and mitigation in your school district by visiting EPA's radon home page, or contact your state radon office for local information about radon, and for state-specific recommendations for testing and mitigation.

Source: EPA

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Asbestos ruling sides with company

Judge cuts company's liability by more than $1 billion

The judgment affect current and future
victims of asbestos-related diseases.
A federal judge in Charlotte has delivered a startling victory for industries that are part of the country’s long-running asbestos-liability fight, cutting more than $1 billion from what a company owes to current and future victims.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge George Hodges accepted the $125 million figure proposed by Garlock Sealing Technologies, a Palmyra, N.Y., subsidiary of EnPro Industries of Charlotte.

The amount covers claims for mesothelioma, a rare and deadly cancer of the lining of the lungs and one of a host of diseases linked to asbestos. Attorneys representing current and future mesothelioma victims had asked the court to set liability at $1.3 billion.

But in his 65-page order Friday, Hodges said the attorneys’ dollar figure did not fairly reflect Garlock’s liability. He accused asbestos lawyers and clients of withholding or manipulating evidence, as well as relying on “pseudoscience” to pump up the size of asbestos settlements and jury awards.

In regards to Garlock, Hodges said plaintiff attorneys withheld evidence about their clients’ exposure to company products, “unfairly inflating the recoveries against Garlock” for the decade leading up to the company’s bankruptcy filing.

According to the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, an industry advocacy group, Hodges’ ruling marked the first time in more than 80 asbestos bankruptcies stretching back for more than 30 years that a judge refused to accept the plaintiffs’ estimate for future claims.

In his ruling, Hodges said previous settlements were not an appropriate measurement because they had been inflated by what he called “the impropriety of some law firms.”

Garlock, which makes seals and gaskets for a host of industries, has been a target of asbestos related lawsuits for some 40 years. It filed for Chapter 11 protection in 2010, one of dozens of otherwise solvent businesses that turned to the courts for help in settling thousands of claims of asbestos poisoning.

Asbestos is at the center of the country’s longest running liability case. And Garlock was among the last industrial targets to seek bankruptcy protection. This summer, attorneys from across the country gathered in Hodges’ courtroom for a 17-day trial to argue Garlock’s liability.

Up until the mid-1980s, asbestos was widely used in insulation and as a fire retardant. But its tiny, jagged particles can lodge in the linings of the lungs and other organs, causing cells to mutate.

Companies have been accused of knowing the risks of asbestos for decades but concealing them from their employees. One well-known Texas anti-asbestos attorney told the Wall Street Journal last year that his clients are victims of the “worst corporate mass genocide in history.”

But in his ruling, Hodges accepted company arguments that Garlock’s liability is highly limited, concluding that the concentrations of asbestos in company products are small and mostly made up of a less dangerous form of the fibers.

The article has been edited for length. 

Are you concerned about asbestos exposure at work or at home? Professional remediation and appropriate protection is always paramount, but a high-quality air purifier with carbon and HEPA also helps to provide cleaner and healthier air. Electrocorp's air cleaners for commercial and industrial applications feature many pounds of activated carbon for the removal of airborne chemicals, odors and gases as well as the best HEPA filters to remove particles, fibers, dust and more. Contact Electrocorp for more information and a free consultation. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Researchers develop new early warning system for toxins

Turkeys inspire smartphone-capable sensor for airborne chemicals

Turkey skin can shift color.
Photo courtesy of Tom Curtis/
Some may think of turkeys as good for just lunch meat and holiday meals. But bioengineers at the University of California, Berkeley, saw inspiration in the big birds for a new type of biosensor that changes color when exposed to chemical vapors.

This feature makes the sensors valuable detectors of toxins or airborne pathogens.

Turkey skin, it turns out, can shift from red to blue to white, thanks to bundles of collagen that are interspersed with a dense array of blood vessels. It is this color-shifting characteristic that gives turkeys the name "seven-faced birds" in Korean and Japanese.

The researchers say that spacing between the collagen fibers changes when the blood vessels swell or contract, depending upon whether the bird is excited or angry.

The amount of swelling changes the way light waves are scattered and, in turn, alters the colors we see on the bird's head.

Seung-Wuk Lee, UC Berkeley associate professor of bioengineering, led a research team in mimicking this color-changing ability to create biosensors that can detect volatile chemicals.

"In our lab, we study how light is generated and changes in nature, and then we use what we learn to engineer novel devices," said Lee, who is also a faculty scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

The researchers created a mobile app, called the iColour Analyser, to show that a smartphone photo of the sensor's color bands could be used to help identify toxins of interest. They described their experiments in a study to be published Tuesday, Jan. 21, in the journal Nature Communications.

Sensors that give off color readings are easier to use and read than conventional biosensors.

