Particulate Air Pollution

Example: the smokestack of a coal plant ejects coal smoke into the air. Water vapor droplets in the clouds can pick up these smoke particles and drop them later in the form of acid rain.

How is particulate air pollution measured?
Due to the different sizes, shapes and chemical compositions of these microscopic particulate air pollution agents, the task of measuring the potential damage that they can do is often an arduous undertaking. Most agencies involved in pollution research and prevention classify these particles by size: fine particles are less than 2.5 microns (10^-6 m) across and inhalable coarse particles are between 2.5 and 10 microns across. To put these measurements into perspective, a human hair is usually between 70 and 100 microns thick; a red blood cell is about 7 microns across.

What are some other sources of particulate air pollution?

According to a study carried out by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), one of the leading sources of fine particulate air pollution is also the oldest: fires. During 2002, EPA estimates put the quantity of fine particulate air pollution originating from fires at well over one million tons. Since man first learned to create a spark and build fires for light, warmth, and comfort, he has also sent untold tons of untreated, unfiltered smoke into the air. While the concern over particulate air pollution may be a recent occurrence, the sources and the issue itself are both as old as civilization, whether the source is a small campfire or a raging forest blaze.

According to the same study, road dust generated over eight hundred thousand tons of fine particulate air pollution, followed by electricity generation at five hundred thousand. Surprisingly, fossil fuel use (coal, oil, kerosene, gasoline) and automobile usage combined for less than four hundred thousand tons, less than a third of the total for fires.

Of course, air pollution is not limited to outdoor sources. Indoor air pollution can also be a major source of particulate air pollution. Dust, sheet rock particles, cigarette smoke and dirty ventilation systems can create fine particles that can contribute to an increase in indoor particulate air pollution.

Heavy Cigarette Smoking On the Decline

A recent report from researchers at the University of California at San Diego has revealed that the habit of smoking at least one pack (20 cigarettes) a day has severely declined over the last fifty years. Investigators observed that the rate of decline was particularly noteworthy in California, where lung cancer rates also fell in proportion to the reduction in smoking rates. The data and the corresponding interpretation of the study were printed in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s March 2011 issue.

The UCSD study showed how much smoking has declined since the early 1960s. According to reports, more than fifty percent of all adult smokers in the US smoked at least one pack per day. That number fell to just over forty percent by 2007. “Moderate” smoking (10 to 20 cigarettes a day) rates also fell. In California, the number of moderate smokers fell from 11.1 percent of all adults in 1965, down to 3.4 percent in 2007. In other states, the number fell from 10.5 percent of all adults down to 5.4 percent.

The study credits much of the decline to smoking education programs. In 1964, the US Surgeon General released the first major findings on the correlation between cigarette smoking and lung cancer. Two years later, the Food and Drug Administration required mandatory warning labels on all cigarette packaging. Today, most cigarette packs and cartons carry warning labels, including warnings about how smoking can complicate pregnancy and lead to low birth rates in pregnant women who smoke.

Another factor attributed to the reduction in smoking rates is the development in new technologies to combat nicotine addiction. One of the primary reasons that smokers find quitting so difficult is the intense nicotine addiction that smoking brings. The invention of nicotine patches, lozenges and gums as part of a smoking cessation program has helped millions of smokers quit the habit over the last twenty years.

In addition to federal mandates requiring the addition of warning labels to cigarette packaging, many state and municipal jurisdictions created anti-smoking laws and ordinances. Several states added higher taxes to cigarettes, with California among the first to enact such statutes. Also, many cities passed local laws prohibiting smoking in bars, restaurants and public buildings.

Public awareness campaigns, such as those conducted by the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association and the American Cancer Society, also helped bring the issues of cigarette smoking to the attention of the American public. The campaigns highlighted many of the dangers that surround cigarette smoking, including lung cancer, throat cancer and emphysema.

As California took the lead in many of the anti-smoking efforts, the study also showed how lung cancer incidence rates declined in the state well before other states saw the same results. Deaths from lung cancer peaked in 1987 in California, with 109 per 100,000. The death rate fell to 77 per 100,000 in 2007. In other states, the lung cancer death rate peaked in 1993 at 117 per 100,000 and fell to 102 per 100,000 in 2007.

