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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:

Firefighters are exposed to toxic chemicals that may affect their health.

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

Concerned about poor indoor air quality at work? Electrocorp offers dependable, affordable and portable air cleaners with the right air filters to remove dangerous indoor air pollutants. Contact Electrocorp for more information and options.


Chlorine vapors and byproducts may affect the lungs of competitive swimmers: Study

Indoor pools exposing swimmers to chlorine may be tied to lung damage similar to that seen in people with mild asthma, according to a study cited in a Reuters article.

The French/Canadian study involved 23 elite swimmers, 10 mild asthmatics and 10 healthy, non-allergic people, who had to perform breathing tests and have their lung tissue tested. Researchers took the samples during the off-season.

The researchers found that the swimmers’ lung tissue samples had almost six times as many immune cells associated with asthma and allergies, compared to the lung tissue of healthy participants.

It was a similar amount to the lung tissue in mild asthmatics.

Unlike the healthy participants, both swimmers and asthmatics groups had evidence of scar tissue in the lungs.

The results do not mean that elite swimmers will develop asthma later, as inflamed lung tissue was not associated with asthma symptoms like coughing and wheezing.

However, more research may need to be done about the effect of chlorine in water and air as well as the chlorine byproducts that are formed when chlorine reacts with human sweat, urine and hair, for example.

Some of these byproducts may be hazardous to human health escape into the air just above the waterline, where swimmers breathe them in, the researchers say.

The chemical exposure may also make swimmers more sensitized to allergens like pet dander, pollen and dust. More than half of competitive swimmers are sensitive to these allergens, the researchers say.

Still, the benefits of physical exercise may still outweigh any concerns.

The researchers’ tips for reducing chemical exposure in pools include:

  • Avoid pools with a strong chlorine smell in the air. This is a sign that pool chemicals are badly managed
  • Try saltwater pools (although they also use chlorine)
  • Practice good hygiene: Always take a shower before entering a pool; never use it as a urinal

Source: Reuters Health in Chicago Tribune

Reduce airborne chemicals with carbon air cleaners

Activated carbon is one of the most trusted and effective air filters for chemicals, gases, odors and fumes.

Electrocorp offers industrial-strength air cleaners with large activated carbon filters as well as HEPA and optional UV filtration to remove the widest range of indoor air contaminants.

Contact Electrocorp for more information and options.

Dust exposure can lead to a wide range of health effects, UK union leaders say.

Union leaders in the UK are calling for urgent action to reduce dangerous dust levels at the workplace, according to a recent report by UKPA.

The union TUC says that current standards for the assessment of dust exposure in factories and offices are inadequate and that exposure to inhalable dust in general and respirable dust in particular can lead to serious health effects.

Inhalable dust describes the larger particles that can be inhaled but are often filtered out by the nose and mouth, while respirable dust is made up of smaller particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs.

In a new guidance document they published, the union warns that dust exposure can lead to cancer of the lungs, throat and nose as well as other lung conditions like COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder) that involves chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

According to union leaders, official estimates of workplace diseases related to dust are too low.

The TUC said it had studied a range of dusts that are often found in the workplace, including silica, coal dust, talc and kaolin, adding that even at current legal levels, a significant number of workers could be developing reductions in their lung function, with profound results for future health.

Often, it is difficult to trace the origin of a disease, especially in industries with high turnover (like construction), they say.

The document stresses the importance of a good risk assessment at the workplace and outlines steps employers and health and safety representatives can take to protect workers from dangerous dust levels.

Source: UKPA; Download TUC’s guidance document.  

Industrial air cleaners for dust and odor control

The Dirty Dog air cleaner includes a cleanable bag filter.

Electrocorp offers a wide range of industrial air cleanersdesigned to provide cleaner indoor air at the workplace.

The company’s extensive product line includes dust and particle filtration systems such as the Dirty Dog Series and the I-6500 with Cyclone collectors.

Since many workplaces are also contaminated with persistent odors and airborne chemicals, Electrocorp offers units with a powerful activated carbon and HEPA filtration system.

Contact Electrocorp for more information and personalized recommendations.

Lawsuits prove that companies need to keep workers' health and safety in mind - or they may face costly litigation.

The widow of a man who recently died of lung cancer has filed a lawsuit against the company that employed him for exposing him to asbestos.

According to an article in The Record in April, Katherine Jackson filed a lawsuit in St. Clair County Circuit Court against Illinois Central Railroad, alleging that the exposure caused her deceased husband’s fatal condition.

