Friday, February 28, 2014

Nursing homes benefit from telemedicine

Telemedicine can reduce hospitalizations

Telemedicine used at nursing homes during hours when doctors are not typically present is a viable way to reduce avoidable hospitalizations, according to research published in February's issue of Health Affairs.

Commitment to telemedicine can save
a lot of money at nursing homes.
Hospitalizations of nursing home residents are occurring more frequently, and result in complications, morbidity and expensive Medicare costs.

When a medical issue arises on nights and weekends that cannot be addressed by the on-call physician not present at the facility, the doctor can either travel to the nursing home or recommend that the resident be sent to the hospital emergency room.

Very often, the physician recommends the hospital emergency room.

Researchers David C. Grabowski of Harvard Medical School and A. James O'Malley of The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice at the Geisel School of Medicine designed a study to determine whether nursing home residents who receive off-hour physician coverage by telemedicine experience a lower rate of hospitalizations, thereby generating savings to Medicare in excess of the costs of the telemedicine program.

They studied a Massachusetts for-profit nursing home chain, which had signed a contract with a telemedicine provider to introduce service in 11 nursing homes to cover urgent or emergent calls on weeknights and weekends.

The telemedicine service consisted of two-way video conferencing with a high-resolution camera, allowing nursing home residents to be examined remotely by a physician. For the period of October 2009 through September 2011, the nursing home chain staggered its telemedicine introduction. Six of the 11 nursing homes in the chain were randomized to initiate the telemedicine service while the five remaining nursing homes served as the control group.

The researchers found that four of the six treatment facilities were responsible for most of the telemedicine calls. Across all calls, the rate of hospitalizations declined 5.3 percent for the control group and 9.7 percent for the treatment group. This effect was largely concentrated in the four "more engaged" nursing homes, whose rate of hospitalization declined 11.3 percent.

"We did not observe a statistically significant effect of the telemedicine intervention on hospitalizations," the researchers wrote.

However, when they compared the four more-engaged nursing homes with the two less-engaged ones, they found a significant decline in the hospitalization rate at the more engaged facilities. A secondary finding of the analysis is that the hospitalization rate for non-engaged intervention facilities was very close to that of the control facilities.

"According to these estimates, a nursing home that typically had 180 hospitalizations per year and that was more engaged with telemedicine could expect to see a statistically significant reduction of about 15.1 hospitalizations per year" than a facility that was less engaged, the researchers said. The average Medicare savings would be roughly $150,000 per nursing home per year.

The annual cost of the telemedicine service in this study was $30,000 per nursing home, implying a net savings of roughly $120,000 per nursing home per year in the more engaged facilities, the researchers said.

The researchers say engagement is the key to the use of telemedicine preventing hospitalizations. Simply making it available does not guarantee its use by nursing home staff. Telemedicine providers and nursing home leaders will have to take additional steps to encourage buy-in among nursing home administrators, front-line staff members, and physicians.

Additional research will be needed to test models that encourage stronger engagement on the part of providers, as well as examine the implications of new policies that incentivize increased adoption, they said.

Source: The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice 

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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Wastewater treatment plants need safety measures in place

OSHA cites NY contractors for safety violations at Canastota Wastewater Treatment Plant

SYRACUSE, NY – Serious workplace safety violations were found in connection with the September 2013 explosion at the Canastota Wastewater Treatment Plant that killed one worker and injured another.
Chemical gases and fumes pose health
risks at wastewater treatment plants.

Joy Process Mechanical Inc. of East Syracuse and M. Hubbard Construction Inc. of Mottville were hired by the plant to replace piping inside a methane gas dome, a confined space.

The Joy Process Mechanical worker was welding inside the dome when the explosion occurred, burning him and a Hubbard Construction worker who was standing atop a stepladder opening to the confined space.

"This tragedy could have been prevented had basic safety precautions been implemented," said Christopher Adams, OSHA's area director in Syracuse. "Confined spaces and hazardous atmospheres pose dangerous risks to workers. Employers must provide the equipment and safeguards that prevent workers from getting hurt."

Investigators from OSHA's Syracuse Area Office found that both employers failed to ensure safeguards and to train workers on the hazards associated with methane gas and confined spaces. Workers were not provided with a meter to measure the presence of combustible gas.

The confined space also lacked adequate ventilation and a retrieval system for swift exits in an emergency. Hubbard Construction was also cited for ladder misuse and for using electrical equipment that had not been rated safe in a hazardous atmosphere.

As a result, Joy Process Mechanical was issued three serious citations with $14,700 in proposed fines. Hubbard Construction was issued seven serious citations with $31,020 in fines. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to ensure these conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance.

Source: OSHA

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Hidden dangers of pesticides

Pesticides may be more dangerous than testing reveals: Study

Testing of pesticides focuses on the active ingredient. But many other "inert" ingredients are added to the pesticide formulation that is actually sold.
Current safety standards may not be enough
to protect human health, researchers say.

A new study suggests that these additives can make pesticides more dangerous to cells than current safety testing reveals.

A team of French scientists has concluded that studies focused solely on the active ingredients of commercially sold pesticides substantially underestimate their potential hazards.

The study suggests that inert ingredients in pesticides can magnify the effects of active ingredients, sometimes as much as 1,000-fold. Eight commercial products out of nine tested were hundreds of times more toxic than their active ingredient alone.

Normally, tests of pesticide safety are carried out only on the active ingredient, the chemical that targets the pest. But pesticides sold to consumers and farmers are complex mixtures of other chemicals deemed "inert," which implies these additives don't have biological effects.

