Monday, October 5, 2015

'Green' walls bad for office worker health: Study

In hot and polluted environments, indoor air
pollution may be worse with 'green' walls.
Going green is a growing trend - but in the case of living 'green' walls in offices, it might be a bad idea.

In fact, they could contribute to poorer air quality indoors, experts say.

Researchers of the University of York recently looked at the levels of ultrafine particles (UFPs) in hot and polluted environments. Such particles are a health concern as they can carry potentially toxic substances into the lungs.

The scientists simulated typical UFP levels in Athens, Helsinki and Milan offices during a heatwave and typical summer temperatures. The three cities were selected to compare contrasting climates and locations across Europe.

The researchers found that indoor concentrations of UFPs were highest in the Milan and Athens offices, reflecting high outdoor air pollution levels in these cities.

The pollutants make their way indoors through doors, windows and ventilation systems as well as through gaps in building materials.

However, indoor UFP concentrations were well above those expected through penetration of outdoor particles alone.

The researchers wanted to know why and realized they were a result of high concentrations of reactive volatile organic compounds (VOCs) outdoors, emitted by plants and trees.

These reactive VOCs include limonene, a naturally occurring compound emitted by plants and trees responsible for the citrusy smell in lemons and oranges, and pinene, emitted by pine trees.

Once in the atmosphere, such compounds rapidly oxidise to form a range of gas-phase and particle-phase products, which exist in a dynamic equilibrium depending on the conditions.

During heatwaves such as that experienced during 2003, emissions of VOCs increase in high temperatures and the formation of the secondary gas and particle-phase products becomes very efficient.

When outdoor air is drawn into an office air inlet, it is often filtered to partially remove outdoor particles. However, removing these particles disturbs the equilibrium of the secondary products and in order to re-establish a balance, new particles quickly form once the air reaches the office environment.

Therefore, indoor UFP concentrations are seen to be much higher if reactive VOCs exist outdoors near an office air inlet, as the impact of air filtration is lessened.

This finding is significant as, for the first time, indoor UFP formation is shown to be linked to the oxidation of outdoor plant and tree species in heatwave conditions.

Given the increasing popularity of green walls covered in plants and vegetation, their prevalence in hot, polluted locations could exacerbate indoor air pollution.

The filtration of air in modern office blocks is also seen to be less effective than expected, and this may explain why expected health benefits are often not realised when particle filters are added to a building.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Keeping workers safe should be a company's first priority

OSHA proposed a steep fine for repeat and
serious violations in worker safety guidelines.
When companies get lax with safety protocols, it can get costly.

United States workers are protected by gyidelines issued by the Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). When OSHA receives complaints and starts investigating, companies better take note.

Fines for serious and repeat citations can run into the thousands.

In a recent case of an electroplating company in Connecticut, OSHA issued two repeat and 11 serious citations and proposed penalties of $48,304.

The company allegedly exposed workers to chemical and mechanical hazards, some of them were repeat violation from a previous investigation in 2010.

This time, OSHA found that the company failed to

  •     Determine employees’ initial exposure levels to lead and cadmium, two toxic substances in use at the workplace;
  •     Provide workers with training on cadmium hazards;
  •     Prevent cadmium buildup on machinery;
  •     Evaluate employees’ ability to safely operate forklifts;
  •     Ensure that employees who wear respirators are medically able to do so;
  •     Prevent employees from consuming food and drink in areas where the toxic substance hexavalent chromium was present;
  •     Separate flammable spray operations by at least three feet;
  •     Provide appropriate training to emergency coordinators and employees expected to fight fires; and
  •     Ground and shield an electric lamp against damage.

“Employees at this plant work with highly hazardous chemicals. It’s imperative that their employer take all necessary steps to protect their health and well-being at all times,” said Warren Simpson, OSHA’s area director in Hartford.

“That includes monitoring exposure levels, providing proper and effective protective clothing, and ensuring that employees are properly trained.”

Source: OSHA

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Truck drivers and commuters can breathe easier

The mobile air purifier fits into any vehicle - in the trunk,
under the seat or in a preferred spot.
Daily commutes and long drives in the vehicle can expose passengers to harmful chemicals and fumes as well as fine particles.

These have been connected to health concerns such as respiratory disease, cancer and other medical issues.

Built-in car filters will keep out a few of these particles, but Electrocorp's partner company AllerAir wanted to offer their trusted carbon and HEPA filter combo to those who drive a lot.

They developed a mobile unit with a 32 oz. granular activated carbon filter to adsorb airborne chemicals, fumes and gases (including diesel fumes, benzene and toluene) and particle filters to provide a complete air purification solution for the vehicle.

Check out AllerAir's car air purifiers.

Note: Electrocorp is AllerAir's industrial and commercial division and also offers carbon + HEPA air purifier solutions.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Most car pollution comes from 25% of cars

Stop-and-go traffic
increases emissions.
When it comes to polluting the environment, not all cars (or drivers) are created equal.

A recent study conducted by University of Toronto researchers found that just 25 percent of cars they measured produced about 90 percent of the total traffic-related air pollution.

Pollutants like carbon dioxide (CO2) are known to have a negative impact on climate change, but cars also emit a wide array of pollutants associated with lung cancer, respiratory diseases, and heart disease. The researchers focused on measuring these types of pollutants, and found that just a quarter of cars produced the majority of particulates and carbon monoxide in the area.

Jonathan Wang, one of the authors of the study and a chemical engineering PhD student at the University of Toronto, said the chief polluters were older cars in need of a tune-up.

“We found it was a large amount of transport trucks, but a good proportion was just cars – a mixture of both,” Wang said. “We suspect they were older vehicles.”

The researchers took real-time measurements of the exhaust of about 100,000 cars driving past air-sampling probes on one of Toronto’s busiest roads. The study was borne out of concern that vehicle fleet emissions spread farther than previously known.

In addition to total particulates and carbon monoxide, the researchers found that a quarter of cars measured produced over 76 percent of pollutants like benzene, toluene, and other known carcinogens.

Besides driving an older vehicle (anything older than seven years), Wang said driving behavior could also have a huge impact on pollution.

“Cruising at normal speeds is better than heavy braking and heavy acceleration,” he said. “Stop-and-go traffic can increase emissions for vehicles.”

The report shows that drivers have pretty good control over local car pollution, Wang said. Modifying your driving behavior, maintaining your vehicle with regular oil changes and air filter replacements, and choosing a newer car with good gas mileage could all impact air quality.

