Friday, January 30, 2015

Air pollution to be pressing issue for families and lawmakers

Poor air quality threatens family health.
SALT LAKE CITY — Poor air quality and its adverse impacts to health have risen as a key concern for both policymakers and the public, threatening family health and quality of life, Utah's economy and the vibrancy of its outdoor recreation.

Solving the problem promises to be an issue that once again demands significant time and money from Utah's lawmakers this session.

A spate of bills has already been introduced, although advocates and the co-chairman of the Utah Legislature's Clean Air Caucus do not believe this session will be as active as 2014 when it comes to the number of measures filed.

"I think a lot of the focus this year will be on funding," said Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek. "Air quality will be a high priority again, but we want to make sure our funding is not just one-time. I see some important legislation coming forward."

The clean air effort also promises to capture the attention of a public dealing with January inversion.

Billed last year as the largest political protest in Utah's modern history, the "Clean Air No Excuses" rally in late January drew a boisterous crowd demanding action.

Protecting children

The physicians group and HEAL Utah both are keeping an eye on air quality measures in the session this year. They mentioned Rep. Steve Handy's HB49 as a good proposal that did not pass last year that they hope prevails in this session.

Mirroring a recommendation from Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, the bill would provide $20 million to change out the most polluting diesel school buses in the state fleet and to boost the fueling infrastructure for alternative-fuel buses.

Multiple studies point to air pollution levels inside buses that can be greater than emissions outside the actual bus. Researchers have found that the elevated levels inside the bus are attributed to emissions from the bus itself that intrude into the cabin, a process sometimes termed "self-pollution."

One study found that average exposure to PM2.5 emissions or fine particulates on school buses was five to six times greater than ambient levels outside, and that exposures to both kinds of emissions and black carbon were determined to be higher than an average walking commute.

Another study from Los Angeles determined that diesel exhaust levels inside four sampled school buses were up to 400 percent higher than what was measured inside a passenger car driving directly ahead of the school buses.

Handy's bill addresses many of the buses that were manufactured before 2002 to get at some of the worst offenders. Because he doesn't want polluting buses to be sold to be some other state's health risk and pollution problem, the buses that will be replaced will be destroyed, not sold.

"This makes a certain and clear statement that school districts are committed to cleaner school buses, and we are not passing on the problem to someone else," Handy said.

The bill is identical to what Handy ran last year, but he believes with Herbert's support, as well as that of other groups, there will be more political traction to get the measure passed in 2015.

Change equipment

Herbert's budget also calls for increased funding for what's known as the CARROT program to change out dirty, polluting equipment that can include snowblowers or lawnmowers.

The program received $200,000 last year, and the Utah Department of Environmental Quality believes the governor's request for an additional $1.5 million will make a significant dent in removing some of the most polluting equipment out there.

Moench said he believes there will always be a gap between what the advocates ask for in the arena of air quality and what lawmakers are willing to pass, but he said groups are not going to relent on efforts to hold industry to higher standards and to repeal Utah's "no more stringent" state law that prohibits the state from making tougher rules than the Environmental Protection Agency.

HEAL Utah Director Matt Pacenza said groups also hope to see another push for a local option sales tax with revenue directed at boosting mass transit, specifically adding more bus routes.

The measure passed overwhelmingly in the House last session but faltered the final night of the session in the Senate, never making it up for a vote.

Source: Deseret News

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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Firefighters have higher risk of cancer: Study

Study confirms cancer cluster among firefighters in Victoria

Firefighters are exposed to flammable
chemicals, combustion, foams and more.
Firefighters who worked at a Country Fire Authority facility in Victoria’s Ballarat region have a higher incidence of skin, testicular and brain cancers, a comprehensive study has found.

The study, conducted by Monash University, examined cancer and death rates linked to the Fiskville site between 1971 and 1999. It found 69 cancers were among the 606 people who worked and trained there, resulting in 16 deaths.

After releasing the findings, the Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, told reporters the research confirmed “beyond any reasonable doubt” that there was a statistically significant increase in cancers associated with firefighters who worked at the site.

