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Coal dust has been noticed in the prison.

Coal dust has been noticed in the prison.

A high rate of cancer among inmates at a southwestern Pennsylvania prison is linked to a nearby coal ash dump, and the correctional facility should be closed down, according to a recent report.

Eleven prisoners died of cancer from 2010 through 2013, and six others have been diagnosed with cancer at the State Correctional Institution Fayette, said the report, released by the Abolitionist Law Center, a public interest law firm based in Pittsburgh, and the Human Rights Coalition, a national prison reform group.

SCI Fayette has a higher inmate death rate than all but two other prisons in the state, both of which have high geriatric populations, it said.

A 12-month investigation found that blowing coal ash was the most likely cause of the inmate cancers as well as other illnesses at the facility.

Inmates quoted in the report described black dust blowing from the dump and settling onto the prison and its grounds.

The report calls for SCI Fayette, which houses 1,986 inmates and has 677 staff, to be shut down. The medium security facility was built for $119 million and opened in 2003. All of the state’s license plates are made there.

Coal ash, also known as fly ash, is the residue of burning coal in a power plant. It was used extensively in Pennsylvania in the 1960s and 1970s in mine reclamation projects, notably in the effort to control a mine fire under the town of Centralia.

Its carcinogenic components, including lead, arsenic and mercury, were revealed in a 2010 report by a public interest group, Physicians for Social Responsibility.

“There is a strong correlation between confinement at SCI Fayette and the onset of serious health symptoms,” said Bret Grote, an author of the prison report. “There needs to be an independent and comprehensive study of the health of people at the prison and in the surrounding community.”

Officials at the state Department of Corrections are reviewing the report, a spokeswoman said.

“We take the health of our inmates and staff seriously,” said the spokeswoman, Susan McNaughton.

David LaTorre, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Correctional Officers Association, said it too would review the report carefully.

“We are aware of some officers from SCI Fayette who are suffering from illness,” he said.

Fly ash from two regional power plants was dumped at the Fayette County site for 60 years, said John Poister, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection.

No one answered the telephone at Matt Canestrale Construction Inc in Elizabeth, which owns the dump site.

Source: Reuters

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Seniors can be affected by poor indoor air quality.

Seniors can be affected by poor indoor air quality.

The population of Americans aged 65 and older is expected to double between 2010 and 2050,1 and by midcentury the proportion of the human population made up of people over age 80 is projected to have quadrupled since 2000.

So factors that affect this aging population are of increasing importance. Of particular concern are the neurological diseases and disorders typically associated with advanced age, among them Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, dementia, and reduced cognitive function.

Investigators are studying the effects of not just present-day exposures and environmental influences such as physical and mental exercise, but also exposures that occurred much earlier in life, whose effects may only become apparent in old age.

It was long assumed that “once the brain received its allotted quota of nerve cells, its destiny was frozen. After that, the passage of time eroded our allotment steadily and irrevocably,” as professor emeritus Bernard Weiss of the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry wrote in 2007.3

Now, however, there is increasing evidence that the brain is capable of generating new neurons and other functional brain cells even during advanced age. There is also evidence that the older brain can respond quickly and positively to external influences such as physical exercise and intellectual stimulation.

This is prompting considerable interest in developing strategies for protecting and enhancing neurological function in the elderly.

The two most vulnerable periods for the brain, Weiss says, are early in life, when the organ is first developing, and later in life, when the body’s defenses and compensatory mechanisms begin to falter.

There is a large and growing body of evidence indicating these two vulnerable life stages can be linked when damage incurred during early development contributes to health disorders that may not become apparent until later in life.

Weiss also notes that declining defense mechanisms may magnify vulnerability to contemporary environmental exposures.

He says that when older adults experience cognitive problems, diagnoses rarely consider the possibility that environmental chemical exposure may be involved, simply because questions about such exposures are typically not asked as part of clinical intake.

Over the past 30 years, Weiss says, research attention has focused primarily on environmental influences on early developmental stages. Far less extensively researched, but a subject of increasing interest, are environmental chemical exposures that can affect the health of the aging brain.