So if you want to buy a car that doesn’t ruin the world, here’s where to start:

• Buy newer
• Do your research
• Consider multiple pollutants
• Get a car record

This article has been edited for length. Source:

Are you concerned about the air pollution in your area or place of work? Electrocorp offers a wide range of indoor air cleaners with activated carbon and HEPA that actually remove harmful pollutants. An air cleaner for inside the car is also available. Contact Electrocorp by calling 1-866-667-0297 or writing to

Monday, June 1, 2015

Toxic pollutants in fracking county air

New study finds fracking releases cancer-causing chemicals into the air many times higher than the EPA considers safe

The fracking process releases toxic chemicals into the air.
Emissions generated by fracking operations may be exposing people to some toxic pollutants at levels higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers safe for long-term exposure, according to scientists from Oregon State University and the University of Cincinnati.

The researchers took air samples in Carroll County, the home of 480 permitted wells––the most in any of Ohio's 88 counties.

The team found chemicals released during oil and gas extraction that can raise people's risk of cancer and respiratory ailments.

Researchers caution they don't want to create undue alarm with their findings, but they say they hope the results will highlight the urgent need to conduct more in-depth studies of fracking emissions and the potential effects on human health.

"What we see here suggests that more needs to be known about the risks people face when exposed," said study co-leader Erin Haynes, a University of Cincinnati scientist.

Based on the data collected, researchers calculated the cancer risk posed by airborne contaminants in the Carroll County study areas.

For the worst-case scenario––exposure 24 hours a day over 25 years––they found that a person anywhere in the study area would be exposed at a risk level exceeding the threshold the EPA deems acceptable.

The lifetime cancer risk in the study area estimated for maximum residential exposure was 2.9 in 10,000, which is nearly three times the EPA's acceptable risk level of 1 in 10,000, according to the study.

Anderson cautioned that the study numbers are worst-case estimates and can't predict the risk to any individual.

The EPA did not respond to questions about the findings.

The study focused on pollutants known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). These are organic compounds containing carbon and hydrogen, found in fossil fuels.

The study mirrored other research conducted in heavily fracked areas of the country, including Texas and Pennsylvania, that have focused on volatile organic compounds. These chemicals, including benzene and toluene, also are carbon-based chemicals in the same chain as those studied in Ohio––and they present similar dangers to human health.

With fracking on the rise across the country, the study authors and other scientists say there are simply too many unknowns about the potential health effects associated with the toxic chemicals released from oil and gas operations.

'Growing Concerns and a Lot of Questions'

The study got its start when a group of citizens approached Haynes, a public health expert at the University of Cincinnati, seeking information about health risks from natural gas extraction near their homes.

None of those people said they were sickened by breathing the air, but they wanted to know more about the potential consequences, Anderson said.

"There was some concern with all of the wells that were starting to go in around their homes," Anderson said. "People want to know; wanted to get answers about how all the [fracking] activity might be affecting them."

Anderson and her associates teamed with Haynes to design a study that relied on volunteers to collect air samples in Carroll County, which is home to about 30,000 people.

After volunteers were recruited through a community meeting and word-of-mouth, air samplers were placed on the properties of 23 volunteers; they lived or worked at sites ranging from immediate proximity to a gas well to a little more than three miles away.

The aluminum box monitors contained specially treated material that absorbed contaminants. The volunteers were trained in proper handling of the samplers and documenting data.

At the conclusion of the study, the samplers were sealed in airtight bags and returned to Anderson's lab at OSU for analysis.

The samplers picked up high levels of pollution associated with fracking in the areas studied, according to the report. Levels taken within one-tenth of a mile of a well were highest; they decreased by about 30 percent in samples taken a little more than three miles from a well.

Source: Inside Climate News 
This article has been edited for length.

Concerned about airborne pollution at work or at home? Electrocorp has designed a wide range of indoor air cleaners with activated carbon and HEPA that can remove airborne chemicals (such as toluene and benzene), gases, odors, fumes, particles and more. Electrocorp is the industrial division of AllerAir Industries, which offers carbon + HEPA air purifiers for the home. Contact Electrocorp by calling toll-free 1-866-667-0297 or writing to

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Workplace safety apps on the rise

New apps help with occupational health and safety tasks.
As the world keeps changing, so does the world of occupational health and safety.

While technology continues to evolve, workplace safety needs to adapt as well.
That’s why cell-phone apps designed for occupational health and safety functions have become important in the marketplace.

New programs for smartphones and tablets can assist with all kinds of tasks, ranging from safety inspections and incident reports to emergency alerts and contacting remote colleagues when alone and in danger.

“Lives are at stake,” says Matthew Ross, media manager with ProntoForms Corporation, a mobile-solution company based in Kanata, Ontario. “People absolutely need to be able to process these types of info as fast as possible.”

ProntoForms has created an app that sends and receives forms and vital work information quickly.

“With the push of a button, the info is sent to wherever you like,” Ross explains. “You can send to a variety of cloud services.”

Such forms could include inspection checklists, safety lists, data on hazardous materials, action reports and even statements from accident witnesses, he adds.

“We’ve got such incredible positive feedback from clients because the processing is so much faster.”

Apart from increased safety, a side benefit of the ProntoForms app is a sharp reduction in paperwork.

“People are looking to help make their lives easier and make their jobs easier,” says Jason Grouette, business manager of the personal safety division for 3M Canada in London, Ontario.

3M Canada provides a practical new app that assists employees assigned to buy safety equipment for their companies, including distributors, health and safety managers and some end users.

Simply called Safety, the app gives the user instant access to more than 2,400 workplace safety products available from 3M.

Honeywell Safety Products in Morristown, New Jersey offers a similar product, the Media App, which gives users access to product information and learning resources on personal protective equipment available from Honeywell.

So why have workplace safety apps become more prevalent?

“We are in a different world that we were a decade ago,” says Grouette. “People have an expectation of finding answers very quickly and addressing problems quickly.”

“It’s driven by a bunch of things,” explains Ross. “The technology on Smartphones and tablets has gotten stronger and more powerful. So it has enabled us to include better features, time-savings, cost savings, high-productivity features. Another thing is the BYOD trend – bring-your-own-device trend – in businesses, so companies are more comfortable with employees using their own devices.”

Ross points out that the construction and oil and gas industries tend to supply ProntoForms’ biggest customers for health and safety products. But restaurant chains also use the ProntoForms app for information about cleanliness and other oh&s issues, he adds.

“The speed of data collection and processing is something that is invaluable in the industry.”

Grouette lists oil and gas, mining and manufacturing as sectors that benefit highly from 3M’s products, including the Safety app.

Many safety apps, including some of the aforementioned ones, are available to employers and workers for free.