Jackson alleges her recently deceased husband, Claudy Jackson, worked as a fireman for the railroad company from 1948 until 1951.

During that time, Claudy Jackson was exposed to asbestos, diesel exhaust, environmental tobacco smoke, silica, welding fumes, toxic dusts, gases and other fumes, according to the complaint.

As a result of his exposure, Claudy Jackson experienced great pain, disability, mental anguish and nervousness and incurred medical costs, the suit states, and on April 26, 2008, Claudy Jackson died after a battle against lung cancer.

His wife claims the company did not follow proper health and safety procedures and is seeking a judgment of more than $200,000, plus costs.

Source: The Record

The dangers of asbestos exposure

The WHO identifies asbestos as one of the most dangerous occupational carcinogens, declaring the need to eliminate asbestos use and associated health damages. An estimated 107,000 people worldwide die from asbestos-related diseases.

Asbestos is a mineral fiber commonly used for insulation in constructions. It is relatively affordable, which makes it attractive in developing countries.

Asbestos-related lung diseases, particularly mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis (asbestos induced lung fibrosis), typically develop after decades of lag time from first exposure.

Protect workers’ health and safety with powerful air cleaners

Air purifiers and major air filtration systems from Electrocorp designed for mold and asbestos abatement projects can help keep the indoor air clean by removing chemicals, particles, fibers and gases from the air with a large activated carbon filter and a HEPA filter.

Electrocorp’s air cleaners use only safe and proven filtration technologies.

Contact Electrocorp for more information.

Renovation contractors and workers can be exposed to asbestos fibres and other toxins.

Building performance renovation contractors and workers like to make homes healthy, comfortable, energy efficient, and durable. But they often have to deal with major indoor environmental quality (IEQ) nightmares.

These include CO poisoning and lead exposure, asbestos, radon, volatile organic compounds; sulfur-containing drywall — also known as Chinese drywall — and even everyday construction dust.

 Asbestos – harmful when inhaled

Asbestos is regulated at the local, state, and federal levels. All of these laws are intended to protect the public and the construction worker from being harmed by asbestos exposure.

Asbestos is most harmful when the tiny fibers are inhaled. The fibers are too small to be seen with the naked eye and can be inhaled deep into the lungs, where they remain. The fibers damage lung tissue, causing scar tissue to form; the result is a disease called asbestosis.

When the lung surfaces are covered with scar tissue, they cannot function properly, causing problems ranging from shortness of breath to death. Inhaling asbestos fibers can also cause lung cancer.

Workers can be exposed to asbestos when they are working in an area where there are airborne asbestos fibers. Fibers can become airborne when the material containing the asbestos is drilled, cut, abraded, sanded, chipped, or sawed during a home performance renovation.

This often happens, for example, when a worker is cutting holes through an asbestos-containing “popcorn ceiling.” The family living in a home that is being renovated can also inhale asbestos fibers. So can the family of the renovation worker who has brought the asbestos fibers home on his or her clothing and equipment.

Even though asbestos has been banned in most construction materials, buildings and homes are being constructed today with materials that contain asbestos. In fact, today you can go to your local hardware store and buy roofing mastics and other sealants that contain asbestos.

To avoid exposure to asbestos, a contractor must know whether the project will expose the workers to asbestos-containing building materials.

It makes sense to test for asbestos in the following situations:

  • The work will involve a material that is, or was, commonly manufactured with asbestos.
  • The residential property was built prior to 1980.
  • Anyone doing the renovations was hired to do the work.

Radon – second-leading cause of lung cancer

Radon becomes an IEQ nightmare when a builder or renovator fails to consider that radon can accumulate in a tightly constructed or tightly air-sealed home.

Radon is an odorless gas that comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock, and water. Radon gas decays into radioactive particles that can get trapped in your lungs when you breathe. As they break down further, these particles release small bursts of energy.

This can damage lung tissue and lead to lung cancer. In fact, radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer, after smoking cigarettes.

EPA recommends radon mitigation in all homes with test results of 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) or greater. Radon levels less than 4 pCi/L can still pose a health risk, and in many cases should be reduced.

After renovation and remediation work is done, the building should be tested for Radon again, to make sure the measures were successful.

Source: Home Energy Magazine Online

Air cleaners for construction and renovation projects

Electrocorp has designed air filtration systems to aid in the mold and asbestos abatement process.

Contact one of our air quality experts for more information.

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