Thursday, March 27, 2014

Schools have to learn to control air quality problems

Central Alberta school reopens after air quality concerns over mould

Mold, chemicals and particles may affect
the health of students, teachers and staff.
An elementary school in west-central Alberta has reopened after it was shut down due to air quality concerns.

Lochearn School in Rocky Mountain House was shut down after high levels of airborne mould were initially detected in at least three of the classrooms from tests by Alberta Infrastructure taken on Jan. 31.

Results from a second round of tests on March 7 were released Thursday afternoon and confirmed the recent cleaning and repairs were effective and all air standards meet Health Canada guidelines.

Health Canada guidelines state that acceptable readings of airborne mould can be up to a maximum total of 150 colony forming units per cubic metre of air.

From the Jan. 31 test, some classrooms were showing results of 643 and 468 units, but the test taken last week found no classrooms over 75.

Danielle Spencer, the school's principal, said in a press release that health and safety of students and staff are her Number 1 priority.

The division expected good results after remediation work was conducted at the school on Feb. 20 and 21, said Gordon Majeran, the associate superintendent of corporate services with the Wild Rose School Division.

The recommendations in the first report from Alberta Infrastructure involved the replacing of all water stained ceiling tiles, a disinfection and cleaning of all identified areas with mould and targeted mould remediation -- meaning encapsulation -- on some of the bulkheads overhead at the school entrance, Majeran said.

"We will continue with testing to monitor the air quality and we will also be developing a roof repair plan,'' Majeran said.

Structural problems were pointed out in the school early in the new year when the onset of warmer weather combined with the heavy snow load on the roof began to cause leaks, especially in the north wing.

Concerned about mould, the division followed up with an air quality test, Majeran said.

The first results came back on Feb. 12 but staff were only told the results on Wednesday evening, which sparked the decision to close Lochearn on Thursday.

"They were concerned ... and not comfortable now that they knew the levels ... They didn't want the students there so as a precautionary measure we decided it may be best to close the school until the new results came in,'' Majeran said.

There was "no particular reason'' staff weren't told about the exact levels of mould found in the school, he added.

"They knew there was work being done but they didn't have the results... We didn't share them with them. ... At the time we decided it was better to concentrate on cleaning it up.''

Lochearn School serves students from kindergarten to Grade 5. The building is well over 30 years old, Majeran said, and the roof has been the source of numerous problems over the years.

Source: OHS Canada

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Vermont pondering bill to regulate toxic chemicals

The bill would allow regulated use of
some chemicals that are harmful to health.
Federal regulations for reporting toxic chemicals in consumer products have not changed in decades, but Vermont is poised to join other states to label – and possibly ban – products containing chemicals considered harmful to public health.

Vermont has passed legislation to regulate the use of certain chemicals one at a time, including flame retardants, Bisphenol A (BPA), mercury and lead. But a new proposal would allow the Vermont Department of Health to expand this list every other year without legislative approval.

The bill, S.239, asks the department to create a list of potentially harmful chemicals and require manufacturers to label or remove toxic chemicals from their products – a proposal that has alarmed businesses across the country.

“Ultimately, we think industry should welcome some degree of regulation and transparency to provide the public better products and safer products,” Health Commissioner Harry Chen said in testimony last week before the Senate Economic Development Committee.

But some manufacturers say the list of toxic chemicals could be bad for business in Vermont. Some companies spend millions each year to report chemicals in their products in states with similar existing regulations, industry representatives told lawmakers drafting the bill.

The bill cleared the Senate Health and Welfare Committee (where it was introduced by Sen. Ginny Lyons, D-Chittenden) and was then taken up by Senate Economic Development to address business concerns.

“I’m trying to bring the tension level down and let everybody know we’re not on a witch hunt,” committee Chair Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland, said last week. “We’re just trying to protect people from bad chemicals.”

The committee later revised the bill to exempt electronic products and any chemicals found in ammunition for air rifles, such as lead. The bill was voted out of committee Friday and the full Senate will vote on the bill as soon as Wednesday.

Environmental groups support the bill. It would protect consumers against the harmful effects of toxic chemicals, according to Lauren Hierl, political director for the Vermont Conservation Voters.

Asthma, obesity, infertility and cancers are some of the health effects of chemicals found in products sold in Vermont, she said. “They are just exacerbating these bad health trends,” she said. Hierl said she does not expect Vermont to ban chemicals that do not have a replacement.

Under Vermont’s proposed system, the health department and an advisory committee would compile a list of chemicals considered harmful to health, require manufacturers to disclose to the state these chemicals found in their products and mandate that the chemicals be either labeled or not sold in the state.

Source: VT Digger. The article has been edited for length.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Xylene detected by employees

Xylene and other airborne chemicals
can be harmful to human health.
Located in the southwest corner of Midland County sits the City of Odessa’s Bob Derrington Water Reclamation Plant; almost invisible to anyone driving south on East Loop 338.

It was here that alert employees discovered the presence of a chemical waste that was dumped into the city’s sewers from a manhole cover, according to an Ector County lawsuit.
Ben Jordan, assistant director of utilities for Odessa, said the discovery occurred Jan. 8 and almost by accident.