Source: OHS Canada

Concerned about health and safety at the workplace? Breathing polluted air over a long period of time has been linked with a wide range of health problems. Electrocorp offers industrial and commercial indoor air cleaners with activated carbon and HEPA air filters to remove dangerous airborne substances. Contact Electrocorp for more information: Call 1-866-667-0297 or write to

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Welders exposed to toxic substances at storage tank manufacturing company

Welding without proper safety precautions can expose workers
to hazardous chemicals and fumes. 
Workers welding stainless steel and other alloy steels containing chromium metal at a Wisconsin bulk storage tank manufacturer were exposed to hazardous levels of hexavalent chromium.

At high levels, hexavalent chromium can cause lung cancer and respiratory, eye and skin damage.

After a complaint, U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors visited Imperial Industries in Rothschild and identified two willful and 12 serious safety violations.

Proposed penalties total $161,100.

"Each year 50,000 workers die from exposures to hazardous substances like chromium during their careers. Failing to take steps to limit exposure to this dangerous substance is inexcusable," said Robert Bonack, area director of OSHA's Appleton office.

"Workers pay the price when companies don't follow standards to reduce injuries and illnesses. Imperial Industries needs to take immediate steps to comply with safety and health standards."

Inspectors determined employees were exposed to hexavalent chromium at levels exceeding permissible exposure limits while welding steels containing chromium metal. Chromium is added to harden alloy steel and help it resist corrosion.

Additionally, the company failed to implement engineering controls to reduce and monitor exposure levels among workers.

The November 2014 investigation also found workers endangered by amputation and struck-by hazards because machines lacked safety mechanisms. Numerous electrical safety hazards were also identified, and workers were found operating damaged powered industrial vehicles.

Imperial Industries manufactures heavy gauge metal industrial tanks that are typically mounted to commercial trucks.

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

Concerned about exposure to toxic chemicals and gases at your workplace? 

Electrocorp has designed a wide range of industrial and commercial indoor air cleaners with activated carbon and HEPA filters that remove dangerous chemicals, gases, fumes, odors and particles from the ambient air. Source capture units are also available. 

Check out Electrocorp's welding fume extractors or browse other industrial and commercial applications. Contact Electrocorp by calling 1-866-667-0297 or e-mailing

Monday, May 4, 2015

Hotel cosmetics manufacturer exposed employees to dangerous chemicals

OSHA found new and repeated hazards
at the manufacturing facility.
SYRACUSE, N.Y. – A leading maker of soap and shampoo for hotels and retail sale exposed workers to chemical and fire hazards and blocked emergency exit routes, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration found in a November 2014 inspection.

A company that provided it the manufacturer with temporary employees was cited for chemical-related hazards.

The fact that new and repeated hazards were found shows Marietta Corp. must take worker health and well-being more seriously.

Acting on employee complaints, inspectors visited Marietta Corp. in Cortland and found flammable liquids were not stored or used properly; employees with respirators were not trained or checked medically; and containers with hazardous chemicals were not labeled correctly.

Similar hazards were found at the Cortland plant in 2011 and at the company's Chicago facility in 2010.

In addition, inspectors found workers without needed eye and face protection and emergency eyewash stations; employees not trained in the use of dangerous chemicals; and forklift operators who did not receive refresher training.

In total, Marietta was cited for three repeat and six serious violations with $103,800 in fines.

Select Staffing, the temporary agency that recruits workers for Marietta, received two serious violations with $10,000 in fines proposed. The staffing agency did not provide workers exposed to dangerous chemicals with proper eye and face protection; lacked accessible data sheets for hazardous chemicals; and did not prove that a hazard assessment had been done to determine what protective equipment employees would need.

In April 2013, OSHA announced an initiative to improve workplace safety and health for temporary workers, who are at increased risk of work-related injury and illness. The initiative includes outreach, training and enforcement to ensure that temporary workers are protected in their workplaces.

OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health have issued a "Recommended Practices*" publication that focuses on ensuring that temporary workers receive the same training and protection that existing workers receive.

The companies have 15 business days from receipt of their citations and proposed penalties to comply, meet 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.

Granular activated carbon is the
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VOCs, fumes, gases and odors.
Reduce chemical exposure at work

If you are working with chemicals, there is a constant risk of exposure and it's the low-level exposure over a long period of time that are the most worrisome.

Electrocorp has designed a wide range of industrial and commercial air cleaners with a complete filtration system that tackles chemicals as well as particles and other contaminants.

The deep-bed activated carbon filter is capable of removing hundreds of airborne fumes, gases and odors,

Not sure which air purifier would be right for your workplace? Call 1-866-667-0297 to speak to one of Electrocorp's IAQ specialists or write to

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Oil and gas drilling connected to earthquakes, studies show

Man-made quakes are a concern, experts say.
With the evidence coming in from one study after another, scientists are now more certain than ever that oil and gas drilling is causing hundreds upon hundreds of earthquakes across the U.S.

So far, the quakes have been mostly small and have done little damage beyond cracking plaster, toppling bricks and rattling nerves.

But seismologists warn that the shaking can dramatically increase the chances of bigger, more dangerous quakes.

Up to now, the oil and gas industry has generally argued that any such link requires further study.

But the rapidly mounting evidence could bring heavier regulation down on drillers and make it more difficult for them to get projects approved.

The potential for man-made quakes "is an important and legitimate concern that must be taken very seriously by regulators and industry," said Jason Bordoff, founding director of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University.

He said companies and states can reduce the risk by taking such steps as monitoring operations more closely, imposing tighter standards and recycling wastewater from drilling instead of injecting it underground.

A series of government and academic studies over the past few years has added to the body of evidence implicating the U.S. drilling boom that has created a bounty of jobs and tax revenue over the past decade or so.

The U.S. Geological Survey has released the first comprehensive maps pinpointing more than a dozen areas in the central and eastern U.S. that have been jolted by quakes that the researchers said were triggered by drilling.

The report said man-made quakes tied to industry operations have been on the rise.

Scientists have mainly attributed the spike to the injection of wastewater deep underground, a practice they say can activate dormant faults.

Only a few cases of shaking have been blamed on fracking, in which large volumes of water, sand and chemicals are pumped into rock formations to crack them open and free oil or gas.

"The picture is very clear" that wastewater injection can cause faults to move, said USGS geophysicist William Ellsworth.

For decades, earthquakes were an afterthought in the central and eastern U.S., which worried more about tornadoes, floods and hurricanes. Since 2009, quakes have sharply increased, and in some surprising places.

The ground has been trembling in regions that were once seismically stable, including parts of Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas.