However, the major ones in development elsewhere can only detect a limited range of chemicals and, according to the researchers, they can be very difficult to manufacture.

"Our system is convenient, and it is cheap to make," said Lee. "We also showed that this technology can be adapted so that smartphones can help analyze the color fingerprint of the target chemical. In the future, we could potentially use this same technology to create a breath test to detect cancer and other diseases."
In copying this turkey-skin design, Lee and his team employed a technique they pioneered to mimic nanostructures like collagen fibers. The researchers found a way to get M13 bacteriophages, benign viruses with a shape that closely resembles collagen fibers, to self-assemble into patterns that could be easily fine-tuned.

The researchers found that, like collagen fibers, these phage-bundled nanostructures expanded and contracted, resulting in color changes. The exact mechanism behind the shrinking or expanding phage bundles is still unclear, but it's possible that the small amount of water in the phage is reacting to the chemical vapors, the researchers said.

The turkey-inspired biosensors were exposed to a range of volatile organic compounds, including hexane, isopropyl alcohol and methanol, as well as vapor of the explosive chemical TNT, at concentrations of 300 parts per billion. The researchers found that the viruses swelled rapidly, resulting in specific color patterns that served as "fingerprints" to distinguish the different chemicals tested.

The researchers showed that the biosensor's specificity to a target chemical could be increased by genetically engineering the DNA in the M13 bacteriophage to bind with sites specific to TNT.

The biosensor was then exposed to two additional chemicals, DNT and MNT, which have similar molecular structures to TNT. The engineered biosensor successfully distinguished TNT from the other chemicals with distinct color bands.

The biosensors were also able to signal changes in relative humidity, ranging from 20 percent to 90 percent, becoming redder with moister air and bluer with drier air.

The study lead author is Jin-Woo Oh, a former postdoctoral researcher in Lee's lab and now an assistant professor in the Department of Nanomaterial Engineering at Pusan National University in South Korea.

The National Science Foundation, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration and Agency for Defense Development in South Korea, Korea's Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, and Samsung helped support this work.

Source: University of California, Berkeley via EurekAlert! 

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Friday, January 24, 2014

Flame retardant maker files lawsuit against new law

Flame retardants in furniture have been
linked to health risks, experts say.
A leading manufacturer of flame retardants is suing in an attempt to derail a new California law that seeks to keep the chemicals it makes out of upholstered furniture sold in the state.

The lawsuit filed in Sacramento by Chemtura Corp. argues that the law puts consumers at risk by changing a 4-decades-old flammability test that upholstered furniture must pass to be sold in California.

The intent of the change, which took effect this year, is to discourage furniture manufacturers from using flame retardant chemicals that have been linked to reproductive problems, developmental delays and cancer, as well as health effects that have not yet been studied.

But Chemtura says the new law will risk lives.

"If left unchallenged, California's revised, weakened fire safety standard could tragically lead to more fires and more injuries, deaths and property damage nationwide," said Anne Noonan, the Philadelphia company's senior vice president of industrial engineered products.

Chemtura, the first chemical company to challenge TB-117-2013 in court, has a lot of business at stake.

Under the old law, couches and other furniture with polyurethane foam had to withstand 12 seconds of a small, open flame, akin to a candle or a match. Furniture makers weren't required to use flame retardants but have used them to ensure they would pass the test.

Since then, independent studies have linked many flame retardants to health problems. Other research has questioned the merits of the test because small, open flames cause fewer fires involving residential furniture than smoldering cigarettes.

After a Chicago Tribune investigation in 2012 showed that chemical companies had distorted research to promote the safety of their products, scientists, regulators and advocates sought to reverse the 1975 California law that started it all.

The new law requires furniture upholstery to resist a cigarette-like smolder. Government officials and fire scientists say it will improve consumer safety and eliminate the need for flame retardants. Flame-retardant-free furniture has been trickling onto the market and will be mandatory by the beginning of 2015.

Chemtura, which filed its suit in Sacramento County Superior Court, is challenging the change by saying that the standard weakens fire safety and that the number of fires caused by small, open flames is, in fact, significant.

The law applies to any company that makes furniture to be sold in California, which has the world's eighth-largest economy, making it a major threat to flame-retardant makers. The chemicals are lucrative: A 2011 analysis projected global revenue from flame-retardant sales would reach $5.8 billion by 2018.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Longterm air pollution exposure linked to heart attacks and angina

Association persists at levels of exposure below current European limits
Outdoor air pollution also means poor
indoor air quality and health risks.
Long term exposure to particulate matter in outdoor air is strongly linked to heart attacks and angina, and this association persists at levels of exposure below the current European limits, suggests research conducted at the Department of Epidemiology in Rome, Italy and published on

The results support lowering of the EU limits for particulate matter air pollution.