“This is a very tragic report,” he said. “The evidence is becoming clearer and clearer each day that people have become sick because of this place. People have died because of this place.”

Researchers found a cancer cluster in the high-risk group, considered to be those who worked full-time on the site training firefighters, and who were exposed to flammable chemicals, combustion, foams and recycled firewater.

Of 95 high-risk workers traced, 25 had cancer and six had passed away from their cancer, the study found.

In December, Andrews announced a landmark parliamentary inquiry to examine pollution, contamination and unsafe activities at Fiskville training centre from 1970 to 1990. It is expected to conclude in June this year.

The commission would provide victims and their families with answers and support, and would consider “how, not whether” those affected and their families would be compensated. “This is sad, tragic, and we’re going to put this right,” Andrews said.

But the risk was a historical one, he said. Many of the chemicals staff came into contact with were no longer used during training.

“For those who work here now, there are very low risks associated with this site today because remediation work has been done,” Andrews said. “There’s ongoing oversight and monitoring of those risks and that vigilance is critically important.”

A spokeswoman for the Country Fire Authority (CFA) said the organisation’s chief executive, Mick Bourke, would not be speaking to the media. “He will be communicating with CFA members at some point today through a blog post,” she said.

An official with the United Firefighters Union Victorian branch, Mick Tisbury, said it was “abhorrent” Bourke had refused to comment. The union was calling for his immediate resignation, he said.

“He and the CFA have been denying there was anything wrong with the place for years, they have put our health and safety at risk.

“We’re not expendable. We have families. We are people.”

Tisbury worked at the Fiskville site for 11 years.

“Every day, we have to live with this at the back of our minds,” he said.

In June last year, there was anger among some firefighters and their families when Cancer Council Victoria released a preliminary report that stated firefighters who worked at Fiskville did not have an increased incidence of cancer.

Cancer Council CEO Todd Harper said the report was commissioned only to look at data readily available by cross-referencing the records of 599 Victorian firefighters with data from the Victorian cancer registry.

“At the time we explained the limitations of this study, including imprecision of the relative risk estimates. So, while the earlier report did not find evidence of a cluster, nor did it rule out the existence of one. The Monash University study takes into account those firefighters who had moved interstate - information which was not available earlier.”

He said the council would like to see coordinated action at a national and state level in order to reduce the burden of harm from occupational cancers.

The co-investigator of the latest study, Professor Malcolm Sim, said the research was now more comprehensive, which is why the findings differed.

“The Cancer Council report only looked at firefighters in Victoria and was only supposed to be a preliminary examination, but what we did is trace firefighters who had moved interstate and we did pick up some cancer in those people,” said Sims, who is director of the Monash centre for occupational and environmental health.

“We also placed people into different categories of exposure based on existing guidelines for doing so. This is quite a major piece of work that used Australian Institute of Health data and took over one year to complete.”

The cancer results “stood right out”, Sims said. “Their death rates from other causes of disease, like heart and respiratory disease, were quite low, because these are healthy, fit people.

“That’s why their cancer results stood right out. There was a big gap between cancer and other diseases you don’t usually see in people like this, with healthy lifestyles.”

Researchers would look in more detail at the specific compounds associated with the cancers among the group, he said.

“The problem is the firefighters studied came into contact with a cocktail of exposures and chemicals, and we don’t know which ones may be contributing to their cancers,” Sims said.

Source: The Guardian

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Cosmetics industry tackles air pollution effects

Pollution can accelerate normal
aging, experts say.
Many people want younger looking skin and one of the ways to do that includes protecting it from sun damage.

But now a slew of products are also claiming to protect skin from pollutants in the air.

Actress Aicha Reid has had a strict skincare regimen since high school. Lately, she's noticed the damage to her skin from air pollution.

"It's happened before where I'm walking by a bus and then all of a sudden there's just like this thick black smoke just wafting into my face and I'm just like, 'my pores!'" she said.

Reid is not alone. A recent Mintel report found that in the U.S. 34 percent of women are concerned about the effects of pollution on their skin, and cosmetic companies are taking notice.