The largest jolt linked to wastewater injection — a magnitude-5.6 that hit Prague, Oklahoma, in 2011 — damaged 200 buildings and shook a college football stadium.

The uptick in Oklahoma quakes has prompted state regulators to require a seismic review of all proposed disposal wells.

Source: KPCC. The article has been edited for length.

Oil and gas drilling has been linked to a number of health concerns, including the release of dangerous gases. Electrocorp has designed a wide range of air cleaners with activated carbon and HEPA that can remove airborne chemicals and gases from indoor spaces and help provide cleaner and more breathable air. Contact Electrocorp for more options, call 1-866-6670297 or write to

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Popular Weedkiller a carcinogen: WHO

The herbicide glyphosate is a "probable
carcinogen," cancer research agency says.
The active ingredient in Roundup, one of the world's most popular weed killers -- and the most commonly used one in the United States -- has been declared a "probable carcinogen" by the World Health Organization.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer, an arm of the WHO, recently released the results of its review of five herbicides and pesticides.

The French-based agency ranks cancer-causing agents on four levels: known carcinogens, probably or possible carcinogens, not classifiable and probably not carcinogenic.

The herbicide glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, was classified by IARC as "probably carcinogenic to humans."

But the classification is not binding, said the IARC.

"It remains the responsibility of individual governments and other international organizations to recommend regulations, legislation or public health intervention," the agency said in a statement.

According to the Associated Press, the United States Environmental Protection Agency said it would consider the IARC's evaluation.

The IARC did clarify that the new ruling is mostly directed at the industrial use of the herbicide, and that use by home gardeners does not fall under the same classification.

Glyphosate is employed in more than 750 herbicide products and has been detected in the air, during spraying and in foods, reports the IARC.

The determination is sure to alarm the agro-chemical industry and particularly Monsanto, the agribusiness giant that is the leading producer of glyphosate.

Worldwide annual sales of the chemical are estimated at $6 billion.

The company put out its own statement: "All labeled uses of glyphosate are safe for human health," said Monsanto's Phil Miller, global head of regulatory and government affairs.

“We don’t know how IARC could reach a conclusion that is such a dramatic departure from the conclusion reached by all regulatory agencies around the globe,” said Miller.

Monsanto requested an urgent meeting with the World Health Organization to clarify the scientific basis of the ruling.

A summary of the agency's findings was published in the British journal Lancet Oncology.

Source: International Business Times

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Monday, April 13, 2015

Chicago has most air-conditioned homes: Study

Humidity and temperature determines
the number of air conditioned homes.
You might think that hot climates drive the demand for indoor air conditioning.

But the results of a recent study on the prevalence of homes with HVAC systems might surprise you.

When it comes to demand for homes with central air conditioners, it’s not the heat; it’s the humidity.

A RealtyTrac analysis of homes in U.S. cities with more than 100,000 residents showed that cities with high humidity and temperatures, not just one or the other, have the most homes with central air.

Yet Chicago, which is among neither the hottest nor the most humid cities, outranked scorchers like Houston, Miami, and Phoenix on RealtyTrac’s list of “coolest” cities.

Rounding out the list where central A/C is a must-have were Philadelphia; San Antonio, TX; Portland, OR; Las Vegas; Los Angeles; St. Louis, MO; Orlando, FL; Jacksonville, FL; Atlanta; Charlotte, NC; and Indianapolis.

Except for a few West Coast cities with mild, year-round climates, air conditioners come standard in most new homes, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

As their use increases, builders have been able to upsell more energy-efficient models.

Source: Construction Drive

Don't let poor IAQ affect productivity

Many HVAC systems excel in heating or cooling a home, but they often get a failing grade when it comes to indoor air quality.

Exposure to indoor air pollutants may affect people's health, well-being and productivity, making cleaner indoor air an important goal at home and at work.

In fact, a committee of the World Health Organization estimates that as many as 30 percent of new or remodeled buildings may have unusually high rates of sick building complaints. While this is often temporary, some buildings have long-term problems which linger, even after corrective action. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reports that poor ventilation is an important contributing factor in many sick building cases. (Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

Electrocorp has designed a wide range of industrial and commercial air cleaners that remove airborne chemicals, odors and particles and provide cleaner and more breathable air.

Electrocorp is the industrial division of AllerAir, a company that offers residential and office air purifiers with activated carbon and HEPA.

For more information and a free consultation, contact Electrocorp at 1-866-667-0297 or write to

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Toxic solvents underneath IBM building defy cleanup

Buildings on contaminated soil may
expose workers to harmful chemicals
through soil vapor intrusion: Experts.
ENDICOTT – After 35 years, IBM Corp. contractors have stanched the flow of industrial solvents into a commercial and residential district in the heart of the village, but they have yet to find a solution for the source of the problem at the company's former flagship manufacturing plant.

Officials recently reported that efforts to intercept and remove the subterranean flow of hazardous chemicals coming from the industrial complex — now owned by Huron Real Estate Associates — have been successful.

Consequently, health risks to a nearby neighborhood have been eliminated.

Yet they have no remedy for a concentrated pool of solvents directly under the manufacturing site, where at least 1,500 people still work.

It may take years before a proven remedy is found, according to Alex Czuhanich, an engineering geologist with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, although the agency has no timetable for the project.

The pollution, discovered in 1979, includes trichloroethylene (TCE) and other solvents used as industrial degreasers that have been linked to maladies ranging from cancer to birth defects.

IBM used vast quantities of the solvents to manufacture printed circuit boards during the company's heyday from the 1950s through the 1970s.

The contaminated hot spot — known as "the source area" on DEC records — lies under an area the size of eight village blocks, and it was once bustling with the delivery, handling, storage, transport and liberal use of solvents.

The source area encompasses a railroad corridor where chemicals arrived in bulk, loading docks where they were handled, and a network of tanks and pipelines that stored and transported virgin chemicals and chemical waste to and from various manufacturing lines throughout the campus, according to DEC records.

Situated over and near the source area, and blocking access to cleanup, are dozens of buildings, most of them massive, bunker-like, cement structures built during the Cold War era and some well before.

The contaminated ground is dense with tunnels, boiler rooms, tank rooms, crawl spaces, cables, pipes and conduits.

"There is just so much infrastructure there," Czuhanich said. "Trying to get anything in there (to remedy the problem) is difficult, at best."

To date, nearly 70,000 gallons of solvent — more than 40 tons — have been pumped from the ground. Officials don't know how much is left, according to DEC spokesman Peter Constantakes.

Court records filed by attorneys representing residents suing IBM for damages from the pollution put the solvent pool up to 1 million gallons "that had apparently collected over many years from leaking pipes and tanks."