Neurotoxic Agents

In the past 10 years, however, a number of studies have looked at the effects of chronic low-level lead exposure on adult humans’ cognitive abilities. The findings of such studies suggest that lead that has accumulated in bones can be mobilized over time as part of the aging process, resulting in exposures that adversely affect adults’ cognitive skills later in life.

Other metals may adversely affect neurological function in later life by either acting directly on the brain or adversely impacting other organs or hormones that maintain healthy neurological function.

For example, cadmium can cause kidney disease, which is associated with cognitive problems. Like lead, cadmium is stored in the body, primarily in the kidneys and liver but also in joints and other tissues, where it has a biological half-time of decades.

Similarly, lead and mercury have been associated with liver disease, which itself is associated with adverse neurological health effects, including a condition that produces a type of neuronal plaque associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Older brains may be affected by chemical exposures earlier in life. Image: FreeDigitalPhotos

Older brains may be affected by chemical exposures earlier in life.
Image: FreeDigitalPhotos

Chemical exposures that adversely affect kidney and liver function can also hamper the body’s ability to detoxify and excrete environmental toxicants, thus letting them remain in the body—an effect that may be particularly problematic in advanced age when a body’s defense mechanisms are in decline.

There is evidence connecting certain metals (e.g., lead, manganese), pesticides (e.g., paraquat, maneb), and solvents (e.g., toluene, trichloroethylene) with neurological 
symptoms characteristic of Parkinson’s disease. Many of the exposures studied have been occupational, and some were acute, rather than lower-level and chronic. Much more extensive research is needed to determine the precise role environmental exposures to these agents may play in prompting Parkinson’s disease.

More substantial evidence links various solvent exposures to other neurological conditions, including cognitive impairments, neuropathy, and what is sometimes called “pseudodementia,” when temporary neurological dysfunction produces symptoms similar to those of dementia.

Organic solvents, including toluene, have also been found to impair color vision, while other solvent exposures have been linked to hearing loss, particularly when combined with noise exposure.

Such exposures have been primarily studied when they occur occupationally, but some epidemiological studies suggest there is also potential for adverse effects from ambient environmental exposures.

These solvent and pesticide exposures can, of course, occur at any age. But because the neurological disorders with which they are linked mirror those associated with motor and sensory-function declines of aging, they can be mistaken in diagnosis for the effects of aging or diseases of old age like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.

It also appears that long-term nonacute exposures to solvents and pesticides can affect verbal memory, attention, and spatial skills, with effects that may not become apparent until later in life, when they, too, might be confused with or compounded by aging-related conditions.

More subtle environmental exposures are also thought to be implicated in neurological health effects that can manifest later in life. These include exposures to chemicals that may disrupt the normal function of hormones involved in regulating neurological health, chief among them thyroid hormones.

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Hormones are intimately involved with neurological function; a normal brain can’t develop without healthy thyroid hormone function, and the fetal brain is extremely receptive to thyroid hormone.

When environmental factors affect thyroid and other hormones, the result can be health effects associated with conditions that impair neurological function.

For example, there is evidence that exposure to persistent organic pollutants including dioxins and certain polychlorinated biphenyls, halogenated flame retardants, and pesticides can produce hormonally mediated effects that promote obesity and diabetes, which increase risk for vascular health problems.

There is also evidence that exposures to some of these same compounds may directly increase risk for hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

These cardiovascular conditions can, in turn, cause less dramatic neurovascular effects that sometimes result in memory loss, or what’s called “vascular dementia,” when reduced blood flow to the brain deprives brain cells of oxygen and causes the equivalent of small strokes.

Evidence of similar effects has been reported for exposure to chemicals that are pervasive due to widespread use but are not environmentally persistent.

Among these is bisphenol A (BPA).

Laura Vandenberg, an assistant professor of environmental health studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, explains that numerous animal studies indicate early-life exposure to BPA can produce health effects characteristic of metabolic syndrome.