With employees doing maintenance at the “top of the plant,” or the area where raw sewage initially comes in, Jordan said the employees noticed a difference in the way the air smelled.

Explaining that after working near sewage for many years, Jordan said the employees can usually detect something different in the water by the way it smells.

“It was sweet, almost like Pine-Sol,” Jordan said. “We just knew it was a different smell.”

Taking a sample, they sent a sample off to be tested and did a second sample on Jan. 30. However, because the sample was not the same quality as the Jan. 8 samples, Jordan said they did not send it in for testing.

“I make sure to do it the same way; that way our tests have integrity,” he said, adding a third sample was sent on Feb. 10.

When the results came back, it showed that there were high levels of xylene in the water.

Xylene, a liquid hydrocarbon obtained by distilling wood, coal tar, or petroleum, and used in fuels and solvents, and in chemical synthesis, is also highly flammable and causes irritation of the skin and birth defects if ingested.

Lab reports done by Ana-Lab Corporation indicate the test in January reported that the water had 17.04 micrograms per liter of xylene in the water.

In a separate test conducted in February, water from the plant again showed elevated levels of xylene, this time at 14.14 micrograms per liter.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s website states that federal law allows no more than 10 microgram per liter of xylene in the city’s sewer system.

But the xylene also did more than that. Jordan said it killed all the microorganisms that are used to treat the sewer water.

As the raw sewage comes in, various types of microorganisms start eating at the sewage, and each other, eventually dropping all the fecal matter out of the water as it goes through the process, Jordan said.

Next, chlorine is poured into the water and then taken out with sulfur dioxide because any runoff from the plant goes into the Monahans Draw, which is about a mile south of the plant, Jordan said.

“The state says you can’t have water with chlorine go back out,” Jordan said.

But once the xylene hit the plant, Jordan said it started to kill off the microorganisms, which started to slow down how fast the plant could process water.

Sitting in the tanks halfway through the process is a large amount of dried sludge, which sits on top of the pools, and forces the running water to go under it. But at the end of the process, Jordan pours out some water which is clear.

Because of state standards, Jordan said the water is tested every day, with the employees walking around the plant during shifts to make sure everything is flowing smoothly.

The xylene that came into the plant was the result of 90 barrels of the waste poured into the sewer system by employees with Roywell Services Inc., a lawsuit filed by Ector County alleges.

When Odessa and Ector County law enforcement officials did their investigation, an unnamed employee with the company said he saw two employees use a pump to drain the contents of a lined pit —identified as a mixture of acid, chemicals and water — from the property and into a manhole, the lawsuit stated.

The mixture that was reportedly dumped into a manhole cover at the property located at 2425 West Interstate 20 was “hot,” and was dissolving caliche rock and dirt.

Additional interviews with employees stated that they dumped about 90 barrels of the waste into the sewer system and lifted the manhole cover with company-owned equipment at the direction of one of their managers, the lawsuit stated.

Source: OA Online. The article has been edited for length.

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Large particle exposure a heart risk: Study

Hearts may be at risk from large airborne particles, not just fine ones

Study links large particles to increased
blood pressure.
Breathing large particles, not just small, seems to affect hearts. People in a rural community experienced changes in their blood pressure and heart rates when they inhaled unfiltered local air that contained large particles, which come mostly from windblown dust and soil.

Large pollution particles can be inhaled from farm, road and construction dust.

Inhaling large dust particles from farms, roads and construction sites may have some of the same effects on people’s hearts as small particulates, according to a new study.

The study, led by the University of Michigan, is the first to link coarse particulates to increased blood pressure, adding to previous evidence that they may increase risks of heart attacks.

Many studies already have linked fine particulate matter – which comes largely from vehicles and industries that burn fossil fuels – to heart risks. Less is known about the impacts of coarse particulates, which often come from stirred-up dust or soil.

The experiments were conducted in airtight chambers, where 32 adults from Dexter, Mich., a rural town about 60 miles west of Detroit, breathed in local air containing coarse particulates.

On another day two weeks later, they breathed local air that had been filtered. The unfiltered air had levels of coarse particles that were seven times higher than the levels in the filtered air.

When the volunteers inhaled the unfiltered air, their average blood pressure (both systolic and diastolic) linearly increased every 10 minutes, and their heart rates were elevated compared with the times they inhaled the filtered air.

The changes were “small in magnitude and thus unlikely to pose direct risks to healthy people,” the researchers wrote in the study published online in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

However, they could trigger heart attacks or other cardiovascular events in people with pre-existing heart conditions, they wrote.

“Since millions of susceptible people are likely impacted by coarse PM, even a very small absolute increase in [cardiovascular] risk can translate into substantial global public health concerns,” the authors wrote.

The researchers didn’t evaluate long-term heart function.

Some previous studies have linked coarse particulates to elevated heart rates and increased heart rate variability. However, other health studies have had mixed findings.

The study was limited in its rural setting, which means the pollutants were largely from farming, so coarse particles in cities may have different impacts.

The United States has two health standards for particulates – those that are 10 micrometers in diameter or smaller (PM10) and those that are 2.5 micrometers or smaller (PM2.5). For PM10, cities and counties are not supposed to exceed an annual mean of 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air or a daily limit of 150.