Reluctance by IBM and the DEC to publicly discuss the source area has added to uncertainty about its status. IBM spokesman Todd Martin did not reply to phone calls or written inquires on the subject.

Safety debated

IBM sold the plant in 2002 to Huron Real Estate Associates, which now rents space to BAE Systems Electronics, i3 Electronics (formerly Endicott Interconnect), Binghamton University and other smaller firms that collectively employ between 1,500 and 2,000 workers.

TCE, the main contaminant under the campus, is not commonly used in bulk by industry in the U.S. anymore, though it is a pervasive contaminant at many Cold War-era industrial and military sites throughout the country.

In addition to the former IBM site, notorious TCE legacy sites in the Southern Tier include the CAE Electronics site in Hillcrest, and the Morse Industrial site in Tompkins County, both linked to contamination of nearby residential neighborhoods.

The TCE problem is as stubborn as it is complex. TCE is one of a class of chemicals that tend to be heavier than water, so they sink through the water table and adhere stubbornly to soil particles.

They also give off toxic fumes that rise from the ground, ending up in basements, crawl spaces and — ultimately — circulating into living spaces through a process known as vapor intrusion.

There is no national standard to limit TCE exposure in air, although there has been a political push to develop one since the federal Environmental Protection Agency determined in 2011 that the chemical was a carcinogen and a "non-cancer health hazard."

Just how much exposure presents a risk remains a controversial topic. Levels that might not affect one person could make another seriously ill. Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable.

According to the latest EPA assessment — challenged by the chemical industry — risks for non-cancer illnesses, such as birth defects, from short-term TCE exposure in residential settings are found to increase statistically at levels at or above 2 micrograms per cubic meter.

The agency has set the threshold for risks from short-term exposure in an industrial setting at 7, based on the assumption that people spend less time at work than in their homes.

Cancer risks become discernible for chronic exposure — the type people might experience in homes — at levels beginning at 0.43 micrograms, according to an EPA assessment.

New York state has set a broad guideline of 5 for residential and commercial exposure. But the agency often requires action at levels below the threshold when feasible.

Feasibility remains the issue at the Huron campus. Indoor air samples at 42 buildings collected in 2005 — the last time the state oversaw testing — ranged from zero to 17 micrograms per cubic meter in some areas that tended to be occupied. Levels were much higher in other areas — often registering between 50 and 300 micrograms in tunnels and tank rooms below Building 18, for example.

Concentrations in the soil directly below the buildings often exceeded 10,000 and sometimes were over 100,000 micrograms.

In 2005, the state health department determined that the TCE levels at the Huron campus present a "low" health risk to people working there, according to a report at the time. That means state health officials "do not expect to be able to associate health effects" from exposure.

Health department spokesman Jeffrey Hammond said the guideline remains "under review" as more information comes to light "to ensure that previous decisions and recommendations continue to protect public health."

In 2005, a health department study found elevated rates of testicular and kidney cancers, and birth defects that were "statistically significant" in an area affected by solvent pollution in the area south of the former IBM plant, and several blocks to the southwest of the plant polluted by an undetermined source. (The area has since been cleaned by the IBM remediation efforts.)

The results of a study by NIOSH and the health department evaluating birth outcomes of women who worked at the plant is expected to be released later this year.
By the numbers
• 35: Number of years IBM has been cleaning the pollution.
• 70,000: Number of gallons of concentrated chemicals removed so far.
• 1,500: Approximate number of employees who work at the site.
• 470: Number of structures off-site that have been fitted with vent systems to divert toxic fumes.
• 5: Safety threshold, in micrograms per cubic meter, for TCE exposure in air in New York state.
• 2: Level, in micrograms per cubic meter, at which risks associated with short-term TCE exposure increase statistically.
Source: PressConnects; This article has been edited for length.

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Tuesday, April 7, 2015

US salons need to nail occupational safety: Advocates

Nail salons will employ more than 100,000 workers by 2022

Many nail salon employees are women
of reproductive age, experts say.
When New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, JD, announced that her office was releasing a report on nail salons last year, it was anything but a frivolous task.

The policy report, “How Safe is Your Nail Salon?,” released in September, took a look at health and safety practices for both consumers and workers in New York City’s nail salons.

And with more than 2,000 businesses licensed to do manicures and pedicures in the city alone, the health of a large swath of the public is affected.

In New York, the salons are regulated by the state — which has just 27 inspectors to help maintain their safety, James told The Nation’s Health.

The health and wellness of nail salon employees is no small matter, as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated there were 86,900 manicurists and pedicurists in the U.S. in 2012. That number is expected to rise to 100,400 by 2022.

But that estimate is probably far too low, according to the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative, which estimates there are 97,100 manicurists in California alone right now.

Up to 80 percent of those workers are Vietnamese immigrants, and more than 50 percent are women of reproductive age.

Duyen Tran, MPH, an APHA member and the interim outreach coordinator for the collaborative, says there are several reasons that nail salon work appeals to young women in the Vietnamese community.

Some of it is the flexibility working in a nail salon can afford: Employees can tailor their schedules around their families’ needs. Another reason is the ease with which a worker can enter into the industry and start making money. Training courses, which are 12 to 18 months long, and exams are offered in Vietnamese.

“To do nail salon work you don’t need high English proficiency,” Tran told The Nation’s Health. “It doesn’t require intensive English training, so it’s really an opportunity for this recent immigrant population to enter the workforce and use it to support their families and communities in a very short time.”

But joining the workforce means exposure to known dangerous products — and potentially unknown dangers, as well.

Three chemicals pose most risks to workers

The biggest risks to nail salon workers are “the toxic trio:” Toluene, formaldehyde and dibutyl phthalate are the most common and dangerous ingredients in nail products, including polish and polish remover, that have been linked to serious health risks.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, toluene exposure has been linked to tiredness, confusion, weakness, drunken-type actions, memory loss, nausea, loss of appetite and hearing and color vision loss. High levels of exposure have been linked to kidney damage.

Formaldehyde exposure can lead to irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, causing tearing, and skin irritation, according to CDC, and is a known carcinogen. CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry notes that dibutyl phthalate is linked to organ development issues in fetuses when exposed during gestation.

The toxic trio can be transmitted as airborne particles, through product contact with skin or eyes and via unintentional transfer of the materials to uncovered food, drink or cigarettes, according to research from the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has reported that chemical levels can exceed 826 parts per million during the application of acrylics in nail salons, but proper ventilation can drop that to 12.4 parts per million.

Despite these risks, in Nails Magazine’s 2014-15 report, “Nails Big Book: Everything You Need to Know About the Nail Industry,” 34 percent of nail salon workers reported that they never wear protective gloves while working.