"There's been an explosion of products that are either being developed or remarketed for the purpose of decreasing damage from air pollution," said Dr. Amy Derick a board-certified dermatologist and American Academy of Dermatology member.

Products are now being promoted to remove particulates from the skin, or neutralize free radicals, which are molecules experts say injure the skin's cells and cause inflammation.

"Pollution can accelerate normal aging by breaking down collagen and increasing free radicals in the skin, so I think that it can accelerate the aging process in certain people," Derick said.

Experts said exposure to pollution over time can lead to dullness, wrinkles and dark spots. Dr. Derick recommends using a cleansing brush to decrease the amount of pollution left on your skin overnight and also a topical antioxidant.

Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi, a board-certified dermatologist and American Academy of Dermatology member, said researching products is essential.

"Find out what products have been shown to be scientifically helpful. Find out which ones are not just jumping on the pollution bandwagon, and those that have really gone and put in some research behind it," she said.

Reid said her skin looks even better now that she is paying attention to the air around her.

"I've noticed a major improvement in my skin since I started taking, you know, proper steps to sort of counter the effects of air pollution damage," Reid said.

Industry studies are underway to further investigate the effects of pollution on different types of skin. Industry experts also said we can expect even more anti-pollution skin care products on the market in the near future.

Source: ABC7

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Monday, January 19, 2015

Asthma on the rise in China's cities

Air pollution is a major risk factor
for asthma, experts say.
Asthma cases have risen dramatically in China over the past decade along with ever deteriorating air pollution, according to leading respiratory specialists.

Nationwide, the prevalence of asthma stands at 1 to 2 percent, while in some cities it can reach more than 10 percent, a leading pulmonary physician said.

Lin Jiangtao, director of the China Asthma Alliance and a physician at China-Japan Friendship Hospital, was citing results from the first nationwide epidemiology survey on asthma, which he led.

The potentially fatal disease has risen quickly across the nation, with Shanghai recording the fastest increase in prevalence of 190 percent over the past decade.

"Given that air pollution is a major risk factor in asthma, the disease is still rising constantly," Lin warned.

In a widely reported case, Chinese mother Shang Yujun moved her son to three different Chinese cites to escape air pollution before finally settling in London to control his asthma.

Lin suggested that patients with the disease limit outdoor activities and heavy exercise on days with high concentrations of pollutants, as such conditions can prompt asthma attacks.

Asthma is the leading cause of hospitalization among children in China and imposes a significant burden on their families. Patients with the condition have increased rates of work absenteeism.

The Asia Asthma Development Board said China has the world’s highest mortality rate from asthma, with 36.7 out of 100,000 patients failing to survive.

Wang Chen, a leading respiratory disease expert and an academic at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said, "Various respiratory diseases have become a public health challenge in China."

But he said public awareness remains poor in a country where only 34 percent of the cases are under control.

Of the more than 30 million patients in China, about 80 percent fail to effectively control the disease and less than 5 percent have received standard treatment, Lin said.

A 36-year-old patient surnamed Wang, from Hebei province, said he used to be hospitalized three times a year in Beijing for serious asthma attacks. He was diagnosed with the disease after having it for more than a year.

"I frequently felt out of breath and had to take a rest when climbing up several steps," he said.

Drug therapy and a surgical procedure called bronchial thermoplasty helped put him back on his feet after he had to use a wheelchair.

Wang Chen called for standardized treatment and improved access to drug treatment for asthma patients.

Source: China Daily

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Friday, January 16, 2015

Chemical cleanup workers exposed to hazards

TCS employees not provided safety gear and other protections

Worker safety needs to be taken
seriously, OSHA inspectors say.
For the third time in two years, a chemical tank cleaning service has exposed workers cleaning portable tank wagons to dangerous confined space hazards.

Responding to a complaint, U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors found seven repeated and two serious violations at Dedicated TCS LLC's Channahon site. OSHA has proposed penalties of $79,464.

