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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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

NY hair salon fired employee who warned others of formaldehyde threat

A receptionist wanted to make her
colleagues aware of health hazards
connected to hair salon products.
NEW YORK – All a receptionist at Salon ZoĆ« hair salon wanted to do was make her fellow employees aware of health hazards associated with products containing formaldehyde that were regularly used by haircutters and stylists at the business in the Riverdale section of the Bronx.

Her employer responded by firing her.

As a result, the U.S. Department of Labor is suing the business and its owner, Kristina Veljovic, for discrimination, and seeking redress and compensation for the worker who exercised her rights under the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

"This firing was illegal and inexcusable," said Robert Kulick, regional administrator in New York for the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

"It's against the law to fire or otherwise retaliate against an employee for informing colleagues about possible health hazards in their place of employment. Such behavior not only intimidates workers, it also can deny them access to knowledge that will protect them against workplace hazards."

The suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York says the worker began to experience respiratory distress in December 2011, including difficulty breathing and an impaired sense of smell. She sought medical attention on multiple occasions over the next several months.

During this period, she also told her employer that she believed the salon's hair-straightening products, which contain formaldehyde, were causing her health problems.

On June 27, 2012, she informed fellow employees of the presence of formaldehyde in the salon's products and provided several co-workers with copies of an OSHA fact sheet* detailing the dangers of formaldehyde exposure.

Two days later, Kristina Veljovic terminated her employment. In July 2012, a physician confirmed that the worker's respiratory distress resulted from her formaldehyde exposure at work.

She subsequently filed an anti-discrimination complaint with OSHA, which investigated and found merit to her complaint.

"No employee should be fired for raising awareness of a potential workplace health hazard," said Jeffrey Rogoff, the regional Solicitor of Labor in New York.

"Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Labor Department has the authority to file suit against employers who retaliate against employees and it will do so when the case warrants. This is clearly one of those cases."

The department's lawsuit asks the court to affirm the discrimination charge and permanently prohibit the defendants from illegally retaliating against employees in the future.

It also seeks payment of lost wages as well as compensatory, punitive and emotional distress damages to the employee, an offer of reinstatement with full benefits and seniority and the removal of all references to the matter in the worker's employment records.

It would also require the employer to prominently post a notice that she will not discriminate against employees.

In a related action, OSHA's Tarrytown Area Office conducted an inspection of Salon Zoe and cited the company in December 2012 for lack of a chemical hazard communication program and for not providing the salon's employees with information and training on formaldehyde and other hazardous chemicals.

OSHA enforces the whistleblower* provisions of the OSH Act and 21 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, worker safety, public transportation agency, maritime and securities laws.

Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or to the government.

Employees who believe that they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the secretary of labor to request an investigation by OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program. Detailed information on employee whistleblower rights, including fact sheets, is available here.

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

Source: OSHA

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