Individuals with metabolic syndrome are at increased risk for hypertension, with its risk for adverse neurological effects. It is also often hard to exercise for those who are overweight or obese or who have cardiovascular disease or diabetes. Yet aerobic exercise in later life appears to be an essential component of maintaining, if not also enhancing, brain function in older age.

Protective Factors

There is now substantial research investigating how physical activity and exercise affect brain function. This is also the area of research where it is perhaps the easiest to make direct comparisons between animal experiments and human studies.

One focus is to understand the mechanisms by which exercise protects and restores the brain.

Of particular interest is learning how physical exercise increases the production of new neurons, and how that may enhance performance of certain memory functions. Functions of interest include what’s called “relational binding”—for example, remembering the name of a person you recently met and where you met that person.

Physical exercise also appears to enhance “visual pattern separation,” which enables you to distinguish and remember different patterns—a process that increases memory accuracy.

Source: Environmental Health Perspectives

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The air quality in most cities is bad news for public health.

The air quality in most cities is bad news for public health.

The World Health Organization says air pollution in many of the world’s cities is breaching its guidelines.

Its survey of 1,600 cities in 91 countries revealed that nearly 90% of people in urban centres breathe air that fails to meet levels deemed safe.

The WHO says that about half of the world’s urban population is exposed to pollution at least 2.5 times higher than it recommends.

Air quality was poorest in Asia, followed by South America and Africa.

“Too many urban centres today are so enveloped in dirty air that their skylines are invisible,” said Dr Flavia Bustreo, the WHO’s assistant director-general for family, children and women’s health.

“Not surprisingly, this air is dangerous to breathe.”

The WHO currently sets safe levels of air quality based on the concentration of polluting particles called particulate matter (PM) found in the air.

It recommends that levels of fine particles called PM2.5 should not be more than 10 micrograms per cubic metre on average over a year, and slightly larger pollutants, called PM10, should not reach more than 20 micrograms per cubic metre on average.

But the Urban Air Quality database showed that many areas were breaching these levels.

Some cities in Asia showed extremely high levels of pollution. Peshawar in Pakistan registered a PM10 level of 540 micrograms per cubic metre over a period of two months in 2010, while Delhi in India had an average PM2.5 of 153 micrograms per cubic metre in the same year.

Cities in South America, including Rio De Janeiro in Brazil, also fared badly.

But the WHO says it is still lacking data, especially from cities in Africa, where poor air quality is a growing concern.

The most recent figures suggest that seven million people around the world died as a result of air pollution in 2012. It is estimated that 3.7 million of these deaths were from outdoor air pollution.

The WHO calls it the world’s single largest environmental health risk, and links poor air quality to heart disease, respiratory problems and cancer.

“We cannot buy clean air in a bottle, but cities can adopt measures that will clean the air and save the lives of their people,” said Dr Carlos Dora from the WHO.

Source: BBC

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Image

Researcher uses social media to keep track of flu outbreaks.

A social media–monitoring program led by San Diego State University geography professor Ming-Hsiang Tsou could help physicians and health officials learn when and where severe outbreaks are occurring in real time.

In results published last month in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, Tsou demonstrated that his technique might allow officials to more quickly and efficiently direct resources to outbreak zones and better contain the spread of the disease.

“There is the potential to use social media to really improve the way we monitor the flu and other public health concerns,”Tsou said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines flu season as the period from October through May, usually peaking around February.

But the unpredictability in exactly when and where outbreaks occur makes it difficult for hospitals and regional health agencies to prepare for where and when to deploy physicians and nurses armed with vaccines and medicines.

There’s about a two-week lag in the time between hospitals first noticing an uptick in flu patients and the CDC issuing a regional warning. Tsou and his colleagues, funded by a $1.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation, wanted to find a quicker, more efficient way to identify these patterns.

They selected 11 U.S. cities and monitored tweets originating from within a 17-mile radius of those cities. Whenever people tweeted the keywords “flu” or “influenza,” the program would record characteristics about those tweets, including username, location, whether they were original tweets or retweets, and whether they linked to a Web site.

From June 2012 to the beginning of December, the algorithm recorded 161,821 tweets containing the word “flu,” 6,174 containing “influenza.”