Ambient particulate matter air pollution is estimated to cause 3.2 million deaths worldwide per year, but the association between long term exposure to air pollution and incidence of coronary events remains controversial.

In the European Union the current annual limit for particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometres (μm) or less (known as PM2.5) is 25 µg/m3, which is far above that implemented in the United States (12 µg/m3). And a 2013 BMJ study found average PM2.5 concentrations over a five year period in Beijing was more than 10 times the World Health Organization air quality guideline value of 10 µg/m3.

So an international team of researchers, coordinated by the University of Utrecht, the Netherlands, set out to study the effect of long term exposure to airborne pollutants on acute coronary events (heart attack and unstable angina) in 11 cohorts participating in the European Study of Cohorts for Air Pollution Effects (ESCAPE).

The study involved over 100,000 people with no history of heart disease enrolled from 1997 to 2007 and followed for an average of 11.5 years.

Mathematical models were used to estimate concentrations of air pollution from particulate matter at each participant's residential address. A total of 5,157 participants experienced coronary events during the follow-up period.

After taking account of several other risk factors, including other illness, smoking, and socioeconomic factors, the researchers found that a 5 μg/m3 increase in PM2.5particulate matter was associated with a 13% increased risk of coronary events and a 10μg/m3 increase in PM10 particulate matter was associated with a 12% increased risk of coronary events.

Positive associations were detected below the current annual European limit of 25 μg/m3 for PM2.5 and below 40 μg/m3 for PM10 and positive but non-significant associations were found with other pollutants.

Further analyses did not alter the results significantly.

"Our study suggests an association between long term exposure to particulate matter and incidence of coronary events," say the authors.

They point out that these associations remained for exposure concentrations below the current European limits, and suggest that the burden of disease attributable to outdoor particulate matter "might be underestimated if only estimates of mortality are considered."

The results of this study, together with other ESCAPE findings, "support lowering of European limits for particulate air pollution to adequately protect public health," they conclude.

This study "has specific relevance to the management of air quality in Europe," say Professors Michael Brauer and John Mancini from the University of British Columbia, in an accompanying editorial.

They also refer to the 2013 BMJ Beijing study and say: "The important impact of air pollution on cardiovascular disease highlighted by these two papers supports efforts to meet existing and even more stringent air quality standards to minimise cardiovascular morbidity and mortality."

Source: BMJ-British Medical Journal via EurekAlerts!

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

OSHA wants input on injury and illness tracking

OSHA extends comment period on proposed rule to improve tracking of workplace injuries and illnesses

Many workplace illnesses
can be prevented.
WASHINGTON – The Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced that it will extend the comment period to March 8, 2014 on the proposed rule to improve workplace safety and health through improved tracking of workplace injuries and illnesses.

The proposed rule would amend recordkeeping regulations to add requirements for the electronic submission of injury and illness information that employers are already required to keep under OSHA's regulations for recording and reporting occupational injuries and illnesses.

The comment period has been extended 30 days in response to a request from the National Association of Home Builders.

Comments may be submitted electronically at, the Federal eRulemaking Portal or by mail or facsimile. See the Federal Register notice for more details.

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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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Safety overhaul for chemical plants under review

Chemical accidents have fuelled the need
for better mandatory safeguards.
An interagency panel created to weigh new chemical safety regulations in response to last April’s deadly explosion in Texas is considering a major overhaul of the way volatile substances are handled and stored, a new federal document shows.

The Chemical Facility Safety and Security Working Group, a task force made up of top-level officials from a variety of federal agencies, is asking for feedback on an array of potential new rules that could help avert future disasters.

The agencies offer nine sets of options across several categories, including mandatory — rather than voluntary — new safeguards. The regulations could include a shift to inherently safer technologies and the creation of a third-party audit system.

The working group, led by the secretaries of Homeland Security and Labor, along with the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), stressed that the list of potential actions, released late Friday, is merely a starting point.

“This document is a tool for prompting additional thought and obtaining additional information necessary to further evaluate, refine, and supplement these initial options, and we anticipate that the options may change significantly in the coming months,” the agencies wrote.

Included in the proposal are measures to tighten regulations for the storage and handling of ammonium nitrate, the chemical involved in last April’s fertilizer plant in West, Texas, which killed 15 people and injured more than 200.

The agencies are seeking information about the costs associated with implementing the measures under consideration.

Still, the proposal raised red flags within the industry, where businesses fear the working group will pursue actions “that will further complicate an overly complex regulatory system,” according to a statement from the American Chemistry Council (ACC).

The council said it was encouraged that the agencies incorporated some of the industry’s suggestions in the report, including measures to strengthen coordination between various regulators and improve information sharing between first responders.