Sources:
http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2011/03/16/134597676/heavy-smoking-is-fast-becoming-history?ps=sh_sthdl
http://www.wtma.com/rssItem.asp?feedid=116&itemid=29645079
http://health.usnews.com/health-news/managing-your-healthcare/articles/2011/03/15/heavy-smoking-declines-in-us
http://www.webmd.com/smoking-cessation/news/20110315/heavy-smokers-us-dwindling
http://www.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/03/15/pack.smokers.now.rare/index.html
http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/219085.php
http://www.latimes.com/health/boostershots/la-heb-california-smoking-20110316,0,5345363.story
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tobacco_packaging_warning_messages#United_States_of_America

Massachusetts Helps Vets Quit Smoking

State health officials in Massachusetts are developing measures to help the state’s military veterans quit smoking.  The new campaign is the second effort launched since 2008 to help veterans with this growing health problem.  Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray released a statement praising “the brave men and women” in uniform and said that the campaign would help to “provide (veterans) with the opportunity to live long, healthy lives”.

A report from the office of Governor Deval Patrick showed that nearly one-fourth of all Massachusetts veterans smoke cigarettes.  The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta estimates that less than one-sixth of all adults in the Bay State smoke.  A related report from the Institute of Medicine showed that nearly one in three people on active military duty smoke, with the number rising to half or more among those veterans who have been deployed to war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Coleman Nee, a veteran of the US Marine Corps during Operation Desert Storm in 1991, is now the Massachusetts Secretary of Veterans’ Services.  Mr. Nee also spoke out about the anti-smoking campaign, saying that smoking among veterans is “a very serious problem”.  He said that smoking is an issue for veterans’ services agencies as well as public health groups.  He called the addiction to smoking among service members “a real shame”.

Mr. Nee recalled that, during his time in the Marine Corps, he and other service personnel would receive cigarettes and smokeless tobacco as part of their care packages from home, a tradition that started back in World War I.  He remarked that this practice has since stopped; especially in light of the numerous health problems that smoking is now understood to cause.

A report from the state public health office revealed that cigarette smoking is the number-one cause of preventable disease and death in Massachusetts.  The report also estimates that health care costs for smokers add up to over $4.3 billion annually.

The public awareness campaign for veterans includes a toll-free number that offers support and information on smoking cessation programs.  When the first campaign started in 2008, thousands of veterans called the support hotline and obtained nicotine patches to help them quit the habit.  Massachusetts State Representative James E. Valle, chairman of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs, said that the program shows the state’s commitment to “helping those who have served” in uniform to lead healthier lives.

The moves to help veterans quit smoking come in light of a study commissioned by the Department of Defense in 2009.  The study examined the feasibility of banning smoking among all service personnel within the next decade.  All military bases prohibit smoking indoors, but the study also considers banning the sale of tobacco products on bases, as well as stopping troops in the field from smoking.

However, some military personnel are opposed to any ban on smoking.  Many see smoking as a stress reliever, especially during the heat of battle.  The Defense Department study also found that bases generate millions of dollars from tobacco sales, most of which goes toward covering the costs of programs for dependents and for recreation.

Sources:
http://www.wwlp.com/dpp/news/massachusetts/veterans-receive-help-to-stop-smoking
http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2011/03/08/veterans_get_help_to_quit_smoking/
http://articles.cnn.com/2009-07-12/us/military.smoking.ban_1_smokeless-tobacco-tobacco-sales-pancreatic?_s=PM:US

New Polymer Test Improves Lung Cancer Diagnosis, Says Experts

A new technique used for testing for the presence of lung cancer could potentially reduce diagnosis time from six months to four weeks, according to researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

This dramatic improvement in diagnosis time comes courtesy of a three-dimensional testing technique known as volumetrics. The procedure involves taking numerous CT scans from a variety of angles to produce a 3-D cross sectional image of the internal body. Through early research, the NIST team found that CT scan accuracy and amount of time needed to identify signs of lung cancer increased dramatically compared to current testing techniques.
To achieve these advancements, the research team used volumetrics to identify polymer-silicate ellipsoids present on the lungs. These polymer growths look similar in shape to a medical pill and range in diameter from four to 11 mm. As lead researcher Zachary Levine indicates, ” For diagnosis in the earliest stage of cancer, other studies have shown this is the size of nodule you want to be looking at.”

Presently, the most widely lung cancer diagnosis procedure is something known as RECIST. This process involves measuring the distance across suspect lung nodules as they are displayed in two-dimensional format. If a nodule is identified within a certain size range, then it may warrant additional tests to confirm lung cancer.