Coarse particle levels have declined 27 percent nationwide since 2002, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Source: EHN

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Friday, March 21, 2014

Tension over outdated regulations in cosmetics industry

Toxic chemicals in cosmetics products
have been linked to health problems.
Concerned about old regulations that have left it with little power to ensure the safety of thousands of consumer products, the Food and Drug Administration launched talks with the cosmetics industry more than a year ago.

The goal was to reach a deal on a regulatory regime that has not changed since 1938.

The regulator and the regulated appeared to reach a rare kumbaya moment last summer — an agreement on the outline of legislation to beef up the agency’s authority while giving the industry greater certainty.

But the talks collapsed, and those once-promising private discussions have given way to public pronouncements of disillusionment, frustration and distrust.

In a letter, a top FDA official charged that the cosmetics industry’s latest proposals would undercut the government’s already weak authority, prevent states from undertaking enforcement actions and “put Americans at greater risk from cosmetics-related illness and injury than they are today.”

In his letter, FDA Deputy Commissioner Michael Taylor told two trade groups representing the $60 billion-a-year industry that there is no longer enough common ground to “justify devoting further taxpayer resources to this negotiation.”

The Personal Care Products Council, which represents an estimated 600 companies, quickly rejected the notion that it wants to weaken federal oversight of cosmetics, and it said suggestions that cosmetics products are dangerous are reckless, counterproductive and not supported by data.

“We are extremely disappointed that FDA has indicated they will not participate in further discussions,” Lezlee Westine, the group’s president, said in a statement. “We all share in the common goal of protecting consumers. In fact, product safety is the cornerstone of all that this industry represents. . . . We will work with Congress to pursue meaningful solutions.”

Tests revealed toxic ingredients in popular products

The stalemate has proved particularly galling to consumer advocacy groups, who have long pushed for more government oversight over the chemicals used to produce millions of products used by Americans every day, from lipstick and hair spray to toothpaste, deodorant and baby lotion.

Janet Nudelman, director of the California-based Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, said the industry’s proposals — which could put the onus on the FDA to prove that questionable chemicals are unsafe and could preempt some state regulations — are “a slap in the face” to Americans who expect transparency about the products they use.

“Industry simply should not be calling the shots anymore,” she said. “They’ve been calling the shots for over 75 years in what little federal regulation there is.”

She cited tests that have turned up lead in lipstick, formaldehyde in hair care products and mercury in face cream.

The cosmetics industry has called some of those findings misleading and unnecessarily alarming, noting that the FDA found no level of lead in lipstick that would pose health concerns.

Compared to its authority to oversee pharmaceuticals and foods, the FDA remains virtually toothless when it comes to regulating cosmetics. It has no power to review products before they go on the market.

Companies do not have to list all of the ingredients in their products, and they do not have to register their manufacturing facilities with the government. They also are not required to report “adverse events,” making it difficult for regulators to spot potential problems.

Other countries have put in place far more stringent regulatory systems. The European Union, for example, has banned the use of about 1,300 chemicals in consumer cosmetics products. By comparison, the FDA has banned fewer than a dozen, most of which were listed in the 1970s and 1980s, the agency said.

However, some companies have made changes in the wake of consumer demands. Johnson & Johnson recently reformulated its iconic baby shampoo and other products after pledging to remove formaldehyde and another chemical that regulators have deemed potentially harmful, even as it has maintained that the products were safe.

Source: Washington Post
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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Bracelets to measure our chemical exposure

A new study looks at chemicals that
are absorbed by a wristband.
Wristbands are the accessory of choice for people promoting a cause. And the next wave of wrist wear might act as a fashionable archive of your chemical exposure.

Researchers at Oregon State University outfitted volunteers with slightly modified silicone bracelets and then tested them for 1,200 substances.

They detected several dozen compounds – everything from caffeine and cigarette smoke to flame retardants and pesticides.

“We were surprised at the breadth of chemicals,” said Kim Anderson, a professor and chemist who was senior author of the study published in Environmental Science & Technology.

Beginning with Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong, the cheap, colorful, rubbery wristbands have been a popular fad over the past decade in promoting charities and other affiliations.

Anderson initially tried to use silicone pendants attached to necklaces to test for contaminants. But then, at a football game she saw “all kinds of people, even burly men” sporting wristbands. That’s when the idea hit her.

Silicone is porous and acts similar to human cells, so once chemicals are absorbed by the wristband, “they don’t want to go back to the water or the air,” Anderson said.

“This study offers some real possibilities to address the weak link in epidemiological studies – which is the exposure science,” said Ted Schettler, science director at the Science and Environmental Health Network, a nonprofit environmental health advocacy organization.

The bracelets “can identify both chemicals and mixtures, and this could easily be applied to larger groups to see which compounds are showing up most commonly,” he said.

Thirty volunteers wore the orange and white Oregon State wristbands for 30 days. Forty-nine compounds were found in them, including flame retardants, indoor pesticides such as pet flea medications, caffeine, nicotine and various chemicals used in cosmetics and fragrances.

In addition, eight volunteers who worked as roofers wore the wristbands for eight hours. The researchers were looking for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are in roofing tar. All of the roofers’ wristbands had the compounds, including 12 on a federal priority list of harmful pollutants.

