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Bar tending and waitressing (especially in smoky environments) can affect your lungs.

Bar tending and waitressing (especially in smoky environments) can affect your lungs.

Your lungs work hard. Most adults take more than 20,000 breaths a day. But just how well your lungs do their job may be affected by the job you do.

Chemicals. Germs. Tobacco smoke and dirt. Fibers, dust, and even things you might not think are dangerous can damage your airway and threaten your lungs.

“The lungs are complex organs,” says Philip Harber, MD, MPH, professor of public health at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “Occupational and environmental exposures can lead to scarring or fibrosis, asthma, COPD, and infection or cancer.”

The good news: Many on-the-job lung dangers are preventable. Depending on your line of work, making certain changes can be key: Improve ventilation, wear protective equipment, change the way you do your work, and learn more about hazards, for examples.

Here are 10 jobs where precautions may help you avoid work-related lung damage.

1. Bartending and Waitressing

Secondhand smoke has been linked to lung cancer. It remains a threat to workers in cities where smoking hasn’t been banned in public places. Casino workers also can find themselves in a cloud of smoke.

No one’s going to wear a respirator while serving martinis or dealing a blackjack game. Separating smokers from nonsmokers, cleaning the air, and ventilating buildings won’t keep nonsmokers from being exposed.

Short of working to change policy, the best solution may be to find another job.

“Unfortunately, the individual worker has limited options,” says Susanna Von Essen, MD. She’s a University of Nebraska Medical Center professor of internal medicine in the division of pulmonary, critical care, sleep, and allergy.

2. Housekeeping and Cleaning

Some cleaning supplies, even so-called “green” or “natural” products, have harmful chemicals that have been linked with developing asthma.

“Cleaners are reactive chemicals, meaning that they react with dirt and also with your lung tissues,” Von Essen says.

Some release volatile organic compounds, which can contribute to chronic respiratory problems and allergic reactions. Read labels and follow instructions.

Consider using “simple cleaning agents like vinegar and water or baking soda,” Von Essen says. Open windows and doors to keep the area well ventilated, too.

3. Health Care

Doctors, nurses, and other people who work in hospitals, medical offices, or nursing homes are at increased risk for lung diseases such as tuberculosis, influenza, and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

So, health care workers should keep up with immunizations (including the flu vaccine) that the CDC recommends for them.

Health care workers may also develop asthma if latex is used in gloves or other supplies. Latex-free synthetic gloves are an alternative.

Hair stylists who use certain products may harm their health.

Hair stylists who use certain products may harm their health.

4. Hair Styling

Certain hair-coloring agents can lead to occupational asthma. Some salon hair-straightening products contain formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. It’s also a strong eye, nose, throat, and lung irritant.

Good ventilation is important. Because wearing a respirator might cause appointments to cancel, know what’s in the products you’re working with. If they’re not safe, find a safer product.

5. Manufacturing

Some factory workers risk getting asthma or making their existing asthma worse. Asthma not caused by work but made worse by it affects as many as 25% of adults with asthma, Harber says.

Factory workers can be exposed to everything from inhaled metals in foundries to silica or fine sand, which can lead to silicosis, a disease that scars the lung, or increased risk of lung cancer.

A lung disorder called “popcorn lung,” or bronchiolitis obliterans, has been seen in plant workers exposed to some of the flavoring chemicals used to make microwave popcorn. Again, respirators and proper ventilation are key for those workers. (No risk of “popcorn lung” has been seen in people who eat that popcorn.)

6. Construction

Workers who demolish old buildings or do remodeling can be exposed to asbestos used as insulation around pipes or in floor tiles.

Even minimal exposure to its microscopic fibers has been linked to a variety of problems. One is mesothelioma, a form of cancer, Von Essen says.

Exposure also seems to raise the risk of small-cell lung cancer and can lead to asbestosis, or scarring of the lung. Removal should be left to trained and licensed crews.

“Know where the asbestos is,” Von Essen says. “Follow all the rules and don’t take chances.”

7. Farming

Working with crops and animals can lead to several disorders. Hypersensitivity pneumonitis is a rare but serious problem caused by repeated exposures to mold-contaminated grain or hay. The lung’s air sacs become inflamed and may develop scar tissue.

Grain in metal bins can get moldy. Breathing dust from this grain can lead to fevers, chills, and a flu-like illness called “organic dust toxic syndrome.” Farmers also are more likely to report a cough and chest tightness.