But the ACC, which favors shoring up existing rules, is worried that the agencies are considering “a regulatory model that would exceed the authority the agencies have today instead of focusing on how to improve current programs,” according to the statement.

More than 100 groups making up the Coalition to Prevent Chemical Disasters contend that a transition from reactive safeguards to a more preventive set of policies is exactly what is needed to prevent future accidents, or at least minimize their impact.

The group is encouraged by the breadth and scope of the potential actions under consideration, including the incorporation of “inherently safer technologies,” said Rick Hind, who serves as legislative director for Greenpeace, a member of the coalition.

“They’re actually taking a look at the regulatory gaps,” Hind said.

Members of the public and interested parties can weigh in on the potential actions being floated.

President Obama created the working group via executive order on Aug. 1, though the panel's work has been fraught with delays connected to last fall's government shutdown.

Source: The Hill

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Monday, January 20, 2014

Fracking chemicals need to be disclosed: Oklahoma

Oil and natural gas producers must report the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing

Fracking fluids include a variety of different
chemicals, which may be hazardous to health.
Operators of all oil and gas wells in the state must report the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing either directly to the website or to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which will add the information to the FracFocus database.

The new regulation is an extension of a rule that required operators of horizontal wells in the state to disclose the makeup of their fracking fluids beginning in 2013.

The rules initially targeted only horizontal wells because that category represents most of the larger operators and about three-quarters of the wells drilled in Oklahoma in 2013, Corporation Commissioner Dana Murphy said.

“It's important to go ahead and include all wells because we want to treat all operators the same, but you have to focus where most of the activity is first,” Murphy said.

Corporation Commission rules for many years have required operators to report the chemicals used in drilling operation only if the commission asked for it.

Many operators began reporting their fracking fluid voluntarily in 2011 when became operational.

“The issue is the public's desire to get the information,” Murphy said. “The new rule gives them confidence that we're doing our jobs as regulators and the industry is doing its job as well.”

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the process of using water, sand and chemicals to shatter rock deep below the surface and allow oil and natural gas to more easily flow to the well.

Oil and natural gas companies have been using hydraulic fracturing in Oklahoma for more than 60 years, but the process has become much more popular — and controversial — over the past decade as fracking has been combined with horizontal drilling and other improvements to let companies produce oil and gas from shale and other dense rock.

Source: The Oklahoman

Protect yourself from vapor intrusion and poor IAQ

The chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing can escape and make their way into homes and businesses close to the well.

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Friday, January 17, 2014

California adds diisononyl phthalate to carcinogen list

More chemicals added to list of
carcinogens in California.
The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment added a common plasticizer, diisononyl phthalate, to the list of carcinogens the agency maintains under Proposition 65, the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986.

The listing has been effective since Dec. 20, 2013.

OEHHA's Carcinogen Identification Committee considered the scientific evidence for listing diisononyl phthalate and butyl benzyl phthalate, another additive used to make materials softer and more pliable, as carcinogens under Proposition 65, at a Dec. 5 meeting in Sacramento.

The committee determined the scientific data “clearly’’ showed diisononyl phthalate could cause cancer, a Dec. 12 notice showed. As to butyl benzyl phthalate, the committee voted against adding it to the list of carcinogens.

Proposition 65 requires California to maintain a list of chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects or reproductive toxicity. Businesses must provide clear warnings whenever exposing the public to an unsafe level of a listed substance.

OEHHA's next step will be to establish a safe exposure level for diisononyl phthalate.

Both phthalates are high production volume chemicals, meaning they are made in or imported into the U.S. in volumes of 1 million pounds or more annually, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP) is used in polyvinyl chloride products, including flooring tiles and carpet backing, and as additive in food packaging materials, medical devices, leather coatings, paint, adhesives and inks.

Since 2009, federal and California laws have restricted the sale and distribution of toys and child care articles containing BBP concentrations of more than 0.1 percent (1,000 parts per million).

Diisononyl phthalate (DINP) is a general purpose plasticizer used in a variety of products including vinyl flooring, wire and cable insulation, stationery, coated fabrics, gloves, toys, tubing, garden hoses, footwear, automobile undercoatings and roofing materials. The phthalate ester also is found in rubbers, inks, paints, lacquers and sealants.

California law bars the sale and distribution of toys and child care products with DINP concentrations that exceed 0.1 percent.

OEHHA's advisory committee listed DINP based on animal studies showing oral exposure increased the incidence of liver tumors, islet cell tumors of the pancreas and mononuclear cell leukemia (spleen) in male and female rats; kidney tumors in male rats; testicular cell cancer in male rats; and uterine tumors in female rats.