As expected, roofers who wore less protection and worked in more enclosed spaces had higher levels of the chemicals on their wristbands, Anderson said.

Before outfitting the volunteers, the researchers had to remove chemicals that are introduced into silicone during manufacture.

Anderson said the bracelets are a big step up from stationary air monitors, which only capture a snapshot in time and may not be near people. Measuring individuals’ exposures usually means monitors worn in backpacks, which are difficult to use and expensive.

The bracelets are first screened to see which chemicals are there, and then the researchers can measure concentrations of specific ones. The wristbands won’t detect some particulate matter, and it’s unclear if they will pick up some of the more volatile pesticides.

Emily Marquez, a staff scientist with the advocacy group Pesticide Action Network, said the potential to use a wristband to quantify exposure to tens of thousands of compounds is exciting.

Schettler said the wristbands could help agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, narrow their focus when they test people for contaminants.

“We could start asking questions like ‘why did person A have that chemical in their wristband, but person B didn’t’?” he said.

Anderson and colleagues have several other wristband projects, including agricultural fields in Africa and Peru, and hydraulic fracturing sites in the United States.

But don’t plan on running out and buying a personal chemical-monitoring bracelet just yet. As of now, they still have to undergo a laboratory analysis to see which chemicals show up.

Source: Environmental Health News

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A safer alternative to flame retardants: Milk proteins

Upholstered furniture and plastics often
contain flame retardant chemicals. 
Casein, a protein left over from cheese production, could be an ecofriendly and nontoxic alternative to current phosphate-based retardants

Many compounds currently used as flame retardants in upholstered furniture and plastics have come under scrutiny for their potentially harmful effects on the environment and human health.

Since manufacturers often rely on flame retardants to meet fire-safety standards for certain products, many have looked for nontoxic compounds as alternatives.

Now, researchers in Italy have demonstrated that caseins — proteins found in milk that are a by-product of cheese production — may fit the bill.

Some types of flame retardants, such as organophosphate esters, get their fire-blocking properties from their high phosphorus content. When they burn, a polymer layer of phosphoric acid forms and creates a char that blocks heat transfer to unburned areas of the material, slowing the spread of the fire.

Jenny Alongi of the Polytechnic University of Turin and her colleagues decided to investigate a family of proteins called caseins as alternative flame retardants because they contain a large number of phosphate groups.

Caseins are found in the whey that’s a by-product of cheese production, so in countries that produce a lot of cheese, such as Italy and France, the proteins are cheap and abundant, Alongi says.

Burn test results encouraging

The team coated three materials—cotton, polyester, and a blend of 65% polyester and 35% cotton—with the proteins by soaking the fabrics in distilled water mixed with casein powder. The researchers then submitted the samples to a battery of flammability tests.

The results were encouraging: In cotton- and polyester-only fabrics treated with caseins, flames extinguished themselves, leaving 86% of the cotton and 77% of the polyester unburned. The cotton-polyester blend burned completely but took 60% more time to do so than the untreated material.

The flame-retardant properties of caseins also compared well to those of ammonium polyphosphate (APP), a flame retardant used for fire proofing polyolefins and polyurethanes.

The caseins effectively form a char layer on the fabric samples. But unlike APP, they don’t produce toxic fumes during combustion.

Before caseins can be used as flame retardants, researchers need to work out many issues, such as preventing the proteins from washing off materials.

The team is now testing light-curable resins and molecules such as urea that could bond the casein molecules to the surface of the fabric, Alongi says. Another problem is that materials treated with caseins smell rancid.

Alongi and her colleagues are looking for ways to remove the molecules associated with casein that produce the odor.

The caseins performed well compared to current flame retardants, says Jacob de Boer, an analytical chemist at VU University Amsterdam, who has investigated the impact of organophosphorus flame retardants on the environment. He hopes the team pursues the research further.

Source: Chemical & Engineering News

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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Plastics company cited for chemical, other hazards

Employers need to provide safe and
healthful workplaces: OSHA.
CLEVELAND – New Wave Plastics has been cited for 13 safety violations after the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration found a lack of training and personal protective equipment at the Cleveland facility, a recycler and plastic products supplier.

After receiving a complaint in November 2013, OSHA initiated an inspection of the facility. Proposed penalties total $51,800.

"Employers have a responsibility to train workers about hazards found in their facilities and to take precautions to prevent injuries and illnesses," said Howard Eberts, OSHA's area director in Cleveland. "Employers must ensure workers are protected from hazards and that they receive the required safety training."

Twelve serious violations involve failing to train workers about wearing personal protective equipment; hazards associated with the use of chemicals in the work environment; forklift safety and fire extinguishers; and failure to provide fire-retardant clothing.

New Wave Plastics was also cited for failing to develop a hearing conservation program, create a hazard workplace assessment and develop a hazard communication program. The presence of combustible dust was also found.

An OSHA violation is serious if death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard an employer knew or should have known exists.

One other-than-serious violation was cited for not providing required information to workers on OSHA's respiratory standards. An other-than-serious violation is one that has a direct relationship to job safety and health, but probably would not cause death or serious physical harm.