The scientists from the University of Caen exposed three human cell lines to the active ingredients of three herbicides, three insecticides and three fungicides. Then they exposed the cell lines to the commercial formulations, which contained "inerts," and compared the results.

The new finding, if confirmed, has significant implications for pesticide safety because if inert ingredients commonly amplify pesticide effects, then safety standards may not be protective of human health.

In the study, fungicides were on average the most toxic, followed by herbicides and then insecticides.

Roundup, a commercial herbicide sold by Monsanto that uses the active ingredient glyphosate, was by far the most toxic of the herbicides and insecticides tested, according to the study, which was published in the journal BioMed Research International.

Used to kill weeds on lawns, gardens and crops including soybeans and corn, glyphosate is one of the most widely used herbicides in the United States.

With the exception of the herbicide Matin, the commercial formulations were more potent than their active ingredients alone. Tebuconazole showed the biggest difference between commercial formulation and active ingredient, with the formulation more than 1,000-fold more toxic than just the active ingredient, according to the study.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lists tebuconozole as a possible carcinogen, and the Swedish Chemicals Agency is analyzing its potential as an endocrine-disrupting compound.

Other formulations in the study include the neonicotinoid pesticides Confidor (Imidacloprid) and Polysect (Acetamiprid), the herbicide Starane (Fluoxypyr) and the fungicide Eyetak (Prochloraz).

These data cannot be used to set safety standards because the study relied upon a simple, short-term and relatively insensitive measurement of toxicity -- cell viability, or what percentage of cells survived. Many adverse effects do not cause cell death, so tests of pesticides need to use more sensitive endpoints, such as endocrine disruption.

Source: Environmental Health News

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Males may be weaker sex when it comes to environmental pollutants

Men are more affected than women
by chemical exposures, studies show.
Contrary to cultural assumptions that boys are stronger and sturdier, basic biological weaknesses are built into the male of our species.

These frailties leave them more vulnerable than girls to life’s hazards, including environmental pollutants such as insecticides, lead and plasticizers that target their brains or hormones.

Several studies suggest that boys are harmed in some ways by these chemical exposures that girls are not.

Mother Nature has always acknowledged and compensated for the fragility and loss of boys by arranging for more of them: 106 male births to 100 female newborns over the course of human history. (Humans are not unique in this setup: Male piglets, as an example, are conceived in greater proportion to compensate for being more likely than female piglets to die before birth.)

But in recent decades, from the United States to Japan, from Canada to northern Europe, wherever researchers have looked, the rate of male newborns has declined. Examining U. S. records of births for the years between 1970 and 1990, they found 1.7 fewer boys per 1,000 than in decades and centuries past; Japan’s loss in the same decades was 3.7 boys.

Boys are also more than two-thirds more likely than girls to be born prematurely – before the 37th week of pregnancy. And, despite advances in public health, boys in the 1970s faced a 30 percent higher chance of death by their first birthday than girls; in contrast, back in the 1750s, they were 10 per cent more likely than girls to die so early in their lives.

The nine-month transformation from a few cells to an infant is a time of great vulnerability. Many chronic illnesses are seeded in the womb.

Once they make it to childhood, boys face other challenges. They are more prone to a range of neurological disorders. Autism is notoriously higher among boys than girls: now nearly five times more likely, as tallied by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

They are more susceptible than girls to damage from very low-level exposure to lead. Yet another problem: Boys also suffer from asthma at  higher rates. There’s also a stronger link between air pollution and autism in boys.

Why do boys face such a burden of physical challenges?

The answer is that the male’s problems start in the womb: from his more complicated fetal development, to his genetic makeup, to how his hormones work.

In our species, the female is the default gender, the basic simpler model: Humans start out in the womb with female features (that’s why males have nipples). It takes a greater number of cell divisions to make a male; with each comes the greater risk of an error as well as the greater vulnerability to a hit from pollutants.

Females have a stronger immune system because they are packed with estrogen, a hormone that counteracts the antioxidant process.

If the balance of hormones is out of whack in males, what made that happen? Researchers are coming up with some clues, among them:

  • Prenatal exposure to chemicals such as insecticide chlorpyrifos
  • Pregnant mothers' exposure to phthalates – used in making some vinyl products and toys as well as some personal care products 
  • Exposure to bisphenol A, an estrogenic substance used to make polycarbonate plastics as well as some thermal receipts and the linings of food and beverage cans

Some of these chemicals act like fake estrogens, others like fake testosterone, but both types seem to disrupt normal development. Animal tests show that a dose of these chemicals inflict the most damage when it hits a fetus. And, because of their biological vulnerabilities, it’s boys who may experience the most effects.

While not forgoing the push for fairness and equality, it seems wise to accept the scientific reality of male weaknesses. This likely won’t mean the end of men, but their vulnerability to environmental contaminants and diseases could have serious ramifications for the future of the entire human race unless we find ways to protect them from harm.

Alice Shabecoff is the coauthor with her husband, Philip Shabecoff, of Poisoned for Profit: How Toxins Are Making Our Children Chronically Ill, Random House 2008, Chelsea Green, 2010.

Source: Environmental Health News

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Monday, February 24, 2014

Print manufacturing fraught with safety hazards

Connecticut manufacturer of print reproductions faces penalties for recurring hazards

Chemical hazards and combustible dust
are some of the dangers of print
The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Artbeats Inc. for repeat and serious violations of workplace safety standards at its Cheshire facility in Connecticut.

The company, which manufactures reproductions of prints and paintings, faces $56,430 in proposed fines following an inspection by OSHA's Bridgeport Area Office begun Dec. 3, 2013, in response to a worker complaint.

Inspectors found several hazards similar to those cited in June 2010 at the company's Waterbury facility.