Several industry groups submitted written comments in November opposing the listing of DINP as a carcinogen.

OEHHA's hazard identification document for DINP didn't provide a balanced and complete summary of the scientific evidence, they said.

Source: Bloomberg News

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Thursday, January 16, 2014

How to make nail salons healthier for workers and clients

Chemicals like toluene or formaldehyde in nail products have
been linked to serious health problems, experts say.
Nail salons are where women turn for pampering and polish. But under the luxurious veneer, salons aren't always healthy places to be.

Authorities are beginning to notice the serious health risks associated with nail products and they are starting to act.

Last year, Alameda County's Department of Environmental Health began a Healthy Nail Salon Recognition Program to push its roughly 350 salons, which employ 1,000 manicurists, to adopt healthier practices. San Francisco was the first city in the nation to launch such a program in 2012, and Santa Monica followed in July.

Alameda County publicly honored Leann's Nails and six other salons last month for becoming certified in its program. Requirements include installing proper ventilation and ensuring employees wear gloves. Salons also must significantly limit their use of products with chemicals that are health hazards.

"These people are working with these materials constantly," said Pamela Evans, the coordinator of Alameda County's nail salon program. "They're being used right in very close proximity to people's breathing zones."

Losing the 'toxic trio'

The polishes in Leann's Nails come in every hue, from turquoise to fuchsia, but a sign makes it clear that they do not contain what health officials refer to as the "toxic trio": dibutyl phthalate, toluene and formaldehyde.

Exposure to these compounds can result in headaches, dizziness and irritations in the eyes, skin, nose and throat. It can also lead to more severe, long-term problems.

Dibutyl phthalate, which gives polishes flexibility and a moisturizing sheen, is linked to developmental problems in animals. Toluene, which is used to create a smooth look in polishes, can cause damage to the liver and kidneys and harm unborn children during pregnancy. And formaldehyde, which hardens polish, is a carcinogen.

Those are just the polishes. Businesses that join the county's Healthy Nail Salon Recognition Program also must stay away from polish removers with butyl acetate, methyl acetate and ethyl acetate, which collectively can cause drowsiness and irritate the eyes, skin and other parts of the body.

Finally, salons must not use thinners - which remove thick clumps from polish - that contain toluene or methyl ethyl ketone, which is associated with upset stomachs, headaches and loss of appetite.

Environment regulators and consumer advocates have long been trying to limit these exposures.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires employers to evaluate workers' exposure to dust and chemical vapors, and, if the levels are a health risk, provide workers with respiratory gear for protection.

Most work in a nail salon will not require respiratory protection if proper ventilation and safe work practices are in place, according to the agency.

Misleading claims

But it can be difficult to properly evaluate chemical exposures, especially because some nail products that claim to be free of the "toxic trio" in fact contain one or more of the hazardous chemicals, according to a 2012 analysis of 25 randomly selected products by the state's Department of Toxic Substances Control.

Symptoms can also worsen when they go unreported, as is often the case among the thousands of Vietnamese women employed in salons, said Julia Liou, co-founder of the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative, a health advocacy group.

Of California's estimated 300,000 licensed nail technicians, about 80 percent are of Vietnamese descent, Liou said. Many do not speak English well, feel uncomfortable complaining to management and are of child-bearing age, when reproductive poisons can be particularly harmful.

"Workers often feel very powerless to invoke their rights to have a healthy workplace," said Liou, who is also director of program planning and development at Asian Health Services, an Oakland community health center.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle

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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Chemical exposure at work may be linked to health problems: IBM study

Massive study tracked thousands of
IBM workers and their health.
While former workers at IBM in Endicott show lower mortality rates than the general population, exposure to certain chemicals could be related to health problems, according to a recent government statistical analysis.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health announced the findings of a massive, five-year study of the health of 34,494 workers who were employed at IBM’s Endicott facility between 1969 and 2001.

Among the study’s key findings:
  • The total number of deaths from all causes, and the total number of deaths from cancer, were lower among the former workers than what would be expected from the general population. Just over 17 percent of the sampled workers — a total of 5,966 — had died through 2009. 
  • Deaths from specific types of cancer including non-Hodgkin lymphoma, mesothelioma, pleural cancer, rectal cancer and testicular cancer were more frequent in some groups than would be expected from the general population. 
  • “A positive, statistically significant relation” was observed between exposure to tetrachloroethylene, or PCE, and nervous system diseases. Exposure scores for trichloroethylene, or TCE, were positively statistically correlated with a certain type of leukemia.

Like most statistical studies related to the health of a group, the data do not show that exposure caused any disease found in that group.

Rather, the statistics can show only stronger relationships or correlation in one group compared to what might be found in the population as a whole.