Tsou compared his team’s findings to regional data based on the CDC’s definition of influenza-like illnesses (ILI). Nine of the 11 cities showed a statistically significant correlation between an increase in the number of tweets mentioning those keywords and regionally reported outbreaks.

Method picked up on outbreaks earlier

In five of those cities, Tsou’s algorithm picked up on the outbreaks earlier than the regional reports. The cities with the strongest correlations were San Diego, Denver, Jacksonville, Seattle and Fort Worth.

“Traditional procedures take at least two weeks to detect an outbreak,” Tsou said. “With our method, we’re detecting daily.”

Original tweets and tweets without Web site links also proved more predictive than retweets or those that did include links, possibly because original and non-linking tweets are more likely to reflect individuals posting about their own symptoms, Tsou said.

The next step in Tsou’s ongoing research will be hunting for even finer-grained correlations between ILI data and specific symptomatic keywords like “cough,” “sneeze,” “congestion,” and “sore throat.”

Tsou envisions this kind of “infoveillance” applying to a range of public health, such as monitoring regional incidences of heart attack or diabetes. The project is connected to a larger SDSU initiative, Human Dynamics in the Mobile Age, one of the university’s four recently selected Areas of Excellence. Tsou is a core faculty member for the initiative.

“In social media, there’s a lot of noise in the data,” Tsou said. “But if we can filter that noise out and focus on what’s relevant, we can find all kinds of useful connections between real life and cyberspace.”

Source: San Diego State University

Concerned about exposure to the flu virus or other indoor air contaminants that can affect health and well-being? Electrocorp has designed commercial and industrial air cleaners for a wide range of applications, including offices and other workplaces. The air purifiers can remove airborne viruses, bacteria, mold spores, chemicals, gases, odors, particles, allergens and dust. Contact Electrocorp for more information.

Healthcare workers are exposed to
many occupational risks, incl. asthma.
Image: FreeDigitalPhotos

Healthcare is North America’s largest industry, but it can expose workers to a multitude of work-related risks, including

  • Work-related asthma
  • Harsh cleaning products
  • Latex
  • Indoor air pollution
  • Pathogens

More information is needed to protect workers accurately from asthma risks, so the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) wants to assess the situation with a comprehensive survey of hospital- and nursing home-based healthcare workers.

The goal is to identify modifiable occupational risk factors for asthma that can help authorities formulate and implement prevention strategies.

The proposed survey would include several thousand healthcare workers from New York City, who can participate online or by phone.

The participating workers will include certified nursing assistants, central supply, environmental services, licensed practical nurses, lab techs, operating room techs, registered nurses, respiratory therapists, and dental assistants.

The survey can also help make healthcare workers more aware of the asthma risks at their workplace, so that they can help identify risk factors and solutions.

Do you think this survey will help the healthcare industry? Share your thoughts with us.

Source: Risk and Insurance

Air cleaners for healthcare settings

In order to reduce asthmagens (pollutants that can cause or aggravate asthma symptoms), indoor air needs to be controlled, ventilated and cleaned.

Electrocorp has developed portable and powerful air cleaners for hospitals and healthcare, which feature a complete filtration system to remove fine particles, dust, chemicals, VOCs, odors, fumes, mold, bacteria and viruses from the ambient air.

Electrocorp’s RAP series combines
carbon and HEPA filters for best results.

The filtration system contains

  • Deep-bed activated carbon filter for gaseous pollutants and odors
  • HEPA filter for particles
  • Easy-clean pre-filters
  • UV germicidal filtration for pathogens and mold (optional)

Highly recommended air cleaners for healthcare settings include the RAP series, which come in different sizes and filter configurations to provide the most efficient IAQ solution, the AirMedic+ series, a small and portable air purifier for individual rooms that offers supreme particle filtration and the I-6500 series, a top-rated air cleaner for larger spaces or in rooms that require strict air quality control.

Electrocorp also offers air cleaners for dental labs as well as other types of laboratories.

For more information, contact Electrocorp today.

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