Sixty-one percent said they never wear a mask while working. And more than half reported having work-related health concerns. Twenty-three percent said they were uninsured.

Salons can promote safety for workers

Though self-reported low numbers of nail salon workers take safety precautions, state and federal government regulations require certain steps to be taken to ensure worker safety.

OSHA distributes “Stay Healthy and Safe While Giving Manicures and Pedicures: A Guide for Nail Salon Workers,” which outlines workers’ rights to health and safety for both employees and salon owners.

The guide has been translated to Vietnamese, Spanish and Korean. And OSHA has been working to reach out to communities to make sure workers’ rights are well-known, said Mandy Edens, MSPH, director of OSHA’s directorate for technical support and emergency management.

Source: The Nation’s Health; This article has been edited for length.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Builders oppose OSHA's proposed silica rule

The proposed rule for silica would be
too expensive, builders say.
In a classic tug-of-war between keeping contractors safe on the job and the cost of that safety, builders are battling the Occupational Safety and Health Administration over its proposed standards for silica.

Crystalline silica is found in soil, sand, granite, quartz, and other natural substances that contractors work with.

When blasted, cut, or drilled, those stones and minerals produce dust that workers can inhale.

Long-term exposure can lead to respiratory problems and silicosis, a chronic lung disease.

OSHA’s plan to require more aggressive protection has been in limbo since the agency introduced it in September 2013.

After multiple extensions, the proposed rule had one of the longest public comment periods in OSHA’s history.

Although the comment period is closed, the Construction Industry Safety Coalition, a consortium of 25 trade associations, sent a report to OSHA last week saying the agency’s proposed requirements for lowering the exposure to silica on job sites could cost the industry billions of dollars more than the government has projected.

In an accompanying letter to Assistant Labor Secretary David Michaels, a lawyer for the Coalition called the proposed rule “potentially… the most expensive OSHA standard ever for the construction industry.”

The government’s case

Both sides agree that contractors working in mining, quarrying, road construction, with cement or flint, and in sand blasting and glass industries are most likely to be at risk.

But they disagree about the best way to mitigate that risk.

OSHA’s proposed construction standard would require employers to measure the amount of silica that workers are exposed to, during an eight-hour work day, to see if it could exceed a level acceptable to OSHA (25 micrograms of silica per cubic meter of air). If the exposure measures more than 50 micrograms, the company must protect workers.

In addition, the proposed rule would require construction firms to limit workers’ access to high-exposure areas; use dust controls to protect workers from inhaling higher-than-acceptable amounts of the powder; supply respirators when those dust controls aren’t enough to limit a worker’s exposure; and offer medical exams, including chest X-rays and lung function tests, every three years to workers who are exposed to high levels of silica for 30 or more days a year.

The rule would also mandate more employee training and careful record-keeping that documents workers’ exposure and medical exams.

At a congressional hearing in mid-March, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez defended the upcoming standard.

“We’re trying to save lives here, and exposure to silica kills,” Perez told the House Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee.

House Republicans questioned the need for the rule, suggesting that OSHA do a better job of enforcing its existing standard. Compliance with the current rule is 70%.

The builders’ response

Builders and trades involved in commercial, residential, road, and heavy industrial construction have partnered to oppose the proposed rule. They back a Construction Industry Safety Coalition request for OSHA to withdraw its planned new standard and instead bolster enforcement of the existing rule.

The cross-sector Coalition claims that the proposed silica standards will cost the industry $5 billion per year—a whopping $4.5 billion more than OSHA has estimated.

“We are deeply concerned about the misguided assumptions and cost and impact errors that OSHA has relied upon in creating this proposed rule that will significantly affect our industry,” Tom Woods, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders, said in a press release.

Woods asked OSHA to put its proposal aside and instead work with the industry on a compromise that is “technologically and economically feasible [and] also works to improve industry workers’ health and safety.”

The Coalition claims OSHA’s cost estimates reflect “a fundamental misunderstanding of the construction industry.”

The Coalition’s report estimates that 80% of the cost of complying with the proposed rule will come from paying for additional equipment, labor, and record-keeping.

The remaining 20% will result from increased prices for materials like concrete, glass, roofing shingles, tile, paint, and countertops, as manufacturers pass their compliance costs on to builders.

In addition, the industry has predicted that the proposed rule will lead to the loss of more than 33,000 full-time jobs among contractors, equipment suppliers, and building products manufacturers, and another 20,000 economy-wide when laid-off construction and supplier workers no longer have earnings to spend.

Add in part-time and seasonal jobs, and the number soars to 80,000 lost positions, the Coalition’s report says.

Source: Construction Dive

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Monday, March 30, 2015

Women at risk when exposed to chemical used to remove paint and coatings

EPA releases final risk assessment for NMP

Pregnant women and those of childbearing
age were at risk of exposure to NMP: Experts
WASHINGTON - The U.S. EPA released the final risk assessment for N-Methylpyrrolidone (NMP), a chemical commonly used to remove paint and other coatings.

The assessment identified risks to pregnant women and women of childbearing age, who have high exposure to NMP through paint or other coating removal.

“By completing this assessment, we have taken an important step in protecting pregnant women and women of childbearing age who are using NMP to remove paint,” said Jim Jones, Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.

“It is a reminder that as we evaluate these risks, it is very clear that our nation’s chemical laws are in much need of reform. Completing this assessment will now trigger a process to address these unacceptable risks.”

Acute and chronic risks identified for women of childbearing age who use NMP for less than four hours per day may be reduced by use of specific types of chemical-resistant gloves.

However, gloves and respirators do not adequately reduce risks to women of childbearing age who use NMP for more than four hours per day on a single day or repeatedly over a succession of days.

The NMP final risk assessment was developed as part of the Agency’s Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Work Plan, which identified chemicals for review and assessment of potential risks to people’s health and the environment.

NMP is a common alternative to methylene chloride, also known as Dichloromethane (DCM), a chemical-based paint and coating remover.

EPA has also identified risks associated with methylene chloride during the removal of paint and other coatings.

For both NMP and methylene chloride, EPA is considering a range of voluntary and regulatory actions to reduce risks, and recommends finding safer paint/coating removal chemicals, or taking precautions that can reduce exposures, such as using the product outside, in a well-ventilated area, and wearing proper gloves and respiratory protection.

Additional information on the NMP final risk assessment and other work plan chemicals can be found here.