“We’re definitely not in a position to say anything is causal,” NIOSH research epidemiologist Sharon Silver said.

TCE, an industrial solvent, was used at the IBM facility beginning in the mid-1960s as part of the printed circuit board manufacturing process and discontinued by 1985.

Although few potential ties between exposure and health outcomes were observed in the local group of IBM workers studied, the report concludes that “risks from occupational exposures cannot be ruled out due to data limitations and the relative youth of the cohort.”

The study has been long-anticipated by Endicott residents, who pushed for it for years before $3.1 million in federal funding was appropriated for the effort.

Limitations with the data

Yet the authors of the report are the first to admit that constraints in the available data mean nothing conclusive can be said about the effects of exposure to chemicals at IBM.

“There are a number of limitations with the data,” said Silver, the lead author. “We don’t have measurements on who was exposed to what, when.”

Researchers began working on the study in spring 2009, using electronic IBM human resources records to reconstruct work histories of employees and conduct an in-depth analysis of industrial hygiene records showing where chemicals were used.

But the study could not take into account possible chemical exposures at other jobs, and lifestyle factors like smoking. And the workers in the sample are relatively young, meaning some potential adverse health effects may have not yet developed.

IBM spokesman Todd Martin said the study’s finding that IBM workers had a lower mortality rate than the general population was among the key points. He emphasized that the findings regarding PCE and TCE represented a statistical correlation, not an proven causal relationship.

“Health, safety and wellness of IBM employees is, and has always been, the top priority for IBM, and it is integrated into every aspect of our operations,” he said.

NIOSH, the federal agency that conducts research and makes recommendations for preventing work-related injuries, illnesses and deaths, conducted the study at the request of the state Department of Health and other stakeholders.

This article has been edited for length. 
Source: Press Connects

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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Silica exposure limits on the cutting block

Silica exposure can cause lung cancer.
(Reuters Health) - The U.S. government is planning stricter controls on exposure to silica, a carcinogen found in workplaces ranging from dentist's offices to granite quarries, according to a new report.

Silica is powdered quartz, in particles so small they can be inhaled deep into the lungs.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that 2.2 million people in the U.S. are exposed to silica at work, including 1.85 million construction workers.

Other occupations carrying a risk of silica exposure include sandblasting, mining, stone grinding, as well as ceramic and glass manufacturing. Dental assistants may be exposed if they grind silica-containing casts and porcelains.

Silica has long been known to cause silicosis, and evidence now confirms that silica exposure can cause lung cancer as well, Kyle Steenland of Emory University in Atlanta, a co-author of the new report, told Reuters Health.

Silicosis causes varying degrees of breathing difficulty, and there is no cure or treatment. Recent research has also shown that non-smokers can get lung cancer from silica exposure, and that people who develop silica-related lung cancer don't always have silicosis, Steenland and his colleague Elizabeth Ward of the American Cancer Society note.

Lower exposure limits

OSHA is planning to lower permissible levels of silica exposure from 0.1 milligrams per cubic meter of air to 0.05 mg/m3, which the agency estimates will save 700 lives per year, and prevent 1,700 cases of silicosis annually. The current standard dates back to 1971.

The preferred approach to reducing silicon exposure is to use less hazardous materials, ventilate work areas where silicon dust is produced and use water-based methods so dust can't escape into the air, Steenland said.

"Respirators may be useful for workers in short-term high exposure situations, but are generally not recommended as the primary means of exposure control due to worker discomfort, difficulties in communicating with others, lack of compliance and enforcement, and the fitting and maintenance requirements," Steenland and Ward write in their report, published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians

Anyone who has been exposed to silica and smokes should quit, Steenland said in an interview. Smoking aggravates the carcinogenic effects of silica, and smokers with high silica exposure can cut their risk of lung cancer up to five-fold by quitting, according to the new report.

People with a history of silica exposure may also qualify to undergo screening for lung cancer using CT scanning, the investigators note.

OSHA recently extended the public comment period for the proposed silica exposure rule to January 27, 2014. [Update: The comment period is now extended to Feb. 11. See more info here.]

While there is always a balance between worker protection and employers' interests, "I'm fairly confident that this standard will be put into place," Steenland said.

Source: Reuters

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Friday, January 10, 2014

Smoke warnings saved millions of lives, report shows

Historic smoking report marks 50th anniversary

Fifty years ago, ashtrays seemed to be on every table and desk. Athletes and even Fred Flintstone endorsed cigarettes in TV commercials. Smoke hung in the air in restaurants, offices and airplane cabins. More than 42 percent of U.S. adults smoked, and there was a good chance your doctor was among them.
Cigarette smoke exposure can cause
cancer, health experts say.

