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Welding without proper ventilation is a health-risk Image: FreeDigitalPhotos

Welding without proper ventilation is a health-risk
Image: FreeDigitalPhotos

OSHA finds Imperial Industries ignores rules to prevent toxic exposure

Workers welding stainless steel and other alloy steels containing chromium metal at a Wisconsin bulk storage tank manufacturer were exposed to hazardous levels of hexavalent chromium.

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

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

Proposed penalties total $161,100.

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

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

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

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

The November 2014 investigation also found workers endangered by amputation and struck-by hazards because machines lacked safety mechanisms.

Numerous electrical safety hazards were also identified, and workers were found operating damaged powered industrial vehicles.

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

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

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

Source: OSHA

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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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The carpet industry has been responding to concerns about chemical exposure.

The carpet industry has been responding to concerns about chemical exposure. Photo credit: “Swatches of carpet 1” by Quadell

New carpet smell used to be considered an asset. After all, it meant a new product.

But in recent years, customers have been asking for carpets that don’t “off-gas,” meaning carpets that won’t release chemicals, which may be hazardous to health.

And the carpeting industry seems to have taken the hint.

For one thing, most carpets no longer release those volatile organic compounds, or VOCS, that come from the glues or other components. Consumers should look for the industry-run certification Green Label Plus.

More carpet is made of recycled content, and more is being recycled all the time.

Indeed, the carpet industry has been a leading innovator in construction, said Janet Milkman, executive director of the Delaware Valley Green Building Council.

“They’ve been analyzing the environmental impacts of their products and processes for years, and are now looking deeply into the human health impacts,” she said.

Experts credit the U.S. Green Building Council’s building certification system, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), which sets standards and drives purchasing decisions.

The thousands of buildings across the nation that are now LEED-certified represent countless phone calls to manufacturers from architects and interior designers asking about all kinds of environmental considerations, said Max Zahniser, who once ran the LEED certification program but returned to Philadelphia seven years ago to start a green consulting firm, Praxis Building Solutions.

Enough of those, and manufacturers take heed.

Hurdles remain

While American rugmakers have stopped using stain repellents made from perfluorinated chemicals, some think the replacements aren’t much better. And carpet made abroad, even if it’s for a U.S. company, may contain the old chemicals.

Some companies still use vinyl plastic in the backing; triclosan may be used as an antimicrobial as well. Both are linked to health effects, said Michael Schade, a campaign director with the nonprofit advocacy group, Safer Chemicals/Healthy Families. Ask, he said, and choose alternatives.

Last year, researchers at the Healthy Building Network, a nonprofit that works to reduce the use of hazardous chemicals in building products, looked at 50 “asthmagens” – substances that can cause asthma – in carpet and other building materials.

Only three were covered by the leading indoor air quality protocols, said Jim Vallette, one of the researchers.

There seems to be no end to things consumers should consider.

Deep-pile or not? Over time, deep-pile carpet will generally harbor more microbiotic organisms.

Natural wool or manmade fiber such as nylon? Wool often does not have stain-resistant chemicals or flame-retardants, another group of chemicals that concern health professionals. But it’s not very durable, and so is less sustainable.

Nylon is durable, but it’s made from petrochemicals. Then again, it’s recyclable.

That’s another major industry advance, experts say. Many companies have take-back programs for older, less environmentally friendly carpeting.

But in the push to increase the proportion of recycled materials in carpet in order to meet sustainability goals, some manufacturers are using coal fly ash – a byproduct from coal-fired power plants that may contain heavy metals – as a filler in the carpet backing.

Whatever type of carpeting you get, the advice of experts is to take care of it – extending its lifespan and reducing its environmental footprint (not to mention the drop in your bank account).

That includes cleaning it with a vacuum or chemicals that are too brutal on the poor rug. The institute’s website (www.carpet-rug.org) lists its approved vacuums and cleaners.

This article has been edited for length. Source: Philly.com


Concerned about off-gassing or other chemical exposure at your workplace? Electrocorp offers industrial and commercial air cleaners with activated carbon and HEPA that can help remove the most dangerous airborne pollutants. Contact Electrocorp for more information and a free consultation.

New research shows air pollution might make you bad at your job

Fine particles can go deep into your lungs.
Fine particles can go deep into your lungs.

In 2011, researchers at UC San Diego and Columbia University were the first to demonstrate a link between air pollution and reduced productivity among outdoor agricultural workers.

Now those researchers are back with a new study, entitled “Particulate Pollution and the Productivity of Pear Packers.”

The study shows, for the first time, a significant link between air pollution and the productivity of indoor workers.

