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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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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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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

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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

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There are fewer male babies being born.

There are fewer male babies being born.

Contrary to cultural assumptions that boys are stronger and sturdier, basic biological weaknesses are built into the male of our species.

These frailties leave them more vulnerable than girls to life’s hazards, including environmental pollutants such as insecticides, lead and plasticizers that target their brains or hormones.

Several studies suggest that boys are harmed in some ways by these chemical exposures that girls are not.

First of all, human males are disappearing. Mother Nature has always acknowledged and compensated for the fragility and loss of boys by arranging for more of them: 106 male births to 100 female newborns over the course of human history. (Humans are not unique in this setup: Male piglets, as an example, are conceived in greater proportion to compensate for being more likely than female piglets to die before birth.)

But in recent decades, from the United States to Japan, from Canada to northern Europe, wherever researchers have looked, the rate of male newborns has declined. Examining U. S. records of births for the years between 1970 and 1990, they found 1.7 fewer boys per 1,000 than in decades and centuries past; Japan’s loss in the same decades was 3.7 boys.

Boys are also more than two-thirds more likely than girls to be born prematurely – before the 37th week of pregnancy. And, despite advances in public health, boys in the 1970s faced a 30 percent higher chance of death by their first birthday than girls; in contrast, back in the 1750s, they were 10 per cent more likely than girls to die so early in their lives.

The nine-month transformation from a few cells to an infant is a time of great vulnerability. Many chronic illnesses are seeded in the womb.

Once they make it to childhood, boys face other challenges. They are more prone to a range of neurological disorders. Autism is notoriously higher among boys than girls: now nearly five times more likely, as tallied by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

They are more susceptible than girls to damage from very low-level exposure to lead. Yet another problem: Boys also suffer from asthma at  higher rates. There’s also a stronger link between air pollution and autism in boys.

Why do boys face such a burden of physical challenges?

The answer is that the male’s problems start in the womb: from his more complicated fetal development, to his genetic makeup, to how his hormones work.

In our species, the female is the default gender, the basic simpler model: Humans start out in the womb with female features (that’s why males have nipples). It takes a greater number of cell divisions to make a male; with each comes the greater risk of an error as well as the greater vulnerability to a hit from pollutants.

Females have a stronger immune system because they are packed with estrogen, a hormone that counteracts the antioxidant process.

If the balance of hormones is out of whack in males, what made that happen? Researchers are coming up with some clues, among them:

  • Prenatal exposure to chemicals such as insecticide chlorpyrifos
  • Pregnant mothers’ exposure to phthalates – used in making some vinyl products and toys as well as some personal care products
  • Exposure to bisphenol A, an estrogenic substance used to make polycarbonate plastics as well as some thermal receipts and the linings of food and beverage cans

Some of these chemicals act like fake estrogens, others like fake testosterone, but both types seem to disrupt normal development. Animal tests show that a dose of these chemicals inflict the most damage when it hits a fetus. And, because of their biological vulnerabilities, it’s boys who may experience the most effects.

While not forgoing the push for fairness and equality, it seems wise to accept the scientific reality of male weaknesses. This likely won’t mean the end of men, but their vulnerability to environmental contaminants and diseases could have serious ramifications for the future of the entire human race unless we find ways to protect them from harm.

Alice Shabecoff is the coauthor with her husband, Philip Shabecoff, of Poisoned for Profit: How Toxins Are Making Our Children Chronically Ill, Random House 2008, Chelsea Green, 2010.

Source: Environmental Health News

Many men are not only exposed to chemicals in the womb and during childhood, but also as part of their everyday working life. Electrocorp helps lower the count of airborne chemicals at the workplace – be it a factory, office, medical environment or other indoor spaces. Find out more by calling 1-866-667-0297, e-mail info@electrocorp.net or contact us at your convenience.

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