“We think about 30% of farmers who grow crops in this way have had that at some point,” Von Essen says. Workers in hog and chicken barns sometimes get an asthma-like syndrome.

“Dust and ammonia levels together seem to be risk factors,” she says. Keep grain from getting damp, ensure adequate ventilation, and wear a respirator.

8. Auto Body Spray Painting

People who work in auto body shops are often exposed to chemicals known as isocyanates. They’re a significant cause of occupational asthma.

“It’s frequently a career-ending disease where they need to leave their profession,” Harber says.

Using quality respirators that are appropriate for your task can lessen the risk. It also helps to enclose the area being sprayed and to have a ventilated exhaust system. Better yet, replace hazardous materials with safer ones.

9. Firefighting

Firefighters are exposed to toxic chemicals that may affect their health. Photo: www.freedigitalphotos.net

Firefighters are exposed to toxic chemicals that may affect their health.
Photo: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

People who battle blazes are exposed not only to the fire, but also to other materials, including burning plastics and chemicals. Firefighters can significantly lower their risk of lung disease and other problems by using a “self-contained breathing apparatus” (SCBA). These devices should also be used during “mop up” or the clean-up period.

“Many of the chemicals are still in the air,” Harber says. Ventilation also is critical.

10. Coal Mining

Underground miners are at risk for everything from bronchitis to pneumoconiosis, or “black lung.” It’s a chronic condition caused by inhaling coal dust that becomes embedded in the lungs, causing them to harden and make breathing very hard.

“This can cause progressive massive fibrosis and can kill people,” Von Essen says.

Again, protective equipment can limit the amount of dust inhaled.

Source: WebMD

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A study found harmful chemicals like benzene and formaldehyde in high concentrations near wells and fracking sites.

A study found harmful chemicals like benzene and formaldehyde in high concentrations near wells and fracking sites.

Oil and gas wells across the country are spewing “dangerous” cancer-causing chemicals into the air, according to a new study that further corroborates reports of health problems around hydraulic fracturing sites.

“This is a significant public health risk,” says Dr. David Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany-State University of New York and lead author of the study, which was published Thursday in the journal Environmental Health.

“Cancer has a long latency, so you’re not seeing an elevation in cancer in these communities. But five, 10, 15 years from now, elevation in cancer is almost certain to happen.”

Eight poisonous chemicals were found near wells and fracking sites in Arkansas, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wyoming at levels that far exceeded recommended federal limits.

Benzene, a carcinogen, was the most common, as was formaldehyde, which also has been linked to cancer. Hydrogen sulfide, which smells like rotten eggs and can affect the brain and upper-respiratory system, also was found.

The health effects of living near a fracking site have been felt elsewhere, according to separate research.

A study published last month by researchers from the University of Washington and Yale University found residents within a kilometer of a well had up to twice the number of health problems as those living at least 2 kilometers away.

For Carpenter’s study, trained volunteers living near the wells conducted air measurements, taking 35 “grab air” samples during heavy industrial activity or when they felt symptoms such as dizziness, nausea or headaches.

Another 41 “passive” tests – meaning samples were taken during a designated period, not merely when levels spiked – were conducted to monitor for formaldehyde. The tests were then sent to accredited labs.

Not every sample exceeded the recommended limits. But in those that did – slightly less than half the samples taken – benzene levels were 35 to 770,000 times greater than normal concentrations, or up to 33 times the exposure a driver might get while fueling his or her car.

Similarly, hydrogen sulfide levels above federal standards were 90 to 60,000 times higher than normal – enough to cause eye and respiratory irritation, fatigue, irritability, poor memory and dizziness after just one hour of exposure.

Excessive formaldehyde levels were 30 to 240 times higher than normal, which a statement on the study described as “more than twice the formaldehyde concentration that occurs in rooms where medical students are dissecting human cadavers, and where most students report respiratory irritation.”

A law passed in 2005 by Congress included what’s commonly known as the “Halliburton loophole,” which exempts oil and gas companies from federal regulations involving the monitoring and disclosure of fracking chemicals.

“It’s the gift that keeps on giving, the longer you’re exposed to these things,” says Wyoming resident Deb Thomas, who saw a well open across the road from her in 1999 and helped collect air samples for Carpenter’s study.

“I had an asthmatic episode – I’ve never had any asthma, I don’t have a history of asthma. I ended up at the hospital where they gave me breathing treatments. I’ve had really bad rashes.”