Source: EPA press release

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

EPA proposes record-keeping rules for nanoscale chemicals

For the first time the agency will use TSCA authority to collect health and safety information on nanoscale chemical substances already in use

The EPA wants companies to submit
information on nanoscale chemicals.
WASHINGTON D.C., – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing one-time reporting and recordkeeping requirements on nanoscale chemical substances in the marketplace.

“Nanotechnology holds great promise for improving products, from TVs and vehicles to batteries and solar panels, said Jim Jones, EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.

“We want to continue to facilitate the trend toward this important technology. Today’s action will ensure that EPA also has information on nano-sized versions of chemicals that are already in the marketplace.”

EPA currently reviews new chemical substances manufactured or processed as nanomaterials prior to introduction into the marketplace to ensure that they are safe.

For the first time, the agency is proposing to use TSCA to collect existing exposure and health and safety information on chemicals currently in the marketplace when manufactured or processed as nanoscale materials.

The proposal will require one-time reporting from companies that manufacture or process chemical substances as nanoscale materials.

The companies will notify EPA of:

  • certain information, including specific chemical identity; 
  • production volume; 
  • methods of manufacture; processing, use, exposure, and release information; and, 
  • available health and safety data. 

Nanoscale materials have special properties related to their small size such as greater strength and lighter weight, however, they may take on different properties than their conventionally-sized counterpart.

The proposal is not intended to conclude that nanoscale materials will cause harm to human health or the environment; Rather, EPA would use the information gathered to determine if any further action under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), including additional information collection, is needed.

The proposed reporting requirements are being issued under the authority of section 8(a) under TSCA. The agency is requesting public comment on the proposed reporting and recordkeeping requirements 90 days from publication in the Federal Register. EPA also anticipates holding a public meeting during the comment period. The time and place of the meeting will be announced on EPA’s web page.

Additional information and a fact sheet on the specifics of the proposed rule and what constitutes a nanocale chemical material can be found here.

Source: EPA press release

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Auto parts store cited for exposing workers to asbestos and mold

The auto parts store failed to protect worker health and
safety, OSHA says.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A worker alleging the existence of asbestos, mold and hygiene hazards led to an inspection of an Advance Auto Parts store in Kansas City, where the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration found one repeated and 10 serious safety and health violations with fines of $60,000.

"Exposure to asbestos is a dangerous workplace issue that can cause loss of lung function and cancer, among other serious health effects. When Advance Auto uses an older building with presumed asbestos-containing material, such as floor tiles, it has a responsibility to conduct periodic air monitoring and must post warning signs for workers," said Barbara Theriot, OSHA's area director in Kansas City.

"The company also has a responsibility to maintain the building in a sanitary and safe manner. OSHA found persistent flooding, which caused mold growth and created lower-level slip and fall hazards. This is unacceptable."

OSHA inspectors tested bulk samples of furnace room floor tiles and found they contained 3 percent chrysotile, a form of asbestos. Sample air monitoring did not detect asbestos fibers circulating in the heating and air conditioning system.

However, particles could become airborne from deteriorating tiles and persistent flooding, a consistent issue throughout the building.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fiber used in some building materials before its health dangers were discovered. Asbestos fibers are invisible and can be inhaled into the lungs unknowingly. Inhaled fibers can then become embedded in the lungs.

Inspectors also found electrical safety violations and blocked exit routes at the store, resulting in the 10 serious violations. An OSHA violation is serious if death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard an employer knew or should have known exists.

OSHA also noted a repeated violation for failing to provide inspectors with injury and illness logs.

Based in Roanoke, Virginia, Advance Auto Parts was previously cited for this violation in a Delaware, Ohio, store in 2010 and a Lakeland, Florida, store in 2011.

OSHA issues repeated violations if an employer was cited previously for the same or a similar violation within the last five years.

Advance Auto Parts 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. For more information, visit OSHA online.

Source: OSHA

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Company sued for selling formaldehyde-releasing floors

Class-action lawsuits allege Lumber Liquidators sold flooring that contained dangerous chemical

The laminate flooring in question allegedly released
formaldehyde, which can affect people's health and well-being.
Los Angeles, CA -- It’s bad enough to be facing a parade of lawsuits ranging from allegations of stock price affectations to defective products. However, when Anderson Cooper and the venerable 60 Minutes comes knocking at your door, you know you’re not going to have a good day.

Such are the issues facing Lumber Liquidators, a US vendor of Chinese flooring products that are alleged to have not only failed California’s so-called CARB-2 safety standards, plaintiffs also claim levels of formaldehyde in the products exceed safe limits by serious margins.

The issue takes on greater significance given the adoption of the California Air Resource Board Phase 2 (CARB-2) emissions standard for formaldehyde in manufactured products as the US standard several years ago, which finally comes into effect nationwide later this year.

According to the report aired on 60 Minutes, glue used in the production of laminate flooring can sometimes contain formaldehyde. In low levels it’s not considered a problem, especially when the formaldehyde is encased in the product, preventing emissions from escaping into the air.

The problem with Lumber Liquidators Flooring formaldehyde, according to the allegations, is that a greater level of formaldehyde is used in the production of products for Lumber Liquidators, in an effort to keep costs down.

Such a high level of formaldehyde, according to environmental experts interviewed by CBS News for 60 Minutes, can succeed in escaping from the product into the air, making homeowners ill.

That’s the allegation carried in a Lumber Liquidators Defective Flooring Class Action Lawsuit filed by John and Tracie-Linn Tyrrell in federal court in California March 5.

Customer suffered health effects after floor installation

According to the Richmond Times Dispatch (3/5/15), John Tyrrell began experiencing symptoms that include extreme shortness of breath, weakness, fatigue, and incessant coughing and sneezing shortly after he and his son-in-law installed the laminate flooring.

“Despite repeated medical tests, his doctors have not been able to identify the cause of these symptoms,” the lawsuit claims.

The proposed class action seeks to represent any consumer who purchased Chinese flooring products from Lumber Liquidators in the last four years. They seek re-imbursement for the material and installation, as well as unspecified damages.

The lawsuit also seeks to force Lumber Liquidators’s hand by having an injunction granted, preventing the company from selling the allegedly defective products.

“Based on lawsuits, articles and blog posts, [Lumber Liquidators] knew or should have known that its laminate wood flooring products were not compliant with [California emissions] standards,” the lawsuit said.

“Despite this knowledge, defendant failed to reformulate its flooring products so that they are compliant or to disclose to consumers that these products emit unlawful levels of formaldehyde.”

Lumber Liquidators, according to the Dispatch report, is “currently reviewing the allegations contained in this lawsuit,” the company said.

“It appears that many of the claims mimic contentions raised in a separate suit that was filed by a law firm that also represents a short-seller, which looks to benefit from decreases in our stock price, in another action against us. We believe in the safety of our products and intend to defend this suit vigorously.”