The pollutant in question is fine particulate matter, or PM2.5. It’s notable for its tiny size (less than 1/30th the width of a human hair), which allows it to infiltrate deep into your lungs and potentially even your bloodstream, where it can cause all sorts of health problems.

The authors note that PM2.5 can easily enter buildings: “Unlike other pollutants, which either remain outside or rapidly break down once indoors, going inside may do little to reduce one’s exposure to PM2.5.”

To figure out how this affected indoor workers, the authors drew on data from an indoor pear-packing factory in northern California.

“We focused on pear packing for this study since it was located near an air pollution monitor and paid workers piece rate, which allowed us to measure individual worker productivity on a daily level,” author Joshua Graff Zivin told me.

What they found was that every 10-microgram per cubic meter increase in PM2.5 levels decreased worker productivity by 0.6%, as measured by the number pear boxes packed by each worker.

Since workers were paid piecemeal, this translated to a decrease of roughly 41 cents per hour, per 10 micrograms of PM2.5 relationship between worker productivity and air pollution.

Moreover, the effect increased at higher PM2.5 levels: levels between 15 and 20 micrograms reduced earnings by $0.53 per hour, levels between 20 and 25 micrograms decrease earnings by $1.03 per hour, and when levels exceed 25 micrograms/cubic meter earnings shrink by $1.88 per hour.

One key point is that these levels are all well below current U.S. air quality standards for PM2.5, which stand at 35 micrograms/m3. The U.S. didn’t even start regulating this pollutant until 1997.

Across the U.S., PM2.5 levels routinely cross this 35 microgram threshold every day. Airnow.gov, an EPA website that tracks air quality in U.S. cities, is currently showing PM2.5 levels of 69 micrograms in Atlanta, 72 in Cleveland, and a whopping 140 in Albuquerque, NM.

If those figures seem high be thankful you don’t live in Beijing, where PM2.5 levels topped 250 micrograms today.

One major implication of the study is that reductions of PM2.5 can have significant economic benefits. The authors estimate that across the entire U.S. manufacturing sector, reductions in PM2.5 since 1997 has led to an aggregate labor savings of $19.5 billion – a previously-unknown benefit of fine particulate regulation.

The larger question, of course, is whether these findings extend even to workers in retail and other regular office settings.

“We are very curious about this,” Graff Zivin told me. “Whether more cognitive indoor activities are subject to similar effects is an important area for future research, but there is certainly a plausible channel through which these could occur.”

Source: Washington Post

Poor indoor air quality can not only affect work performance, but also workers’ health and well-being as well as morale. For improved IAQ, Electrocorp offers industrial and commercial air cleaners with activated carbon and HEPA, which effectively remove fine particles, odors, chemicals, fumes, mold, bacteria and viruses from the ambient air.

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

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

Environmental groups are pushing the Federal Trade Commission to do away with dry clean only labels.

Dry cleaners, the groups say, often use cleaning chemicals that are harmful to the environment and can pose health risks to workers and consumers.

They say labeling rules should be changed so that consumers are told their garments can also be cleaned by more green-friendly “wet cleaning.”

Professional wet cleaners, the green groups say, can safely wash most garments that would ordinarily be sent to a dry cleaners — such as cottons, wools, silks, leathers and suedes — without emitting the same levels of air pollution or contaminating the water.

The FTC is considering changes to the Care Labeling Rule that would allow clothing manufacturers to recommend professional wet cleaning as an alternative to dry cleaning. Environmental groups want to require labels to say clothing can be wet cleaned.

The FTC, which first proposed the rule in July 2011, will hold a public roundtable on March 28 to discuss the potential new standards with stakeholders.

But the FTC wants to make sure that consumers have access to professional wet cleaning shops before it recommends such a rule. The service is relatively new and still growing in certain parts of the country.

Professional wet cleaners and even many dry cleaners are on board with the rule, because they say it will give them more options to wash clothes.

More and more dry cleaners offer both traditional dry cleaning and professional wet cleaning services, but they say consumers tend to prefer dry cleaning, because that is the method that is recommended on the labels of their clothes.

Clothing manufacturers also favor the rule, because it would facilitate international trade.

The public roundtable will discuss the cost of requiring wet cleaning instruction labels, what content should be provided on those labels, the availability of wet cleaning services and consumer awareness of wet cleaning.

 Source: The Hill

Dry cleaners work with many chemicals that have been linked to health risks, including TCE. Electrocorp offers versatile air cleaners with activated carbon and HEPA air filters to remove toxic chemicals, odors and particles from the ambient air.

Contact Electrocorp for more information and a free consultation.

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