These hazards include failing to provide a program to ensure workers are trained to power down and lockout industrial saws prior to conducting maintenance; provide a chemical hazard communication program and training on the risks and safeguards associated with chemicals, such as paints and gels; and prevent usage of unapproved electrical equipment in areas that generate and accumulate combustible wood dust.

"Left uncorrected or allowed to recur, these conditions expose employees to hazardous chemicals, fire, and lacerations and amputation by activated machinery," said Robert Kowalski, OSHA's area director in Bridgeport.

"An employer must ensure hazards are consistently and effectively addressed to provide employees a safe and healthful work environment."

The conditions resulted in the issuance of eight repeat citations, with $53,460 in proposed fines. Additionally, one serious citation, with a fine of $2,970, was issued for an inadequately guarded radial arm saw.

Artbeats Inc. has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and proposed penalties to comply, meet informally with OSHA's area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety & Health Review Commission.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to ensure these conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance.

Source: OSHA 

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Friday, February 21, 2014

Unsafe conditions lead to more occupational safety workers

Canadian province adds 12 new occupational safety workers after increase in workplace fatalities

The Nova Scotia government is adding 12 positions to its occupational health and safety division that it says align with recommendations from the province's former auditor general.

Number of workplace fatalities in
Nova Scotia nearly doubled in 2012.
In his fall report, Jacques Lapointe said Labour Department inspectors need to do a better job of following up after identifying safety issues.

Lapointe said only a small fraction of employers in Nova Scotia were given tickets for safety violations over a one-year period, despite missing deadlines.

At the time, Labour Minister Kelly Regan agreed her department had to be more consistent in enforcing its rules.

Regan says the 12 positions are in addition to five new safety inspectors announced last year and will focus on education, enforcement and compliance in the workplace.

The number of workplace fatalities from traumatic injuries in Nova Scotia jumped to 10 in 2012-13, up from six during the same period a year earlier.

Source: OHS Canada

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Chemical pollutants found in luxury fashions

High fashion does not mean better
products, Greenpeace charges.
Environmental campaign group Greenpeace has found traces of chemicals that can pollute waterways in children's clothing and shoes made by luxury brands, challenging the sector's reputation for higher standards than those of mass fashion, a recent Reuters article reports.

Greenpeace said it found the substances in products from Dolce & Gabbana, Giorgio Armani, Versace, Hermes, Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton and Marc Jacobs.

Greenpeace has been campaigning against pollutants used in the textile industry since 2011. It wants major brands and their suppliers to commit to stop discharging potentially harmful chemicals in waste water by 2020.

Concerned about toxicity to aquatic organisms and the fact some do not biodegrade easily, the European Union has restricted the industrial use of some of these chemicals but there are no rules on the sales of textiles containing their residues.

Greenpeace said 12 of the 27 articles it tested contained residues of nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), used in textile manufacturing which it said can break down into hormone-disrupting chemicals when released from garments during washing.

In five items, the group said it also found per- and polyfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) used to make garments water repellent. Five articles tested positive for phthalates, used in printing designs on clothing, and three for antimony, a compound used to manufacture polyester.

The chemicals Greenpeace tested for have been commonly used in textile manufacturing, but are gradually being phased out by some brands due to concern about their polluting impact.

Reuters could not independently confirm Greenpeace's findings, which two of the companies sought to play down.

Some big brands have become highly sensitive to scrutiny of their environmental standards as shoppers demand more information about how products are made, with companies like H&M and Adidas keen to portray themselves as "green".

They are among two of the 20 brands Greenpeace has already persuaded to make the "Detox" pledge, helped by supporters bombarding the firms via social media. The only luxury names to sign up so far are Britain's Burberry and Italy's Valentino.

Greenpeace said many of the products in its study were labelled as "Made in Italy", usually a by-word for quality, but still contained similar chemical residues to garments made in developing countries.

"It's time these luxury brands lived up to their reputation as fashion trendsetters, and started leading the toxic-free fashion revolution," said Chiara Campione, a campaigner for Greenpeace Italy.

Many clothing retailers have already agreed to make their clothing PFC-free but some outdoor brands have said there are currently no PFC-free technologies that would provide the same lasting level of weather protection.

Source: PlanetArk

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Chemical exposure and brain development: Researchers set to study effects

EPA awards more than $3 million to researchers

The goal of the studies is to improve
chemical safety: EPA
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced over $3 million in grants to research institutions to better understand how chemicals interact with biological processes and how these interactions may lead to altered brain development.

The studies are focused on improving EPA’s ability to predict the potential health effects of chemical exposures.

“This research will transform our understanding of how exposure to chemicals during sensitive lifestages affects the development of the brain,” said Lek Kadeli, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

“By better predicting whether chemicals have the potential to impact health and human development, these grants will not only advance the science necessary to improve chemical safety but protect the well being and futures of children in this nation.”

These grants focus on developing better adverse outcome pathways (AOPs), which are models that predict the connection between exposures and the chain of events that lead to an unwanted health effect.

AOPs combine vast amounts of data from different sources to depict the complex interactions of chemicals with biological processes, and then extend this information to explain an adverse health effect.

EPA expects to use the knowledge gained from this research to develop efficient and cost-effective models to better predict if and how exposure to environmental chemicals may lead to developmental neurotoxicity.

Recipients of EPA’s funding for developmental neurotoxicity adverse outcome pathway research include:

  1. North Carolina State University, Raleigh, N.C.
  2. The University of Georgia, Athens, Ga.
  3. University of California, Davis, Calif.
  4. Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, La Jolla, Calif.

These awards are advancing the science and technological capability to model and predict how chemicals behave when they come into contact with biological systems.