Through clever comparison tests, the team was able to show that volumetrics are capable of identifying signs of lung cancer that are ten time smaller than those visible via RECIST. According to Levine, “This implies that you could notice life-threatening changes from a follow-up scan performed only weeks after the first, instead of months.”

One potential downside of the new diagnosis technique is the fact that lung cancer does not always grow in the shape of elliptical pills. As such, diagnosis of certain cancer cases may remain more difficult.

Sources: http://www.newstrackindia.com/newsdetails/161031 http://www.nist.gov/pml/div685/ct_042710.cfm

British Contractor Fined for Illegal Asbestos Removal

A judge at the Caerphilly Magistrates’ Court fined a building contractor £2,500 (US$3,893) for disregarding regulations governing asbestos remediation. Ron Couch Building Contracts Ltd. of Pontypool paid the fine after pleading guilty to two counts of violating the country’s Control of Asbestos Regulations. The firm was accused of taking on asbestos removal projects without a license.

According to reports, workers were replacing a boiler in a central heating unit at a private home. One of the workers was said to have detached a door containing asbestos-laced insulation to make room to move the old boiler. Another contracting firm working on a nearby project had an asbestos specialist on site. The asbestos specialist noticed the door sitting outside the house, saw the asbestos and alerted authorities to the danger. The magistrate also ordered the company to pay £1,250 (US$1,947) to cover cleanup costs.

Steve Richardson, who works with the British Health and Safety Executive (HSE) as an inspector, said that the Ron Couch project managers were “well aware” of the legal requirements surrounding asbestos removal projects. Mr. Richardson said that the firm had previously carried out a similar project involving a boiler flue. In that project, they followed the regulations on asbestos remediation and employed licensed specialists to handle the toxic insulation.

Mr. Richardson also said that the process used to remove the door exposed its edge. The door contained asbestos insulation board, also called AIB. Once the insides of the door were exposed, the asbestos insulation board inside would have been disturbed. When asbestos-containing materials are disturbed, the microscopic asbestos fibers become airborne and create a health hazard. Workers who handle asbestos are required to wear protective breathing masks and special coveralls to prevent exposure to the fibers.

Scientific studies have established a link between asbestos exposure and lung disease. The most serious disorder related to asbestos exposure is pleural mesothelioma, a type of cancer that targets the soft tissue surrounding the lungs. Recent reports from public health officials state that mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases are the number-one workplace killer among Britons. Mesothelioma also has a long latency period, so the number of deaths from the disease is expected to rise for the next ten to twenty years.

In 2006, the HSE updated the Control of Asbestos Regulations. The new rules stated that commercial property owners must conduct asbestos assessments on their buildings. These assessments should include the likelihood of asbestos exposure and methods for any future asbestos remediation. Violators may face up to two years in prison. The successful prosecution of these violations is the latest sign that the HSE and other British agencies are getting tough on asbestos.

Asbestos was banned in Britain in 1999, but many of the country’s buildings constructed over the last century still contain asbestos. The mineral was widely used in construction applications such as insulation, fireproofing, and concrete mixing. The source mineral was cheap and plentiful. Its fibers were lightweight and could withstand extreme temperatures, which made it a highly desired material in the construction trades.

Sources: safetysignsupplies.co.uk, theconstructionindex.co.uk, access-legal.co.uk

EPA’s “Most Wanted” Fugitive Captured

Officials with the US Marshals Service and the Environmental Protection Agency captured escaped fugitive Albania Deleon last week in the Dominican Republic. Ms. Deleon was convicted of issuing certificates for an asbestos-remediation training class to unqualified applicants. She had fled the country prior to her sentencing hearing in March. When she failed to appear, US District Judge Nathaniel Gorton issued a bench warrant for her arrest.

Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, said that Ms. Deleon “put communities at risk” by issuing hundreds of the false certifications. She credited the teamwork of the US Attorney’s Office, the Marshals Service, EPA special agents and Dominican law enforcement for tracking down and capturing Ms. Deleon. Carmen Ortiz, a prosecutor with the US Attorney’s Office, also credited both American and Dominican agencies in insuring that Ms. Deleon “will at last face punishment” for her crimes.

Ms. Deleon was convicted on more than twenty offenses in November 2008. The crimes include mail fraud, accessing fraudulent payroll tax documents, encouraging illegal aliens to live in the US, conspiracy to make false statements to government officials, and making false statements to the EPA. She also now faces potential charges of resisting arrest, fleeing the country and defaulting on her bail agreement.