Thomas has come across similar symptoms at other unconventional oil and gas sites across the country, where as executive director of the nonprofit group ShaleTest, she’s helped take air samples for low-income families and communities affected by fracking.

“We see a lot of cognitive difficulties,” she says. “People get asthma or breathing difficulty or nose polyps or something with their eyes or their ears ring – the sorts of things that come on very subtly, but you start to notice them.”

However, it’s difficult to determine which health issues are a result of oil and gas operations and which stem from other factors, because symptoms often start only gradually and government air quality studies have proved limited in scope.

“It’s really hard to say what’s from the actual exposure,” Thomas says. “It’s very scary. It’s very hard to get information about what the development is. One minute you’re living your normal life, the next, people start to get really sick and they can’t get any answers.”

Occupational risks for workers

The chemicals may pose major risks to oil and gas workers, too.

“The occupational exposures we’re not even talking about,” Carpenter says. “If anybody is exposed at the levels our results show, these workers are exposed at tremendous levels.”

The American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas industry’s largest trade and lobbying group, and America’s Natural Gas Alliance, which represents independent gas exploration and production companies, both declined to comment ahead of the study’s release.

Spokesmen at each group referred questions to another industry organization, Energy In Depth, which dismissed the study’s methods and conclusions as “dubious.”

“Their commitment to banning oil and gas development, and their ideological position that fracking can never be adequately regulated, is clearly why this report comes to such harsh conclusions,” says Energy In Depth spokeswoman Katie Brown, referring to the group that trained the volunteers, Global Community Monitor. “They were probably determined before the project ever began.”

The study’s findings came as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo weighed whether to end a state moratorium on fracking. Cuomo, a Democrat, had delayed the release of a state health department study on the industry until after elections.

As a professor and researcher in the New York state capital, Carpenter says he hopes his study “does influence the debate.”

“There’s certainly economic reasons to explore fracking,” he says. “I’m not religiously opposed to fracking. While I prefer renewable fuels, we’re a long way from that. I just want it done safely. There’s been debate about how safe or unsafe it is, and our results say there is a problem.”

Source: US News

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Dry cleaners often use hazardous chemicals. Photo: Simon Law.

Dry cleaners often use hazardous chemicals. Photo: Simon Law.

When Myra Vargas and her husband took over a dry-cleaning business in Jamaica Plain last spring, they had to make a tough decision: whether to use a common chemical called perchloroethylene, known as perc, or institute a costly change.

Vargas knew that perc, which they’d been using to clean clothes at their Roslindale shop for nearly two decades, was dangerous.

Years earlier, she’d been warned to stay away from it while pregnant. But she’d recently learned that perc probably causes cancer in dry-cleaning workers.

“We went seventeen years using something that was dangerous for everybody,” she says.

Extra encouragement to make the change to a safe system known as wet cleaning came from a group called Jamaica Plain New Economy Transition, but it wouldn’t be easy.

The couple would need to buy all new machinery and pay to get rid of their old, perc-based equipment. And making the switch would cost more than $100,000, a daunting hurdle. Plus, they’d heard conflicting stories about whether wet cleaning worked as well. But then the project helped them get a $15,000 state grant and launch a Kickstarter campaign that raised another $18,000.

On September 11, J&P Dry Cleaners celebrated its grand opening as the neighborhood’s only wet cleaner and one of only about a dozen in the state.

The shop’s opening was the first success in an ambitious effort to rid Jamaica Plain businesses of chemicals likely or suspected to cause cancer.

Across the nation, Main Street businesses routinely use such chemicals: at beauty and nail salons, hair straighteners and polishes that may release formaldehyde, for instance; at auto shops, brake cleaners that can include perc and solvents with trichloroethylene.

By persuading companies to switch to safer alternatives, the JP project aims to create locally what its leaders are calling “a cancer-free economy.”

Although nationally cancer rates are declining slightly, an estimated 1.7 million Americans will be diagnosed with the disease this year and more than half a million will die of it.

But most of us don’t need stats to tell us there’s a lot of cancer around — everyone seems to know someone.

“Not enough effort, not enough research, not enough funds have been directed toward upstream efforts to prevent carcinogens from getting into the human environment in the first place,” says Richard Clapp, an epidemiologist at the University of Massachusetts Lowell Center for Sustainable Production, which is partnering on the Jamaica Plain project.

“How do we get to the point where we don’t pour this fire hydrant of carcinogenic chemicals into the environment?”