This improved understanding supports the Agency’s mission of protecting human health and the environment and amplifies the impact of its chemical safety research efforts.

EPA’s chemical safety research is accelerating the pace of chemical screening, helping to protect vulnerable populations and species, developing solutions for more sustainable chemicals and using computational science to understand the relationship between chemical exposures and health outcomes.

Source: EPA

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Chemical safety taken on by OSHA and fertilizer industry

OSHA partners with fertilizer industry to get message out on chemical safety

The new safety tips may help avoid
harmful accidents and exposure.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is partnering with the Agricultural Retailers Association and The Fertilizer Institute to reach more than 7,000 agricultural retailers, distributors, producers and other facilities in the fertilizer industry to remind employers of the importance of safely storing and handling ammonium nitrate.

This effort follows the devastating April 2013 ammonium nitrate explosion in West, Texas, which killed 15 including 12 emergency response personnel.

OSHA cited the owners of the West Fertilizer Company with 24 serious safety violations for exposing workers to fire/explosion hazards of ammonium nitrate and chemical burn and inhalation hazards from anhydrous ammonia storage.

The trade associations will distribute a letter from Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels to fertilizer industry employers throughout the country.

In the letter, Dr. Michaels says, "The tragedy in West, Texas, and other incidents underscore the need for employers who store and handle hazardous substances like ammonium nitrate to ensure the safety of those materials - not just for workers at the facility but for the lives and safety of emergency responders and nearby residents. I am calling on you today to take the necessary steps to prevent tragic ammonium nitrate incidents."

In the letter, OSHA provides employers with legal requirements and best practice recommendations for safely storing and handling ammonium nitrate. Employers can view the letter online and read up on ammonium nitrate safety resources.

Following the tragedy that struck West, Texas, in April 2013, the President issued Executive Order 13650, Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security, on August 1, 2013, to improve chemical facility safety and security in coordination with owners and operators. For more information, click here.

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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Monday, February 17, 2014

PCE threatens Colorado workers and residents

Cancer-causing chemical contaminates Colorado soil, water and homes

Spills releasing PCE, the cancer-causing chemical used in dry cleaning and metal degreasing, have produced at least 86 underground plumes across Colorado that are poisoning soil and water and fouling air inside buildings.
The dry cleaning chemical PCE has been linked to cancer
and other health effects.

Cleaning up this chemical is a nightmare — a lesson in the limits of repairing environmental harm. The best that Colorado health enforcers and responsible parties have been able to do is keep the PCE they know about from reaching people.

But based on a review of Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment case files, people likely have been exposed.

For years, PCE (perchloroethylene or perc) penetrated homes and a church in Denver's Cole neighborhood, forcing installation of ventilators. It contaminated municipal drinking water wells near Colorado Springs. It reached rooms where toddlers play at an Aurora day care. And PCE is spreading under a central Denver Safeway at levels far exceeding health standards.

The required cleanups drag out for decades because of costs. But even if funds were sufficient, PCE is proving so pernicious — able to eat through concrete, staying volatile decades after spills — that experts increasingly question whether full cleanup to meet health standards is feasible.

Probable carcinogen

Federal authorities long have recognized sharp, sweet-sour-smelling PCE among the most dangerous chemicals contaminating U.S. cities.

A 2012 Environmental Protection Agency reassessment concluded that PCE is a probable carcinogen that also attacks nervous systems.

While occasionally inhaling PCE on dry-cleaned clothes isn't considered harmful, regular exposure is risky enough that the EPA has ordered a phase-out of dry cleaners using PCE in residential buildings by 2020.

Yet PCE remains legal. EPA data show there are 28,000 dry cleaners using it nationwide. About 350 cleaners use it in Colorado.

Dry cleaners favor PCE over other chemicals. The same penetrating properties that make it a nightmare when spilled also make it a wondrous obliterator of blotches on dresses and suits.

Identifying risks

Four to 18 new plumes due to PCE spills in Colorado are identified each year. The list has been growing. Cleanups last for years, and CDPHE could not say how many have been completed.

State law requires intervention when PCE contaminates groundwater at concentrations exceeding 17 parts per billion. In 2010, state water commissioners relaxed that standard from the EPA drinking-water standard of 5 ppb.

For PCE vapors in air, Colorado's limit is 41 micrograms per cubic meter in homes and 175 at work sites. The home limit was relaxed in 2012 from 4 micrograms .

An estimated 1,000 former dry-cleaner sites exist around Colorado — the majority not tested for PCE contamination.

Nationwide, EPA officials track an estimated 3,800 toxic chemical cleanups, many involving PCE. The Superfund list of major environmental disasters includes at least 50 sites where PCE and related chemicals are present.

These include PCE plume spreading from dry-cleaning facilities in a Veterans Affairs hospital in Salt Lake City that has contaminated springs, aquifers and creeks, forcing city officials to shut down a municipal well.

PCE likely will be found at 50 to 70 percent of the untested dry-cleaner sites in Colorado, said Denver lawyer Kemper Will, a former EPA employee who has represented industry, property owners and dry cleaners in numerous cases.

PCE contamination of indoor air is a serious concern, and businesses often aren't as careful handling chemicals as they should be, Will said. But it's not feasible to conduct full cleanups to meet today's highly protective health standards. "We cannot afford, as a nation, to purify all old mistakes."

Will lobbied for the policy giving state officials greater flexibility in deciding how much cleanup must be done. Reducing PCE levels in groundwater to 17 ppb isn't always necessary, he said. A smarter approach would focus on indoor air.

"I want to apply sound, rational judgment," he said.