"Once again, Dedicated TCS has failed to protect its workers and expects them to work with hazardous materials such as hydroxide and nitrogen chemical residue in dangerous spaces without safety equipment," said Kathy Webb, OSHA's area director in Calumet City.

"The company's failure to safeguard its employees is a consistent and unacceptable habit. It must stop now."

During a July 28, 2014, inspection, OSHA found that Dedicated TCS gas meters were not in working condition, and neither rescue and retrieval devices nor appropriate lighting for use in permit-required confined spaces were provided.

A confined space is one large enough for workers to enter and perform certain jobs, such as a tank wagon, but it has limited or restricted means for entry or exit and is not designed for continuous occupancy.

The company also failed to train workers about the hazards they faced and how to use personal protective equipment when working with chemical residue.

Inspectors also found that the entry supervisor did not verify that all safety requirements were met before allowing workers to enter the tank wagons.

Dedicated TCS was cited for the same violations at the Channahon facility in September 2012 and the company's Lansing facility in November 2012.

OSHA issues repeated violations if an employer previously was cited for the same or a similar violation of any standard, regulation, rule or order at any other facility in federal enforcement states within the last five years.

The July 2014 inspection also found slip, trip and fall hazards on floors and stairs and used, damaged extension cords, resulting in two 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.

The company 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.

To ask questions, obtain compliance assistance, file a complaint, or report workplace hospitalizations, fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, the public should call OSHA's toll-free hotline at 800-321-OSHA (6742).

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

Source: OSHA

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

EPA moves against harmful chemicals in homes and schools

Poor IAQ can affect staff and student
health and productivity.
The EPA has taken action to protect consumers from new uses and imports of the harmful chemicals Toluene Diisocyanates (TDI).

These chemicals are currently widely used in residual amounts in the production of polyurethanes and consumer products, such as coatings, elastomers, adhesives, and sealants and can be found in products used in and around homes or schools.

Diisocyanates are well known dermal and inhalation sensitizers in the workplace and can cause asthma, lung damage, and in severe cases, death.

The proposed decision would give EPA the opportunity to evaluate the use of, and if necessary, to take action to prohibit or limit all products containing over 0.1 percent of the chemical including imported products that make their way into the United States.

EPA’s proposed action, a Significant New Use Rule (SNUR) under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), would require manufacturers (including importers) to notify EPA at least 90 days before starting or resuming new uses of these chemicals in consumer products at levels above 0.1 percent by weight.

EPA would then have the opportunity to evaluate the intended use of the chemicals and, if necessary, take action to prohibit or limit the activity.

Source: EPA

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Friday, January 9, 2015

Cruise line to install exhaust gas scrubber systems

EPA, Coast Guard extend pollution control agreement with Royal Caribbean

Emissions from ocean-going vessels
can harm air quality on land.
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Coast Guard authorized formal exemptions by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines that allow for the enlargement of  the cruise line’s research program to develop and install exhaust gas scrubber systems on its cruise ships.

Under the exemption, as articulated in MARPOL, Royal Caribbean will expand the program from six to 19 ships.

This advanced emission control technology will be used in waters surrounding U.S. coasts, known as Emission Control Areas (ECAs).

Because emissions from ocean-going vessels can harm air quality on land, the U.S. government requires ships operating within the North American and U.S. Caribbean ECAs to reduce harmful air pollution emissions such as nitrogen oxide, sulfur oxide, and particulate matter.

The ECAs were developed by the United States and Canada through an agreement with the International Maritime Organization in order to protect human health and the environment by significantly reducing air pollution from ocean-going vessels.

EPA estimates that by 2020 the low sulfur ECA requirements will have prevented as many as 14,000 premature deaths and relieved respiratory symptoms for nearly 5 million people in the United States and Canada.

Royal Caribbean’s research program has developed exhaust gas scrubber technology that has the potential to provide greater emission reductions than would be achieved using only ECA compliant low-sulfur fuel, and at a much lower cost.

Under this research program extension, a total of 19 ships covering a range of vessel sizes and applications will begin using these scrubbers starting in 2015.

These permits provide a temporary relief from the ECA’s fuel sulfur content requirements.