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

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

Source: OSHA

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Monday, March 17, 2014

Silica dust regulations spark outrage

Exposure rules provoke row with senators

Construction workers are often exposed to
silica dust, which is linked to lung disease.
Crystalline silica dust released during construction work can cause serious lung damage.

Senate accusations of prejudice have forced a US government agency to defend its actions over a proposed tightening of regulations concerning industrial workers’ exposure to deadly silica dust.

The row blew up late last year when the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) began a public consultation on setting new limits for working with the dust, which is a major hazard for construction workers, causing serious lung disease.

The agency ruffled feathers in the Senate when it asked that those submitting evidence should declare their funding sources.

Last November, a group of 16 senators wrote an open letter to OSHA criticizing the move for its implication that the agency might prejudge submissions. The consultation period closed on 11 February, and OSHA is now vigorously defending its request.

“What I’m doing here is essentially saying the information that we will base our standard on has to be of the highest integrity, and we have to do it in a transparent manner, and conflict-of interest disclosure is an important component of both of those,” David Michaels, the head of OSHA, told Nature.

“It would be surprising right now if a scientific journal didn’t ask for that information.”

Produced by tasks such as grinding concrete and sandblasting, used in the construction and other industries, crystalline silica dust can cause silicosis — an incurable disease involving inflammation of the lungs — and lung cancer.

The dust is thought to kill or disable thousands of people in the United States every year, but guidelines on working with it have not been updated for more than 40 years.

“Our current standard is antiquated,” says Michaels. “There are literally millions of workers in the United States who are exposed to dangerous levels of silica.”

The present rules generally advise limiting exposure to roughly 100 micrograms of crystalline silica per cubic metre of air, averaged over 8 hours. OSHA has proposed halving this limit.

Workers would also have to be better protected, for example by dust being ‘wetted down’ and with the use of extraction fans.

OSHA estimates that the new regulations will cost about US$640 million a year, with employers picking up most of the tab, but the agency believes that the rules will save up to 700 lives a year. US standards are also influential in other countries, some note, potentially saving many more workers’ lives.

The proposals were published in the Federal Register last September, at the start of the consultation period.

The Associated General Contractors of America, an industry group based in Arlington, Virginia, called the proposals “significantly flawed” and “rife with errors and inaccurate data”.

And shortly after they were published, the group of senators, led by Lamar Alexander (Republican, Tennessee), a senior member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, wrote to OSHA saying that they were “very concerned about OSHA’s attempt to have commenters disclose their financial backers”.

They added that the request “raises questions” about whether OSHA would prejudge submissions on the basis of who was sending them.

There is also support for the new silica standard. Tee Guidotti, a physician in Washington DC and a member of the American Thoracic Society’s Environmental Health Policy Committee, says that the scientific case for the proposed limit is “close to being bulletproof”.

He adds that, if it is successful, it could provide a template for how OSHA deals with similar hazards, such as dust and radon.

The viewpoints contained in the 1,600 or so comments received through the consultation will be discussed in public hearings starting on 18 March. It will probably be several years before a final rule is enacted.

Source: Nature

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Friday, March 14, 2014

Farm workers' pesticide exposure targeted by new safety measures

EPA proposes new safety measures

Living or working near fields may
lead to chemical exposure.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced proposed revisions to the Worker Protection Standard in order to protect the nation’s two million farm workers and their families from pesticide exposure.

“Today marks an important milestone for the farm workers who plant, tend, and harvest the food that we put on our tables each day,” said Gina McCarthy, EPA Administrator.

“EPA’s revised Worker Protection Standard will afford farm workers similar health protections to those already enjoyed by workers in other jobs. Protecting our nation’s farm workers from pesticide exposure is at the core of EPA’s work to ensure environmental justice.”

EPA is proposing significant improvements to worker training regarding the safe usage of pesticides, including how to prevent and effectively treat pesticide exposure.

Increased training and signage will inform farm workers about the protections they are afforded under the law and will help them protect themselves and their families from pesticide exposure.

Workers and others near treated fields will now be protected from pesticide overspray and fumes.

In addition, EPA has proposed that children under 16 be legally barred from handling all pesticides, with an exemption for family farms.

These revisions protect workers while ensuring agricultural productivity and preserving the traditions of family farms.

This proposal represents more than a decade of extensive stakeholder input by federal and state partners and from across the agricultural community including farm workers, farmers, and industry on the current EPA Worker Protection Standard (WPS) for Agricultural Pesticides first established in 1992.

Source: EPA 

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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Work performance suffers from poor IAQ: Study

New research shows air pollution might make you bad at your job

Fine particles may infiltrate deep into
the lungs and cause health problems.
In 2011, researchers at UC San Diego and Columbia University were the first to demonstrate a link between air pollution and reduced productivity among outdoor agricultural workers.

Now those researchers are back with a new study, entitled “Particulate Pollution and the Productivity of Pear Packers.”

The study shows, for the first time, a significant link between air pollution and the productivity of indoor workers.

The pollutant in question is fine particulate matter, or PM2.5. It’s notable for its tiny size (less than 1/30th the width of a human hair), which allows it to infiltrate deep into your lungs and potentially even your bloodstream, where it can cause all sorts of health problems.

The authors note that PM2.5 can easily enter buildings: “Unlike other pollutants, which either remain outside or rapidly break down once indoors, going inside may do little to reduce one’s exposure to PM2.5.”