From 2001 to 2006, Ms. Deleon owned a training company called Environmental Compliance Training. The school received certification from both the EPA and the state of Massachusetts. The company also offered four-day training classes in asbestos handling, removal and cleanup processes. However, many of ECT’s clients did not attend the classes and did not receive the proper training for dealing with the dangerous material. Instead, Ms. Deleon issued the certificates and falsified final exam results.

Investigators later found that many of the ECT clients that received the false certificates were illegal aliens. The illegal workers would often skip the class sessions in order to work at other jobs while the instructors carried out the lessons. The workers would then use the certificates to get better-paying jobs on asbestos remediation projects, although they were not qualified and often did not use the proper safety protocols.

An inspection of ECT’s records showed that up to eighty percent of the certificates Ms. Deleon issued were to students who did not complete the class. She also used her temporary employment agency, Methuen Staffing, to employ many of the illegal workers who came to her for certification. Methuen Staffing provided workers for many asbestos removal projects throughout New England.

Ms. Deleon was also convicted of creating false tax statements, as she would often pay the workers in cash or by other means in order to avoid filling out tax documentation. Instead, she only reported the employees whose taxes she withheld. Investigators estimated that she saved her business well over a million dollars in taxes and workers’ compensation insurance payments by keeping the illegal workers off the books.

Deleon is still in the Dominican Republic, but faces up to twenty years in prison on each count of mail fraud and five years on every other count when she is extradited back to the US.

Sources: EPA website, Boston Herald

Australian Union Workers Fight for Asbestos Safety, Monitoring

Recently, an auction house (Pickles Auctions) located in Canberra, Australia was shut down due to improper removal of asbestos products. The closure was deemed necessary after it was determined the removal of the asbestos was both unauthorized and improperly performed.

The news was brought to the government’s attention through the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), who is authorized to enter worksites to investigate potential worker health hazards or safety breaches.

However, under new laws currently being considered by the Canberra government, union inspection of such sites could be made more difficult. As the present proposed laws stand, the CFMEU organizers who spoke up against improper safety at Pickles Auctions could have been prosecuted.

Sadly, Canberra government officials recently voted in favor of drafting tougher auditing laws as they pertain to unions. Though no knew laws have been enacted yet, surely this would be a major blow against worker safety in Australia.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring product that has been used in building insulation and many other commercial products. When inhaled, asbestos can cause mesothelioma.

The CFMEU is currently arguing against the proposed monitoring restrictions. Additionally, they are calling for the government to enact an asbestos register that would track individuals who have been exposed to asbestos. The goal of such a register is to document and track initial exposures so that workers can more easily seek fair compensation if mesothelioma does occur later in life.

Resource: http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/10/20/2718784.htm

http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/10/30/2728284.htm

Georgia Senators Urge OSHA to Issue Combustible Dust Regulations

On February 7, 2008 an Imperial Sugar refinery exploded in Port Wentworth, Georgia, killing 14 workers and injuring dozens more. The cause of the explosion was combustible dust.

Following the disaster, OSHA representatives were chastised during a hearing at the House Education and Labor Committee for their apparent lack of concern about protecting U.S. workers from the dangers of combustible dust. At the time, OSHA stressed that they were assessing whether or not regulatory action was necessary to create standards for combustible dust in the workplace.

More than a year later, it seems OSHA is still unmotivated to address the topic. OSHA recently announced its regulatory agenda for the next year, and apparently there are no plans to propose a rule for combustible dust.

Rather, OSHA indicates a pre-rulemaking notice will be issued instead. A pre-rulemaking notice is supposedly requested when more information on a subject is required. However, many suggest these pre-rule notices are nothing more than a placeholder for actual progress in worker safety. Rather than propose actionable changes, OSHA simply “requests more information” to skirt the issue.

Now, it seems Georgia’s senators would like to see more action from OSHA on the issue of combustible dust. Recently, both Senator Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss publicly urged OSHA to officially release regulations regarding this dangerous work hazard. Based on briefings of the Imperial Sugar explosion compiled by the Chemical Safety Board, Senator Isakson had this to say:

“I believe we should embrace the findings of the Chemical Safety Board, including the recommendation that OSHA establish mandatory standards modeled after the National Fire Protection Association guidelines. Sen. Chambliss and I are working closely with Secretary Solis to ensure that the lessons we have learned as a result of the Port Wentworth disaster will help us prevent future tragedies.”