This approach will enable Royal Caribbean to meet its emission requirements through exhaust gas scrubber technology, rather than with engine and fuel system modifications. This trial program will also provide valuable information on developing advanced emissions control technologies for other marine engines.

Source: EPA

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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Fracking may be as dangerous as asbestos: Report

The health effects of fracking are still
unknown, scientists warn.
Fracking could carry unforeseen risks in the way that thalidomide, tobacco and asbestos did, warns a report produced by the UK government’s chief scientific adviser.

A chapter in the flagship annual report produced by the UK’s chief scientist, Mark Walport, argues that history holds many examples of innovations that were adopted hastily and later had serious negative environmental and health impacts. The chapter is written by Prof Andrew Stirling of the University of Sussex.

The controversial technique, which involves pumping chemicals, sand and water at high pressure underground to fracture shale rock and release the gas within, has been strongly backed by the government with David Cameron saying the UK is “going all out for shale”.

But environmentalists fear that fracking could contaminate water supplies, bring heavy lorry traffic to rural areas, displace investment in renewable energy and accelerate global warming.

The chapter in the report produced by the chief scientific adviser appears to echo those fears. “History presents plenty of examples of innovation trajectories that later proved to be problematic — for instance involving asbestos, benzene, thalidomide, dioxins, lead in petrol, tobacco, many pesticides, mercury, chlorine and endocrine-disrupting compounds...” it says.

“In all these and many other cases, delayed recognition of adverse effects incurred not only serious environmental or health impacts, but massive expense and reductions in competitiveness for firms and economies persisting in the wrong path.”

Thalidomide was one of the worst drug scandals in modern history, killing 80,000 babies and maiming 20,000 babies after it was taken by expectant mothers.

Fracking provides a potentially similar example today, the report warns: “... innovations reinforcing fossil fuel energy strategies — such as hydraulic fracturing — arguably offer a contemporary prospective example.”

Stirling’s chapter also argues that the UK and the world could tackle climate change with energy efficiency and renewable energy alone but vested interests in the fossil fuel industry stand in the way.

There is a “clear feasibility of strategies built entirely around energy efficiency and renewable energy”, the report, published late last year, says. “Yet one of the main obstacles to this lies in high-profile self-fulfilling assertions to the contrary, including by authoritative policy figures.”

“In energy... the obstacles to less-favoured strategies [such as energy efficiency and renewables] are typically more commercial, institutional and cultural than they are technical. Among the most potent of these political obstructions are claims from partisan interests — such as incumbent nuclear or fossil fuel industries — that there is no alternative to their favoured innovations and policies.”

A spokesman for the Royal Academy of Engineering, which produced an influential 2012 report on shale gas with the Royal Society that concluded it could be safe if it was properly regulated, said the risks from fracking were very low.

“Our conclusion was that if carried out to highest standards of best practice, the risks are very low for any environmental contamination. The most serious risks come in the drilling and casing and surface operations rather than the fracturing itself.”

“You can’t eliminate the risk of something going wrong, but you can monitor very closely and be very open and transparent about what’s going on.”

On the chief scientific adviser’s report, he said: “I think he’s making a very broad and general point.”

Greenpeace UK’s energy campaigner, Louise Hutchins, said: “This is a naked-emperor moment for the government’s dash to frack. Ministers are being warned by their own chief scientist that we don’t know anywhere near enough about the potential side effects of shale drilling to trust this industry. The report is right to raise concerns about not just the potential environmental and health impact but also the economic costs of betting huge resources on an unproven industry. Ministers should listen to this appeal to reason and subject their shale push to a sobering reality check.”

• The original article and headline were amended on 3 December 2014. An earlier version said that the Walport report compared the fracking risk to thalidomide and asbestos. To clarify, a chapter in the evidence and case studies produced with the report did not directly compare the risks, but said history presented examples of innovation trajectories that later proved to be problematic - including thalidomide and asbestos - and that innovations including hydraulic fracking arguably offered a contemporary prospective example.

Source: The Guardian

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