To figure out how this affected indoor workers, the authors drew on data from an indoor pear-packing factory in northern California.

“We focused on pear packing for this study since it was located near an air pollution monitor and paid workers piece rate, which allowed us to measure individual worker productivity on a daily level,” author Joshua Graff Zivin told me.

What they found was that every 10-microgram per cubic meter increase in PM2.5 levels decreased worker productivity by 0.6%, as measured by the number pear boxes packed by each worker.

Since workers were paid piecemeal, this translated to a decrease of roughly 41 cents per hour, per 10 micrograms of PM2.5 relationship between worker productivity and air pollution.

Moreover, the effect increased at higher PM2.5 levels: levels between 15 and 20 micrograms reduced earnings by $0.53 per hour, levels between 20 and 25 micrograms decrease earnings by $1.03 per hour, and when levels exceed 25 micrograms/cubic meter earnings shrink by $1.88 per hour.

One key point is that these levels are all well below current U.S. air quality standards for PM2.5, which stand at 35 micrograms/m3. The U.S. didn’t even start regulating this pollutant until 1997.

Across the U.S., PM2.5 levels routinely cross this 35 microgram threshold every day., an EPA website that tracks air quality in U.S. cities, is currently showing PM2.5 levels of 69 micrograms in Atlanta, 72 in Cleveland, and a whopping 140 in Albuquerque, NM.

If those figures seem high be thankful you don’t live in Beijing, where PM2.5 levels topped 250 micrograms today.

One major implication of the study is that reductions of PM2.5 can have significant economic benefits. The authors estimate that across the entire U.S. manufacturing sector, reductions in PM2.5 since 1997 has led to an aggregate labor savings of $19.5 billion – a previously-unknown benefit of fine particulate regulation.

The larger question, of course, is whether these findings extend even to workers in retail and other regular office settings.

“We are very curious about this,” Graff Zivin told me. “Whether more cognitive indoor activities are subject to similar effects is an important area for future research, but there is certainly a plausible channel through which these could occur.”

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Store clerks exposed to BPA through receipts

Study shows chemical is absorbed through skin

BPA has been linked to a number of
potential health problems.
Store and ATM receipts may be adding to the exposure of people to the chemical bisphenol A (BPA), a new study from Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center has found.

The study, published Tuesday in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, suggests the chemical, used as a coating on thermal receipt paper, can be absorbed through the skin.

The finding is important because scientists previously believed BPA’s primary path into the human body was by eating or drinking food packaged in cans lined with or plastic bottles manufactured with BPA.

The federal Food and Drug Administration says hundreds of studies have concluded that BPA is safe at the low levels that occur in some foods, although the agency is continuing its review of and research into the chemical.

BPA is used in the production of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. In humans, BPA can interfere with the production, secretion, function and elimination of hormones.

It’s linked to a number of potential health problems in animals and humans, including obesity, impaired neurological development in children and lowered reproductive function. A 2009 University of Cincinnati study concluded that BPA could be harmful to the heart, especially for women.

Exposures faced by store clerks, who spend their days repeatedly touching BPA-laden receipts, are likely to be higher than people who only occasionally handle receipts. The study, which was designed to simulate what clerks do, also shows that gloves would shield clerks from any additional exposure.

Researchers at Cincinnati Children’s recruited 24 volunteers in 2011 to study the effects of the receipts. “We tried to simulate what a clerk does” all day long in dealing with customers and handling receipts, said Dr. Shelley Ehrlich, a obstetrician/gynecologist trained as an environmental and perinatal epidemiologist and author of the study.

Ehrlich, who works in Cincinnati Children’s division of biostatistics and epidemiology and also is an assistant professor at UC’s department of environmental health, said the researchers measured the levels of BPA in the volunteers’ urine.

Roughly four in five of the participants had BPA in the blood before the trial; once they had handled receipts, all of the volunteers showed levels of BPA. In addition, the volunteers’ levels of BPA continued to rise for eight hours once they had stopped handling the receipts.

The study’s goal was to point out how receipts can add to the total BPA exposure of the general population from a source “that may have been overlooked,” as well as revealing that clerks face higher levels of BPA because of their jobs, Ehrlich said.

Ehrlich noted that the study, funded by a grant from the Harvard School of Public Health/National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety’s Education and Research Center, should be followed by a larger scale study to confirm the findings and evaluate the clinical implications of chronic exposure to BPA.

A representative for the American Chemistry Council criticized the study for being “far too limited to determine if the handling of cash register receipt paper results in significant BPA exposure.”

But the spokesman for the industry trade group – Steven Hentges, who is a member of the council’s polycarbonate/BPA global group – said the study “does suggest that consumer exposures to BPA, including occasional contact with thermal paper receipts, are well below safe intake levels established by government regulators around the world.

“The BPA exposure levels measured in participants of this study appear to be even lower than the levels found to cause no adverse effects in recent comprehensive research conducted in FDA’s laboratory,” Hentges said in an e-mail statement.


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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Asbestors inspectors overloaded in Iowa

One inspector oversees 4,500 projects annually

Asbestos remediation needs to be
done properly to minimize health risks.
Most people were unaware of the dangers of asbestos decades ago, and many construction workers were working with materials without breathing apparatuses — something that today be considered a violation of federal regulations.