Out of 31 samples of Chinese flooring products imported by Lumber Liquidators independently tested by 60 Minutes at two certified testing labs, all but one sample presented with seriously high levels of formaldehyde that exceeded state and pending federal guidelines.

Upon dispatching reporters to the manufacturing facility in China, 60 Minutes was told the facility had the capability of manufacturing to the CARB-2 standard, but switched to cheaper manufacturing methods that utilized higher levels of formaldehyde in the wood glue for products manufactured for Lumber Liquidators.

Officials of the manufacturing facility also admitted to 60 Minutes reporters using a hidden camera that products were improperly labeled as CARB-2 compliant, or so it is alleged.

In a filing, Lumber Liquidators said “we believe that ‘60 Minutes’ used an improper test method in its reporting that is not included in California regulations and does not measure a product according to how it is actually used by consumers. We stand by every single plank of wood and laminate we sell all around the country.”

The case is John Tyrrell et al v. Lumber Liquidators Inc., Case No. 2:2015cv01615, California Central District Court.


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Monday, March 16, 2015

Air pollution slows cognitive development in children: Study

Traffic-related fumes in schools may
lead to development problems in children.
Attendance at schools exposed to high levels of traffic-related air pollution is linked to slower cognitive development among 7-10-year-old children in Barcelona, according to a study published by Jordi Sunyer and colleagues from the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology (CREAL), Spain, published in PLOS Medicine.

The researchers measured three cognitive outcomes (working memory, superior working memory, and attentiveness) every 3 months over a 12-month period in 2715 primary school children attending 39 schools.

By comparing the development of these cognitive outcomes in the children attending schools where exposure to air pollution was high to those children attending a school with a similar socio-economic index where exposure to pollution was low, they found that the increase in cognitive development over time among children attending highly polluted schools was less than among children attending paired lowly polluted schools, even after adjusting for additional factors that affect cognitive development.

Thus, for example, there was an 11.5% 12-month increase in working memory at the lowly polluted schools but only a 7.4% 12-month increase in working memory at the highly polluted schools.

These results were confirmed using direct measurements of traffic related pollutants at schools.

The findings suggest that the developing brain may be vulnerable to traffic-related air pollution well into middle childhood, a conclusion that has implications for the design of air pollution regulations and for the location of new schools.

While the authors controlled for socioeconomic factors, the accuracy of these findings may be limited by residual confounding, that is, the children attending schools where traffic-related pollution is high might have shared other unknown characteristics that affected their cognitive development.

Source: Press release

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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Viral documentary is challenging China’s powerful polluters

Pollution has become China's "Inconvenient Truth".
Photo by Danilo Rizzuti/
A Chinese video has garnered well over 20 million views on video sharing site YouKu, and close to 5 million on Tencent Video.

What’s more, it hasn't yet been banned.

Usually that would describe content like celebrity gossip or comical animals, but this is Under the Dome, a meticulously researched documentary on the causes and implications of the country’s pollution crisis.

Pollution in China is an inconvenient truth. Nearly everyone agrees it is a problem, but the intricacies, scale, and potential solutions are not well understood.

Chai Jing—a former TV news anchor who produced Under the Dome with her own funds—has attempted to tackle the complexities of the issue much as Al Gore did for climate change.

In her documentary, Chai purposefully guides viewers through the data on pollution, weaving in interviews with experts, policymakers, and industry representatives.

The documentary—named after the Stephen King book that inspired an American TV series—is novel on many levels. There is an expertly animated section showing how particulate matter infiltrates the lungs.

Charts and disturbing images of pollution-ravaged lungs are presented with Gore-like effectiveness.

And there are many moving anecdotes from Chai about her personal relationship with pollution, which she believes caused her infant daughter to be born with a benign tumor.

But what’s most surprising is how brazenly Chai attacks some of the most powerful organizations in the country, from the coal and oil industries to the Ministry of Environmental Protection and state-run banks.

She makes a trip to a coal factory in Hebei Province to get a firsthand account of production.

Chai goes on to discuss the quality of coal and poor regulation of its disposal.

In recent years, our coal consumption has grown, the quality of the coal has gotten worse, we aren’t cleaning the coal, and there is little regulation of coal disposal.

The result is this: In China, the places with higher coal consumption have a much higher concentration of particulate matter.

Regulators and the oil industry

Chai moves on to talk about the impact of oil consumption on air quality, focusing first on vehicle emissions standards. She addresses the fact that, while China’s increasing reliance on cars is partly to blame for poorer air quality, lax regulation of heavy-duty trucks is even more harmful.

She tracks down drivers that have stickers on their trucks claiming that they have been cleared for the “China IV” emissions standards.

Checking their engines, however, reveals that they are well below these standards. While there are regulations that can put a stop to these “counterfeit China IV” trucks, she says, they are never enforced.

Chai attempts to find out which government department is responsible for enforcing these regulations. She finds a lot of buck passing.

Moving past enforcement, Chai turns to the poor quality of oil used in commercial vehicles.

She looks to find out why standards aren’t higher, and finds a revolving door between the oil industry and the regulators meant to keep it in check.

Banks, subsidies, and zombie companies

Looking for an example of the kind of heavy industry that consumes large amounts of the coal and oil she’s been discussing, Chai zeroes in on steel.

She reveals a systemic problem faced by several industries in the country: “zombie” companies, which are noncompetitive and obsolete firms that are kept alive primarily by government subsidies.

She later makes a more general point: The most important thing for the government to do is not to subsidize obsolete, polluting industries. What it should do is provide fair opportunities for the industries of tomorrow.

What to do about it

Amazingly, given the film’s critical tone and its high-profile targets in government and major Chinese industries, the video has not (yet) been blocked, although state-run news organizations have been directed not to “hype” the documentary further, according to China Digital Times, which monitors leaked censorship instructions.

Since that directive makes clear that the authorities are aware of “Under the Dome,” it’s not clear why Chai has been able to survive the censors.

Perhaps it’s because the video is so measured in its criticism, or that it simply became too popular too fast to shut down. Or maybe the government simply agrees with her message.

According to one government report, newly appointed environment minister Chen Jining said the documentary was “worthy of respect” and thanked Chai for her work.

Even with its popularity, though, Chai is just one former TV anchor. Her lecture closes by imploring others to act.

She tells anyone who is watching to find a way to help, comparing the experience of China to those of countries that have overcome once deadly pollution problems.

This article has been edited for length. Source: Quartz

Of course, Chinese officials have begun responding and deleting the documentary from various popular sites. Read more about that here

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