The turning point came on Jan. 11, 1964. It was on that Saturday morning that U.S. Surgeon General Luther Terry released an emphatic and authoritative report that said smoking causes illness and death — and the government should do something about it.

In the decades that followed, warning labels were put on cigarette packs, cigarette commercials were banned, taxes were raised, and new restrictions were placed on where people could light up.

"It was the beginning," said Kenneth Warner, a University of Michigan public health professor who is a leading authority on smoking and health.

It was not the end. While the U.S. smoking rate has fallen by more than half to 18 percent, that still translates to more than 43 million smokers. Smoking is still far and away the leading preventable cause of death in the United States Some experts predict large numbers of Americans will puff away for decades to come.

Nevertheless, the Terry report has been called one of the most important documents in U.S. public health history, and on its 50th anniversary, officials are not only rolling out new anti-smoking campaigns but reflecting on what the nation did right that day.

The report's bottom-line message was hardly revolutionary. Since 1950, head-turning studies that found higher rates of lung cancer in heavy smokers had been appearing in medical journals. A widely read article in Reader's Digest in 1952, "Cancer by the Carton," contributed to the largest drop in cigarette consumption since the Depression. In 1954, the American Cancer Society announced that smokers had a higher cancer risk.

But the tobacco industry fought back. Manufacturers came out with cigarettes with filters that they claimed would trap toxins before they settled into smokers' lungs. And in 1954, they placed a full-page ad in hundreds of newspapers in which they argued that research linking their products and cancer was inconclusive.

Cigarette sales rebounded

It was a brilliant counter-offensive that left physicians and the public unsure how dangerous smoking really was. Cigarette sales rebounded.

After Terry's report, health officials realized it would take more than one report.

In 1965, Congress required cigarette packs to carry warning labels. Two years later, the Federal Communications Commission ordered TV and radio stations to provide free air time for antismoking public service announcements. Cigarette commercials were banned in 1971.

The 1970s also saw the birth of a movement to protect nonsmokers from cigarette fumes, with no-smoking sections on airplanes, in restaurants and in other places. Those eventually gave way to complete smoking bans. Cigarette machines disappeared, cigarette taxes rose, and restrictions on the sale of cigarettes to minors got tougher.

Tobacco companies also came under increasing legal attack. In the biggest case of them all, more than 40 states brought lawsuits demanding compensation for the costs of treating smoking-related illnesses. The tobacco industry settled in 1998 by agreeing to pay about $200 billion and curtail marketing of cigarettes to youths.

Smoking today:
43M -- Americans who smoke today.
8.6M -- Americans living with a serious illness caused by smoking.
443,000 -- Americans who die prematurely each year from smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke.

In 1998, while the settlement was being completed, tobacco executives appeared before Congress and publicly acknowledged for the first time that their products can cause lung cancer and be addictive.

Experts agree that the Terry report clearly triggered decades of changes that whittled the smoking rate down. But it was based on data that was already out there. Why, then, did it make such a difference?

For one thing, the drumbeat about the dangers of smoking was getting louder in 1964, experts said. But the way the committee was assembled and the carefully neutral manner in which it reached its conclusion were at least as important, said Dr. Tim McAfee, director of the Office on Smoking and Health at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

At the same time, he and others said any celebration of the anniversary must be tempered by the size of the problem that still exists.

Each year, an estimated 443,000 people die prematurely from smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke, and 8.6 million live with a serious illness caused by smoking, according to the CDC.

Source: Tampa Bay / AP

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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Construction outlook for 2014

A little less single-family, more power and manufacturing

Manufacturing and power facilities will be strong in 2014,
construction experts predict.
Last year's construction spending was, at best, uneven, with the power sector – residential – covering up some mediocre and bad performances elsewhere.

Ken Simonson, chief economist for Associated General Contractors, expects construction for manufacturing and power facilities to experience double-digit growth percentages, warehouse construction to do well and lodging to continue its strong performance.

This year, Simonson expects, private nonresidential construction is looking at a 5% to 10% growth rate, public spending will continue to be bad news – though maybe not as bad as the 3% shrinkage in 2013 – and multifamily will pull residential spending to an increase of about 10%.

Interestingly, Simonson thinks single-family residential, which has been slowing somewhat in recent months, will stall later this year.

Looking at costs, some materials will be up and some down, but labor costs are where he sees the big problem coming for contractors.

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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Chemical exposure at work linked to bladder cancer

High bladder cancer rate shrouds New York plant, exposing chemical hazards in the workplace

Chemical plant workers were exposed
to hazardous chemicals for decades.
NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. — Ray Kline signed on as an operator at the local Goodyear chemical plant in 1960 and logged just short of 40 years. He routinely worked six days a week, 12 hours a day, retiring in 1999 as head of maintenance.