In fact, many construction workers may look the other way regarding possible asbestos violations, perhaps not comprehending the long-term ramifications of their inaction.

In Iowa, one inspector enforces U.S. Environmental Protection Agency asbestos removal regulations and oversees as many as 4,500 asbestos removal projects each year.

His job with the state’s natural resources department is primarily centered on protecting public health under the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants, also known as NESHAP.

Another asbestos inspector is part of the Iowa Division of Labor. That inspector focuses on worker protections under federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations.

While the agencies frequently communicate and sometimes share information, the regulations they enforce are separate and often require separate reviews, officials from both agencies said.

City and county government officials are also responsible for assisting in asbestos oversight. State and federal regulations, for example, sometimes require an asbestos survey to be completed and those regulations may require removal of material that can become airborne prior to the issuance of a demolition permit.

A contractor’s complaint has prompted closer scrutiny of possible asbestos exposure involving workers at a downtown Des Moines renovation project, but an inspector doesn’t even visit hundreds of sites across Iowa each year where workers could face risks from the cancer-causing material.

The routine lack of asbestos-handling inspections at construction sites in Iowa and across the nation represents a widespread failure to protect the public, environmental safety advocates say.

In Iowa, one inspector enforces U.S. Environmental Protection Agency asbestos removal regulations and oversees as many as 4,500 asbestos removal projects each year. Another inspector must try to enforce federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration asbestos regulations.

Some say the number of OSHA asbestos inspectors in Iowa should increase to five or 10. Minnesota’s OSHA agency, for example, has 15 inspectors who are trained to sample and assist with asbestos investigations.

This article has been edited for length. Source: Des Moines Register

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Friday, March 7, 2014

Dust and explosion hazards cost company

East Providence, RI, company cited for combustible wood dust and other hazards

Wood dust is a common risk in
wood-working industries.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – On Aug. 20, 2013, a combustible wood dust explosion and fire occurred at Inferno Wood Pellet Inc. in East Providence, injuring a worker and partially demolishing the building.

The ignition of wood dust in the plant's production room migrated to a retention bin, resulting in an explosion that spread through the building.

An investigation by the Providence Area Office of the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration found that employees at the plant were exposed to wood dust explosions, deflagrations, or rapid combustion, and other fire hazards due to inadequate or absent preventive and protective measures in the wood pellet processing system and its equipment.

Specifically, OSHA found that the retention bin lacked spark detection, explosion suppression, fire/explosion isolation and explosion venting devices; conveyor systems carrying combustible wood products lacked spark detection, fire suppression and/or fire isolation devices; dust collection systems and dust segregation barriers were not maintained to minimize fire sources; and an opening in the fire wall between the plant's production room and chip room allowed a fireball to enter the chip room and spread the fire.

OSHA identified additional fire hazards at the 275 Ferris Ave. plant, such as the accumulation of combustible wood dust on various locations and surfaces within the plant, an incomplete and inadequate fire prevention plan and lack of dust-tight electrical equipment where combustible wood dust accumulated.

Other hazards included an incomplete respiratory protection program; lack of noise monitoring; inadequate chemical hazard communication and training; excess amounts of liquefied petroleum gas stored in the building; an untrained forklift operator; and lack of procedures and training to ensure that all equipment was properly deenergized to prevent unintended activation.

Because of these and other hazards, OSHA has cited Inferno for 11 serious violations of workplace safety standards and has proposed $43,400 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.

Detailed information on wood dust hazards and safeguards is available 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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Thursday, March 6, 2014

Scientist speaks out against herbicide manufacturer

Biologist Tyrone Hayes said he was prevented from
sharing his research results on a certain pesticide.
Tyrone Hayes found some evidence that a widely used herbicide may have harmful effects on the endocrine system.

But when he tried to publish the results, the chemical’s manufacturer launched a campaign to discredit his work.

Tyrone Hayes was first hired in 1997 by a company, which later became agribusiness giant Syngenta, to study their product, atrazine, a pesticide that is applied to more than half the corn crops in the United States, and widely used on golf courses and Christmas tree farms.

When Hayes found results Syngenta did not expect — that atrazine causes sexual abnormalities in frogs, and could cause the same problems for humans — it refused to allow him to publish his findings.

A new article in The New Yorker magazine uses court documents from a class action lawsuit against Syngenta to show how it sought to smear Hayes’ reputation and prevent the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from banning the profitable chemical, which is already banned by the European Union.

Watch the interview here.

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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ban 'dry clean only' labels: Environmental groups

Dry cleaning chemicals have been linked
to health problems and pollution.
Environmental groups are pushing the Federal Trade Commission to do away with dry clean only labels.

Dry cleaners, the groups say, often use cleaning chemicals that are harmful to the environment and can pose health risks to workers and consumers.

They say labeling rules should be changed so that consumers are told their garments can also be cleaned by more green-friendly “wet cleaning.”

Professional wet cleaners, the green groups say, can safely wash most garments that would ordinarily be sent to a dry cleaners — such as cottons, wools, silks, leathers and suedes — without emitting the same levels of air pollution or contaminating the water.