This article has been edited for length. 
Source: Denver Post

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Friday, February 14, 2014

Flame retardant substitutes analyzed by EPA

Agency looks into alternatives for flame
retardants - but are they safer?
The Environmental Protection Agency has released two alternatives assessments to help companies that want to choose chemicals to substitute for bisphenol A in thermal paper and decabromodiphenyl ether (decaBDE) as a fire retardant for plastic.

The goal of both analyses is to provide information about potential health and environmental hazards the chemicals and possible substitutes pose, the agency said.

The assessments should help companies that are looking for alternatives make choices and reduce their risk of having to repeat the process because an initially selected alternative doesn't work, the EPA said.

The documents also may help states or other regulators examining information a company has submitted in its own alternatives analysis. Some states, such as California, are requiring these types of analyses.

The EPA's Design for the Environment program assembled diverse parties who brought different information, expertise and perspectives to each analysis.


For decaBDE, these participants included chemical, aerospace, automotive, electronics and textile manufacturers; the International Association of Fire Chiefs; environmental health organizations; recycling companies; and state and local government officials.

The decaBDE analysis provided information for 29 chemicals and chemical mixtures.

“Chemicals were selected for evaluation based on their potential as substitutes for decaBDE, not because they are expected to be safer than decaBDE,” the EPA said.

The 901-page analysis provided detailed information that showed trade-offs.

For example, decaBDE scored low for genotoxicity, moderate for carcinogenicity, high for developmental toxicity and very high for persistence.

Companies making flame-retardant products want chemicals that don't degrade so that the protection continues throughout a product's lifetime, the EPA said. Persistence in the environment, however, can pose a concern.

Some of the alternatives were readily biodegradable but toxic to the aquatic environment, the EPA said.

Bisphenol A

A minor use of bisphenol A is to help make paper receipts such as grocery receipts without carbon paper. The analysis said, however, that this particular use could result in higher exposure than some other BPA applications would.

The partnership that examined alternatives to bisphenol A in thermal paper included paper manufacturers, companies making equipment for thermal paper, chemical manufacturers, retailers, trade associations, scientific experts, environmental health organizations and international governmental organizations.

The 519-page analysis of bisphenol A examined 19 possible alternatives.

“No clearly safer alternatives to BPA were identified in this report—most alternatives have moderate or high hazard designations for human health or aquatic toxicity endpoints,” the analysis said.

The partnership found that three of the 20 chemicals (BPA and the 19 alternatives) scored low or very low in their potential to persist in the environment, and 11 had high or very high persistence values.

Two had a high potential to bioaccumulate.

U.S. manufacturers of decaBDE are phasing that chemical out of production under a voluntary agreement the EPA announced in 2009.

By contrast, bisphenol A remains a high production volume chemical, produced at an estimated volume of 2.4 billion pounds in 2007, the EPA's analysis said. It had an estimated value of almost $2 billion in 2010, the agency said.

However, in 2010 the EPA issued an action plan for bisphenol A. That plan said bisphenol A is a reproductive, developmental and systemic toxicant in animal studies and is weakly estrogenic.

The decaBDE and bisphenol A analyses are available here.

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Health Canada to review 23 pesticides

Ottawa agrees to review after pressure from environmental group

Environmentalists are declaring victory over an announcement by Ottawa that it will conduct a health review of 23 pesticides, including a weed killer found everywhere from wheat fields to suburban lawns.

But they point out the decision comes only after several lawsuits were filed last summer and suggest it shouldn’t take legal action to get the federal government to follow the law.
Many of the chemicals have already
been banned in Europe.

“It is a victory in that sense, that we’re getting them to do something they’ve never done before,” said Elaine MacDonald of the environmental law group Ecojustice. “But we shouldn’t have to sue them to get them to do it.”

Last August, four lawsuits were filed over 29 chemicals, all of which Ecojustice said were banned in Europe.

The federal government is obliged by law to review chemicals that are banned in any country belonging to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Health Canada had originally declined to do any studies. It said some of the chemicals had been recently examined and found to present acceptable risks.

The agency added that it wanted to consider reasons for the European bans before conducting studies on the others.

The Pest Management Regulatory Agency quietly reversed that decision in a website posting dated Dec. 30.

“The (agency) . . . has determined that this subsection’s criteria have been met, namely that a member country of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development prohibits all uses of this active ingredient for health or environmental reasons.”

Four of the six chemicals Canada won’t review were found to be still in limited European use — restricted to functions such as anti-flea dog collars. The final two are not used in Canada.

The pesticides that will be studied are found in 360 different products widely available for consumer and industrial use in Canada. They include 2,4-D — an active ingredient in 140 different products.

“2,4-D is one of the most common herbicides out there,” said MacDonald. “It’s in many household products. 2,4-D is what I would characterize as ubiquitous.”

Norway banned the chemical in 2000 over concerns about its links to cancer and its ability to migrate into groundwater.

Other common chemicals to be reviewed include:
Bromoxynil, found in 48 products and registered for use on cereal crops and vegetables.
Carbaryl, used in 39 pest-control products such as flea collars and ant powder.
Chlorthal-dimethyl, a possible carcinogen and herbicide most commonly used on weeds in vegetable operations.
Trifluralin, a popular herbicide on the Prairies that’s highly toxic to fish.
Trichlorfon, an insecticide approved for woodlots, Christmas tree plantations and cattle, which has been linked to human nerve damage.

In a Jan. 9 letter to Ecojustice, a federal lawyer points to the government’s review plans and asks the group to drop its lawsuit.

“In our view, the usefulness of that exercise is seriously undermined by the consultation document,” wrote Elizabeth Kikuchi.