Kline, 75, has also endured two bouts of bladder cancer. Strong evidence suggests the disease was work-related.

In a yet-to-be published study, federal health investigators have confirmed 50 cases of bladder cancer among plant employees through 2007, nearly three times the number that would have been expected in the general population of New York State.

The unofficial tally to date, compiled by a lawyer for some of the cancer victims, is 58 cases.

The likely trigger in most instances, investigators concluded, was a chemical, still used by Goodyear and others, called ortho-toluidine.

The disease made its appearance in 1972 and continues to plague this decaying pocket of western New York. Many question why the chemical’s most prominent manufacturer, DuPont, took so long to issue warnings.

The long-running episode underscores the limits of regulation and points up the insidious nature of occupational illnesses, which by one estimate take more than 50,000 lives in America each year.

It’s a cautionary tale at a time when more than 80,000 chemicals, many carrying unknown or little-understood health effects, are on the market in the United States.

Workers can become unwitting test subjects, made vulnerable by employers that fail to act on scientific knowledge or, in extreme cases, suppress the truth.

Three years before Kline landed at Goodyear, the plant began making Nailax, an antioxidant that keeps tires from cracking. Three U.S. companies supplied a key ingredient, ortho-toluidine, at various times from the 1950s into the 1990s; DuPont supplied Goodyear for the longest period, almost four decades.

Manufacturer knew of risks

By 1955, records show, DuPont knew the chemical caused bladder cancer in laboratory animals and protected its own workers from it. But it didn’t issue warnings to Goodyear and other customers until 1977, the year Kline’s son-in-law, Harry Weist, started at the Niagara Falls plant.

It would be another 13 years before Goodyear would take significant steps to reduce exposures to ortho-toluidine in the plant. By then, the outbreak of bladder cancer was under way.

Kline was case No. 21, diagnosed in 1997. Weist was No. 37, diagnosed in 2004.

In a statement to the Center for Public Integrity, Goodyear said it “takes the issue of ortho-toluidine exposure at the Niagara Falls plant very seriously. We are deeply concerned and continue to be committed to actions to address the issue.”

DuPont said it “conducts its business in accordance with the highest ethical standards and in compliance with all applicable laws to ensure the safety and health of our employees, our customers, and the people of the communities in which we operate. Our experience with ortho-toluidine was no exception.”

Its communications about the chemical were, DuPont said, “commensurate with the state of scientific knowledge” at the time.

Steve Wodka, a lawyer in Little Silver, N.J., maintains DuPont could have told Goodyear how to use ortho-toluidine safely by 1957, when Goodyear’s rubber chemicals division opened in Niagara Falls.

“There were so many warning signals,” said Wodka, who has sued DuPont and other ortho-toluidine suppliers on behalf of 24 bladder cancer victims from Goodyear and three from the now-shuttered Morton International chemical plant in Paterson, N.J. “If people had simply heeded them, there would have been a lot of lives saved.”

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

Protect yourself from airborne chemicals

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Monday, January 6, 2014

EPA improves access to chemical data

Agency releases information on 1,800 chemicals and announces ToxCast Data Challenges

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released chemical screening data accessible through the new interactive Chemical Safety for Sustainability or iCSS Dashboard.

Only a fraction of the chemicals used today have been
tested for adverse health effects, experts say.
The iCSS Dashboard provides access to data from innovative screening technologies for chemicals that are found in industrial and consumer products, food additives and drugs.

“EPA’s use of cost effective advanced chemical screening techniques has transformed this country’s knowledge of the safety of almost 2,000 chemicals currently in use,” said Lek Kadeli, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

As part of this data release, EPA is announcing the ToxCast Data Challenges, a series of challenges inviting the science and technology community to work with the data and provide solutions for how the new chemical screening data can be used to predict potential health effects. Challenge winners will receive awards for their innovative research ideas.

The data were gathered through advanced techniques, including robotics and high-throughput screening, as part of an ongoing federal collaboration to improve chemical screening.

The collaboration, Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century (Tox21), is comprised of EPA, the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences/National Toxicology Program, National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences and the Food and Drug Administration.

“Making these data publicly available will help researchers across disciplines to better identify hazardous chemicals, “ said Raymond Tice, Ph.D., who heads the Biomolecular Screening Branch at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of NIH.

“We are pleased to be a partner in these collaborative efforts and look forward to further enhancing the amount of Tox21 data available to the public.”

Only a fraction of chemicals in use in the United States have been adequately assessed for potential risk. This information is useful for prioritizing chemicals for potential risk as well as predicting if chemical exposures could lead to adverse health effects.

More information is available on the EPA website.
Source: EPA

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