OSHA will be releasing its most recent version of its regulatory agenda in December. Only time will tell whether the additional pressure from these Georgia legislators will prove effective.

Resources:

http://thepumphandle.wordpress.com/2009/09/28/waiting-for-osha-to-disappoint-on-combustible-dust/

http://www.osha.gov/dsg/combustibledust/index.html

Asbestos Exposure From Brake Dust Still A Concern

Asbestos is a fiber that is prized for its strength and heat resistance. These two unique qualities make asbestos an excellent component in vehicle brake pads. However, the hazards of asbestos exposure have long been known – inhaling such fibers can cause scarring of the lung tissue and, in some cases, rare lung cancers such as malignant mesothelioma.

Due to these health risks, the use of asbestos in brake pads had been largely phased out in vehicle production by the 1990s. Unfortunately, this does not mean that asbestos has stopped being a hazard to auto mechanics and others.

For one, late-model vehicles often still harbor brake dust that contains asbestos fibers. When this brake dust is released into the air – either by cleaning or repairing the brakes – asbestos inhalation can still occur. Original equipment brakes on vehicles as recent as 1993 were still being sold in the United States with asbestos brakes. Additionally, high-end imports, such as those sold by Land Rover, continue to incorporate asbestos linings into new vehicle models.

For two, many after-market brakes for sale in America still contain asbestos. These non-OEM parts continue to pose risks for auto industry workers and do-it-yourself gearheads.

So why, after decades of research that documents the hazards of asbestos brake dust, are automotive products still being manufactured with the fiber? Beginning in the early 1980s, European countries began banning the sale and production of all asbestos products. Today, 60 countries worldwide have enforced regulations that make the sale of asbestos products illegal.

The United States is not one of these countries.

In 1986, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) introduced a proposal to ban the production of asbestos products in the United States. Under the proposal, a total ban on all domestic and imported asbestos products would be initiated by 1996.

Unfortunately, EPA’s proposed ban was overturned in the courts. This was largely due to heavy lobbying on behalf of brake rebuilders and other asbestos-related businesses.

As such, brake manufacturers are free to fabricate brakes that contain asbestos if they so choose. Furthermore, no law requires such hazardous products to be labeled in any way that might warn mechanics and other individuals about the potential for asbestos exposure. Sadly, this fact exacerbates the possibility for unnecessary inhalation of harmful mesothelioma-causing agents.

To minimize potential for asbestos brake dust exposure, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration recommends either wet cleaning procedures or the use of an enclosed high-efficiency vacuum when working with automotive brakes. Dry procedures such as air hoses are strongly discouraged, as these processes cause brake dust to become airborne.

Resource: http://www.aa1car.com/library/trtu796.htm

Teaching the Financial Benefits of Worker Safety and Health

Ensuring employee safety and health is not only the human thing to do; it is also just plain good for business. At least, this is what numerous partners of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have been reporting. Repeatedly, companies with strong occupational and environmental health and safety (OEHS) programs are experiencing cost savings and other business advantages simply by improving work conditions for their employees.

Now, NIOSH is attempting to teach the upcoming generation of business executives the benefits of such programs. In conjunction with the National Safety Council (NSC) and the Williams College of Business at Xavier University, NIOSH is promoting fair treatment of employees through an MBA course called “Business Value of Safety and Health.”

The course, offered at the Xavier campus in Cincinnati, Ohio, serves to inform business students of the many benefits – financial and otherwise – that come from instituting OEHS programs in the workplace.

The course has been offered since the Spring semester of 2009. Through real-world examples and case studies, the course teaches students how to evaluate OEHS initiatives and identify the most cost-efficient opportunities. Beyond financial benefits, the Xavier course program is also intended to promote research among safety and health professionals and reduce the overall number of workplace injuries and deaths.

So far, the inaugural course has been deemed a success. So much so, in fact, that Xavier now plans to expand course offerings related to OEHS practices. A new Center for Excellence in the Business of Health and Safety has been formed to create curriculum that tailors work safety practices and benefits to specific fields such as risk management, finance, economics and marketing.

Xavier and NIOSH are also co-sponsoring an “Economics of Sustainability – Health, Safety and the Environment Conference” in the fall of 2010. Dates for the conference are set for October 27 through October 29.

NIOSH intends to partner with other colleges to form and promote similar courses.