Ecojustice lawyer Laura Tessoro said the court action has only been placed on hold and remains on the books.

“The agency doesn’t have a great track record of committing to doing special reviews under the act,” she said. “This is basically the first time it’s ever agreed to do them.

“In light of that, we need to keep the pressure on.”

Source: Toronto Star

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Fewer air pollutants released: EPA

Agency's 2012 Toxics Release Inventory shows air pollutants continue to decline

Companies are required to report their
toxic releases and the info is online.
WASHINGTON - Total releases of toxic chemicals decreased 12 percent from 2011-2012, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) annual Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) report.

The decrease includes an eight percent decline in total toxic air releases, primarily due to reductions in hazardous air pollutant (HAP) emissions.

“People deserve to know what toxic chemicals are being used and released in their backyards, and what companies are doing to prevent pollution,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

“By making that information easily accessible through online tools, maps, and reports, TRI is helping protect our health and the environment.”

The 2012 data show that 3.63 billion pounds of toxic chemicals were either disposed or otherwise released into the environment through air, water, and land.

There was also a decline in releases of HAPs such as hydrochloric acid and mercury, which continues a long-term trend.

Between 2011 and 2012, toxic releases into surface water decreased three percent and toxic releases to land decreased 16 percent.

This is the first year that TRI has collected data on hydrogen sulfide. While it was added to the TRI list of reportable toxic chemicals in a 1993 rulemaking, EPA issued an Administrative Stay in 1994 that deferred reporting while the agency completed further evaluation of the chemical.

EPA lifted the stay in 2011. In 2012, 25.8 million pounds of hydrogen sulfide were reported to TRI, mainly in the form of releases to air from paper, petroleum, and chemical manufacturing facilities.

Another new addition to TRI reporting is a requirement for each facility located in Indian country to submit TRI reports to EPA and the appropriate tribe, and not the state where the facility is geographically located.

EPA finalized this requirement in a 2012 rule aimed at increasing tribal participation in the TRI Program.

This year's TRI national analysis report includes new analyses and interactive maps for each U.S. metropolitan and micropolitan area, new information about industry efforts to reduce pollution through green chemistry and other pollution prevention practices, and a new feature about chemical use in consumer products.

The annual TRI report provides citizens with critical information about their communities. The TRI Program collects data on certain toxic chemical releases to the air, water, and land, as well as information on waste management and pollution prevention activities by facilities across the country.

The data are submitted annually to EPA, states, and tribes by facilities in industry sectors such as manufacturing, metal mining, electric utilities, and commercial hazardous waste.

Many of the releases from facilities that are subject to TRI reporting are regulated under other EPA program requirements designed to limit harm to human health and the environment.

Also available is the expanded TRI Pollution Prevention (P2) Search Tool, which now allows users to graphically compare facilities within the same industry using a variety of environmental metrics.

Under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), facilities must report their toxic chemical releases to EPA by July 1 of each year.

The Pollution Prevention Act of 1990 also requires facilities to submit information on waste management activities related to TRI chemicals.

Concerned about toxic chemicals at your workplace? Electrocorp offers commercial and industrial air cleaners that remove chemicals, VOCs, toxins and other pollutants from the ambient air. Contact Electrocorp for more information.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Sick Building Syndrome related to VOCs

The VOCs released by mold can
make people sick, researcher says.
As a specialist in mold toxins, Joan Bennett didn’t believe in sick building syndrome.

Then Hurricane Katrina struck, Bennett’s home was flooded, and she evacuated.

A month later, she returned to the house to sample her home for mold. Her house smelled horrendous and even with protective gear, she felt awful – dizziness, headache, malaise. She walked outside and felt better.

Then it struck her: “I think there’s something in this terrible mold I’m smelling.”

But she still believed in her old arguments against the theory. She knew how much mold toxin we ordinarily get exposed to from mold in food, and she still knew that it was far greater than any we could breathe from spores in the air.

But the smell of mold was another matter. Most things we can smell are volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and some VOCs are known to make people sick.

“I knew that a minor theory was that sick building syndrome might be caused by the VOCs that make fungi smell moldy,” Bennett says.

And then she thought, “Maybe there is such a thing as sick building syndrome, and maybe it has nothing to do with the fungus toxins I’ve been studying all my life!”

That moment transformed her research career.

The Sniff Test

She focused on a VOC called “mushroom alcohol” that is the primary component of the typical smell of mold. It’s formed especially when molds eat linoleic acid, which occurs both in many biological cells and in building products like oil-based paint.

When fruit flies breathed in the mushroom alcohol, she found that they started moving strangely. They trembled, moved slowly, fell over, lacked coordination. They looked like insectile Parkinson’s patients.
Bennett knew that Parkinson’s could be caused by exposure to chemicals like pesticides. So could mushroom alcohol be doing the same thing? Could these fruit flies in fact have their own version of Parkinson’s?

To find out, Bennett and her collaborators gave the stricken flies L-dopa, a medication that reverses the effects of Parkinson’s in humans. And indeed, the flies moved more naturally, indicating that the mushroom alcohol was operating on a similar pathway.

It’s a long way from a fruit fly to a human, so Bennett and her team tested human cell lines as well. A human cell in a test tube can’t tremor with Parkinson’s disease, of course, but Bennett found that the mushroom alcohol was toxic to the cells, killing some of them off. She published her findings recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Thus, Bennett says, VOCs from mold may be an important contributor to Parkinson’s disease. It would explain a long-standing mystery:

Every known toxin that causes Parkinson’s is man-made and relatively recent, but Parkinson’s has existed for thousands of years. Bennett says that a variety of natural neurotoxins – mushroom alcohol as well as other VOCs – may lead to the disease.