The FTC is considering changes to the Care Labeling Rule that would allow clothing manufacturers to recommend professional wet cleaning as an alternative to dry cleaning. Environmental groups want to require labels to say clothing can be wet cleaned.

The FTC, which first proposed the rule in July 2011, will hold a public roundtable on March 28 to discuss the potential new standards with stakeholders.

But the FTC wants to make sure that consumers have access to professional wet cleaning shops before it recommends such a rule. The service is relatively new and still growing in certain parts of the country.

Professional wet cleaners and even many dry cleaners are on board with the rule, because they say it will give them more options to wash clothes.

More and more dry cleaners offer both traditional dry cleaning and professional wet cleaning services, but they say consumers tend to prefer dry cleaning, because that is the method that is recommended on the labels of their clothes.

Clothing manufacturers also favor the rule, because it would facilitate international trade.

The public roundtable will discuss the cost of requiring wet cleaning instruction labels, what content should be provided on those labels, the availability of wet cleaning services and consumer awareness of wet cleaning.

Source: The Hill

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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Spring air cleaning in schools

The transition from winter to spring
can cause poor air quality in schools.
The winter months bring changes in weather conditions and building-occupant behaviors, and therefore changes to how school facilities are operated and maintained.

In addition, spring weather may bring heavy rain and possible flooding to certain parts of the country which can impact the indoor environment in schools.

It is particularly important to put in place proactive indoor air quality (IAQ) management practices to effectively manage the transition from winter to spring conditions.

Follow the tips below to help your school prepare for seasonal IAQ challenges.

Inspect and maintain ventilation systems 
During cooler weather, the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system may be working overtime. Good ventilation system design, operation and maintenance are critical to providing clean and healthy air in schools. Regularly inspect your ventilation system and establish a maintenance plan to provide adequate air ventilation, control odors and reduce the levels of pollutants that cause most IAQ problems inside school buildings. The Ventilation Checklist and Backgrounder offer in-depth guidance to schools for inspecting ventilation systems.

Control moisture levels to prevent mold
In many regions, the change in seasons brings a change in outdoor temperature and humidity and an increase in rain or flooding, which can lead to moisture problems and mold growth. Maintaining the relative humidity in school buildings between 30 and 60 percent will help control mold. In addition, prompt and effective remediation of moisture problems, including drying wet areas within 24 to 48 hours, is essential to prevent mold growth.

Proactively use Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
Wintertime means more time spent indoors by students and staff, and the cooler weather can bring in unwanted pests who are seeking shelter from the cold. Pest populations can be eliminated, prevented or controlled by creating inhospitable environments for pests (removing basic elements that pests need for survival) and by blocking pest access into buildings. Follow the IPM checklist to help identify potential pest problems in schools buildings.

Involve everyone
In addition to the tips above, in order to maintain healthy indoor environments during this time of year and year-round, it is critical to ensure everyone plays a part. Open communication is a key component to securing buy-in from your school community members about the importance of proactive IAQ management and sustaining these plans long-term. The Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools: Communications Guide is a companion tool to the IAQ Tools for Schools Action Kit that outlines the benefits of implementing an IAQ management program. It also includes case studies.

The IAQ Tools for Schools is designed to help schools maintain a healthy environment in school buildings by identifying, correcting and preventing IAQ problems. 

Source: EPA

Poor indoor air quality is a serious concern in schools, as it can affect children, teachers and staff equally. Children are susceptible to the airborne chemicals, odors, gases, particles, dust, allergens, bacteria, viruses and molds and poor IAQ has been shown to lower productivity, increase absenteeism, aggravate asthma and respiratory diseases and other health concerns.
For better quality air, schools need to implement the tips above and make sure that indoor air quality is improved. Electrocorp has designed mobile yet sturdy air cleaners for schools that can remove the widest range of airborne contaminants with their activated carbon + HEPA air filter system. Contact Electrocorp for more information.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Chemical plant odors worries residents

A chemical leak was to blame for the strong
odors affecting nearby citizens.
Residents living near the Imperial Oil refinery and chemical plant are wondering why a hydrocarbon gas leak sent workers to safe havens within the plant while citizens were left to go about their routines despite a strong odor wafting through much of the southwestern Ontario city.

Warning sirens went off at the Imperial site after a vapor release began at 3 p.m. Friday, caused by a release of “light hydrocarbons,” according to a company news release.

The leak came from a small pipe in the site’s chemical plant.

Imperial’s air monitoring showed no measurable levels of hydrocarbon or hydrogen sulfide, the release said.

A strong odor wafted over the city, prompting a rash of 911 phone calls, said Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley. Calls were also fielded by a local radio station.

The leak was contained immediately and did not go off-site, according to Sarnia police news release, and Imperial Oil staff ensured that the odor smelled by neighbors was in no way toxic or harmful.

The all-clear was given at 8:30 p.m. Friday, according to the company.

Company officials should have warned the city that the leak would have an effect on people outside the site, the mayor said Saturday.

Imperial has not specified what the leaked material was or how much of it leaked. An investigation is underway, said a spokesman, but he did not know how long that might take.

Regulatory authorities, including the provincial Environment Ministry, have been notified.

Source: The Star

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