To be sure, exposure to chemicals doesn’t cause all (or even most) cancers. The American Cancer Society attributes 30 percent of US cancers to cigarette smoking and 35 percent to poor diet, inactivity, and obesity.

Other factors, such as genetics and infections, also contribute. But any given cancer case is now understood to have more than one cause, Clapp argues, so the idea of dishing out blame to one factor is flawed.

The JP project, which received a $20,000 grant from UMass Lowell’s Toxics Use Reduction Institute last year and was recently awarded another, is gearing up to approach other neighborhood businesses like auto shops and beauty salons.

And it’s trying to persuade local hospitals, hotels, and senior living facilities to use Vargas’s shop for dry cleaning.

In addition to reducing carcinogens, the project aims to support minority- and immigrant-owned small businesses in JP’s gentrifying economy — communities all too often left out of environmental and health discussions.

The Lowell Center for Sustainable Production is taking an even wider-angle look at creating cancer-free economies.

In partnership with two national groups, it secured foundation support — around $1 million for each of the next three years — to build a network of organizations that will strategize how best to wean the national economy off cancer-causing chemicals, then fund a series of initiatives to help do just that.

Whether the JP project or even the national one can credibly reduce our economic dependence on carcinogens remains to be seen. But we need more of this kind of bold, creative thinking.

And if we want businesses, especially small ones, to change their ways, they are going to need help.

Fortunately, Massachusetts has other like-minded initiatives, including Boston’s Green & Clean small-business certification program and the Toxics Use Reduction Institute’s statewide assistance program.

Without the JP project’s help, Vargas says she would never have given up perc.

But she’s thrilled with the decision: There’s no chemical smell in the shop, wash loads take half the time and less energy, and the whites come out whiter. Her utility bills have dropped, and there are no more fees for disposing of perc.

“At the end, it’s worth it, because now we see the results,” she says. “People like it. It’s better.”

Vargas is planning to send other neighborhood business owners to the group and is helping spread its message of a carcinogen-free Jamaica Plain.

“It’s a big problem and a hard process . . . for them to convince people,” she says. “But I’m hoping they do it.”

Source: Boston Globe

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Longtime exposure to contaminated air can affect workers' health and well-being.

Longtime exposure to contaminated air can affect workers’ health and well-being.

Workers exposed to combustible dust and other hazards at Illinois cornstarch processing facility

PARIS, Ill. – Workers were exposed to combustible cornstarch dust, dust particles in excess of permissible exposure limits and other hazards at Septimus Inc.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited the company for 21 serious safety and health violations, carrying proposed penalties of $46,400.

A complaint prompted the inspection at the facility, which processes cornstarch for use in laundry detergent and other products.

“Combustible dust can burn rapidly and explode with little warning, putting workers at risk for severe injury and death,” said Thomas Bielema, OSHA’s area director in Peoria.

“OSHA’s inspection found that Septimus used potential ignition sources, like forklifts and electrical equipment, in areas where combustible dust was present.”

OSHA’s April 30, 2014, inspection found workers were exposed because processing and dust collection equipment lacked protective covers.

If this dust is suspended in the air in the right concentration, under certain conditions, it can become explosive.

The inspection found the company operated powered industrial vehicles in poor repair that were not rated for use in environments where combustible dust was present.

These vehicles, along with numerous electrical violations, provided potential ignition sources for the dust. The force from such an explosion can cause employee deaths, injuries and destruction of buildings.

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board identified 281 combustible dust incidents between 1980 and 2005 that led to the deaths of 119 workers, 718 injuries and numerous extensively damaged industrial facilities.

Workers were also exposed to airborne concentrations of dust in excess of the permissible exposure limit, which can cause respiratory illness and lung disease. The company failed to implement administrative and engineering controls to reduce exposure limits.

Additional serious violations involved amputation hazards and included lack of machine guarding, failure to implement specific lockout/tagout procedures to prevent machinery from operating during service and maintenance, and workers exposed to fall hazards of 7 feet or greater from unguarded working platforms.

The company also failed to train workers about hazardous chemicals in use at the facility and to mark exit routes clearly and ensure they were free of obstructions.

A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

Septimus has a contract with Tate & Lyle to extrude, dry blend and package cornstarch. The company is owned by The Faultless Starch/Bon Ami Co. of Kansas City, Missouri.

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

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees.

OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance.

Source: OSHA

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