Elliott Horner, an indoor air quality researcher at Atlanta-based company UL, says that he wasn’t surprised that a fungal VOC affects the physiological functioning of animals.

Moldy buildings, he says, have long been suspected to make people sick through VOCs as well as through mycotoxins, small particulates, and allergens. But he says that it’s a “huge step forward” to have an animal model that will allow researchers to study the impacts of these VOCs.

Source: Discover Magazine

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Thursday, February 6, 2014

More wildfires may mean poorer air quality

An increase in wildfires can affect human
health and respiratory conditions.
As the American West, parched by prolonged drought, braces for a season of potentially record-breaking wildfires, new research suggests these events not only pose an immediate threat to people's safety and their homes, but also could take a toll on human health, agriculture and ecosystems.

The study, appearing in ACS' journal Environmental Science & Technology, could help societies map out a plan to mitigate these effects in wildfire-prone regions.

Matthew D. Hurteau and colleagues point out that wildfires naturally occur in many areas around the globe.
In response, human societies have harnessed the power of fire to better control wild blazes and minimize damage. But climate change also can impact the number and severity of wildfires.

Understanding how these factors influence each other is crucial so that people can better prepare for the future and perhaps lessen the effects of the blazes.

Previous studies have estimated the effect of climate change and population growth on wildfire patterns and the risk of damage to buildings and homes in California. Hurteau's team wanted to expand on those findings and investigate six possible future climate scenarios.

Using several different models, they estimated that by 2100, emissions from wildfires in California will grow by 19 to 101 percent. They found that climate, not population growth or development, will likely be the driving force behind these increases.

However, a rise in wildfires still will mean significant societal challenges, such as higher pollution levels, which can affect human health and aggravate respiratory conditions. Poor air quality also can lower crop yield, and forest health could suffer.

Better air quality with air purifiers

Poor air quality outside also means that indoor air quality suffers, which is often affected by accumulation of contaminants due to poor ventilation, HVAC systems, chemical and/or pesticide use and more.

Electrocorp has designed smart and effective air cleaners for industrial and commercial applications that can remove airborne contaminants and provide cleaner and more breathable air.

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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Chemical giant taken to court by community

Living close to a chemical company
affected their health, residents say.
The neat, modest homes of Cannon's Campground and Bellview Acres conceal tales of sickness and death.

Carcinoma, leukemia, kidney tumors — dozens of homes have a story, and very few have happy endings.

After decades of suspecting the nearby Hoechst Celanese polyester manufacturing site and its various occupants of spewing toxic chemicals into the environment, the community filed a class action lawsuit in federal district court.

The lawsuit alleges known carcinogens used at the plant have leached into ground and surface water that flows through the communities, resulting in dozens of cancer cases.

The suit seeks an injunction of all pollution-causing activities on the site as well as an order to identify and treat existing contamination and to prevent any further migration beneath private property.

The plaintiffs also seek a health monitoring program for community members to be administered by the court and paid for by the defendants. They are seeking reimbursement for lost property values and civil penalties.

In an emailed statement, Celanese spokesman Travis Jacobsen said there is no connection between contaminated groundwater at the site and the groundwater in the communities because the areas are separated by streams acting as discharge boundaries.

"Simply put, the environmental conditions at the Spartanburg plant site have not caused adverse health effects or a loss of property values in the nearby residences," Jacobsen wrote.

S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency studied cancer data after residents suggested a pollution link, but in a 2011 report said a cancer cluster did not exist.

The study examined the entire ZIP code the plant is located in and not the specific area near the plant where chemicals could have migrated, critics say.

The primary plaintiff is Jay Easler, but the suit was filed on behalf of all residents living in a two-mile radius of the site at the intersection of Interstate 85 and the Pacolet River.

Easler owns property abutting a stream known to locals as "polluted creek."

At a community meeting in 2011, a Celanese spokesman said Hoechst Celanese was never cited for pollution and always adhered to existing environmental controls.

DHEC's website states many current regulations were not in place when the plant began operations in 1966. Soil and groundwater contaminants were discovered in 1990 and mitigation efforts began in 1996.

A series of wells were installed along the border of the property to pump groundwater to the surface for treatment. Several years later, when evidence of contamination remained, solutions were pumped into the ground in an attempt to dissolve or disperse the chemicals.

Despite mitigation efforts, DHEC documents cited in the lawsuit reveal rising toxicity in the contaminated soil and groundwater beneath the site and an expanding plume of contaminants reaching off the site. In 2011, the first-ever DHEC testing of private wells confirmed contaminants found at the site were also in the drinking water supply.

The chemicals were found only in trace amounts in the wells, but many people could have been exposed over prolonged periods of time. Many residents no longer use well water and have switched to the city water.

This article has been edited for length.

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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Large corporations finally embracing green trend

Many large corporations are
committing to being greener.
Under pressure from NGOs, a slew of global companies that are number one in their industries made unprecedented commitments to better environmental and social behavior.

There is at least the chance that their promises are not greenwash.

In November, one of the biggest global brands announced it was joining the good guys. Coca-Cola, the world’s largest purchaser of sugar, declared it would stop buying from suppliers that did not adhere to its new guidelines on protecting land rights, which commit the company to "zero tolerance for land grabbing" and respect for land rights of communities and traditional groups.

The commitment was given to Oxfam, the UK-based aid and development NGO, which has been campaigning against land grabbing by sugar companies and others. Coca-Cola promised to publish independent social, environmental, and human rights assessments of its activities, and those of its suppliers.

Earlier in the year, in a move that could have major implications for the forests of Southeast Asia, there was a similar announcement from the world’s largest producer of paper products, Jakarta-based Asia Pulp and Paper (APP).

The company has long been a target for campaigners as it stripped the rainforests of Indonesia to feed its giant pulp mills. But last February it promised an immediate end to the clearing of natural forest by the company and its subsidiaries and suppliers. The company said it would switch to sourcing from timber plantations and that "where new plantations are proposed, APP will respect the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, including recognition of customary land rights."

APP’s promise, which will be policed by the environmental group TFT, was enough to convince Greenpeace, which had accused the company of "pulping the planet," to call off its worldwide protests.

But perhaps the most far-reaching commitment came in December, when the world’s largest palm-oil trader, Singapore-based Wilmar, committed itself to ensuring that no more deforestation or peatland destruction was carried out by any company that fed its supply chain. Again, TFT will help monitor the company to make sure it delivers.

The pledge from Wilmar did not come out of the blue. It followed strenuous NGO campaigns to clean up the supply chain of an ingredient that is in one in three processed foods. And it came right after an announcement the previous month from foods giant Unilever, which is Wilmar’s biggest customer and is the world’s largest purchaser of palm oil. Unilever promised that by the end of 2014, it will have tracked its entire supply chain to ensure it meets its promise to end its role in deforestation. Arguably, Wilmar had little choice.

Nonetheless, things are getting interesting. The world’s largest companies and investors are starting to use their position as market leaders to drive up standards, rather than pushing them down. From retailers on up the chain, they are demanding that their suppliers clean up their acts. Could it become a "race to the top"?

Not everyone is convinced. Talk can be cheap, and other industry leaders have made such promises before.

So somebody has to make sure the reformed rainforest trashers and land grabbers live up to their promises. For now, that someone looks like TFT founder Scott Poynton, a brash Australian former forester who set up TFT in 1999. The Europe-based nonprofit, with offices in Switzerland and Britain, has been contracted by Wilmar, APP, foods giant Nestle, and a string of top companies to ensure that they do what they promise.

Poynton adamantly insists he won’t be anybody’s stooge. "We are painful, annoying, and strict. If things go wrong, we walk away. We have done that when companies are not serious and open with us — if we keep learning about things through the media, for instance."

What is involved, he says, is more than PR — it’s about changing the nature of the corporations.

Some CEOs clearly get it. Optimists hope that the industry leaders can be effective "first movers" and that other smaller players will follow. Pessimists fear that the others will simply see their big rivals as weakened by ethical compliance, and move in to take advantage.

If this really is a turning point — the moment a "race to the bottom" in corporate ethical standards becomes a "race to the top" — then we should soon know.

Source: Yale e360. This article has been edited for length.

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Monday, February 3, 2014

New ways to detect diseases that are linked to polluted air

More diseases from air pollution uncovered by improved data material

Breathing polluted indoor air can
make us sick, studies show.
Good health and personal registers in combination with model calculations of air pollution down to an individual address has helped Danish researchers to become among the very best in the world to detect harmful diseases deriving from polluted air

At rest, we breathe approx. 12-15 times per minute, and for each inhalation we change approx. one litre of air. Depending on the activity level, this makes up a daily quantity in the order of twenty cubic metres of air that - with its content of pollution in the form of particles and different gases - can make us ill depending on how polluted the air is.

Asthma attacks, wheezing, cardiovascular diseases and lung cancer are some of the more glaring examples of diseases we - in worst case - can get from the domestic air.

The list of injuries due to air pollution in Denmark is long. This appears from a brand new article that professor Ole Hertel from Aarhus University, has written with a number of Danish colleagues at University of Copenhagen, the Danish Cancer Society and Aarhus University.

"So the list of diseases detected in Denmark is long, but it does not mean that we have the world's most polluted air. This is to be found in Asia, Africa and South America. Here, you typically find a yearly mean value of the particle pollution (PM10) of 50-200 micrograms per cubic metres of air, while the content in Copenhagen and other Western European Megacities typically is at a lower level - about 20-50 micrograms per cubic metre. But even in a "moderately polluted" air as we call it in Danish towns and cities, we find many serious injuries which come from the air that we breathe every day," explains Ole Hertel.

Studies on polluted air and health effects

In the article "Utilizing Monitoring Data and Spatial Analysis Tools for Exposure Assessment of Atmospheric Pollutants in Denmark", Ole Hertel and his colleagues review the Danish experiences in combining measurements and models.

By combining measurements on relatively few but well-chosen places with advanced models for spreading of air pollution, the researchers can calculate the air pollution down to the individual addresses.

Hertel and Co. review a number of Danish studies of the coherence between air pollution and injuries to health.

A total of nine short-term studies have been published in Denmark, where researchers have demonstrated respiratory and cardiovascular diseases after episodes with increased air pollution, etc.

Similarly, eleven studies demonstrate long-term injuries due to air pollution, e.g. lung cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and mortality.

Improved information, surprising results

The scientists' ability to detect a wide range if different types of damages of the Danes' health is due to the fact that Danish researchers represent some of the very best to demonstrate illnesses caused by air pollution on human health.

This is obvious when we look at the model for spreading of air pollution, OSPM, which was developed by Danes and is now used in approx. twenty countries. This is also why Ole Hertel was invited to give an overview of the diseases detected to be a consequence of the air pollution in Denmark, first on a major international conference and afterwards in book form.

Ole Hertel points out one of the Danish results as particularly notable:

"It came as a surprise to me that the studies showed a connection between air pollution and diabetes. It is rather new information that air pollution can cause diabetes, and we are working on finding a biological explanation for this correlation. This is an example of the fact that our very detailed way of working in Denmark leads to precise results."

Source: AAAS

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