Monthly Archives: November 2013

EPA warns modernizing water system may boost levels of lead

WASA lead pipe replacement

WASA lead pipe replacement (Photo credit: IntangibleArts)

 

By Michael Hawthorne, Chicago Tribune

 

 

 

Chicago study finds high levels of toxic metal in areas of street work or plumbing repairs

 

Dangerous levels of lead are turning up in Chicago homes where pipes made of the toxic metal were disturbed by street work or plumbing repairs, according to a new federal study that suggests the city’s aggressive efforts to modernize its water system could inadvertently pose health risks.

The problem starts with lead service lines that Chicago installed across the city until the mid-1980s to connect water mains with homes. Researchers at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that spikes of lead can leach into tap water when those pipes are altered by water main replacements, meter installations or street work.

High levels can be found in tap water for years afterward, the EPA study found, raising concerns that other cities with lead pipes could face similar problems.

Most homeowners likely are unaware they could be drinking tainted water. Under federal rules, utilities rarely are required to warn residents that work is being done or tell them they can take steps to reduce their exposure to lead. A potent neurotoxin, lead can damage the brains of young children, lower IQ and trigger learning disabilities, aggression and criminal behavior later in life.

Lead is so hazardous that the EPA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say there is no safe level of exposure. The metal has been phased out of gasoline, removed from paint and banned in children’s toys. But the widespread use of lead pipes during the last century has left a festering problem nationwide.

“We owe it to people to tell them that their water might not be safe to drink,” said Marc Edwards, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech University who wasn’t involved with the EPA study but has reached similar conclusions in his own research. Read More

 

 

Study finds fault with lead-testing technique

Soil Samples with Lead

Soil Samples with Lead (Photo credit: PlaxcoLab)

 

By Jason Nadboy, http://www.browndailyherald.com

 

By examining deeper soil, researchers found past methods for measuring lead to be inaccurate

 

More soil lead contamination exists in Rhode Island than previously recorded by state lead examiners, according to a recent study by University researchers.

 

The study examined the lead-testing methods of the Rhode Island Department of Health and found previous methods literally did not dig deep enough — only examining surface soil samples when lead may be found deeper in the soil.

 

One source of lead contamination is paint coating water towers painted decades ago. The paint chips off, falls to the soil and is blown around by the wind.

 

 

When one such tower was replaced in 2003, contractors inspecting the site found areas surrounding the tower had soil containing lead by Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management standards, according to the study. Residents nearby were disgusted by the discovery of lead and hired their own contractors to determine just how much of the nearby soil was hazardous, using Rhode Island Department of Health standards instead.

 

Spurred to action, the state health department requested the Brown University Superfund Research Program look into the department’s standards for examining soil for lead. The researches found because the department only looked at surface soil samples, they missed the presence of lead lurking beneath the top layer and underestimated the level of contamination.

 

Soil samples from 31 properties were analyzed for lead concentrations. Four locations — comprising 13 percent of properties examined — were labeled “soil lead hazard,” according to the study.

 

The researchers took samples from the surface of the soil along with samples from both six inches and 12 inches below the surface, said Marcella Thompson, postdoctoral research associate in pathology and laboratory medicine, and the lead author of the study.

 

The researchers found certain properties to be misclassified in terms of their lead hazard. These locations were falsely classified because only the surface of these properties had been examined for lead, Thompson said.

 

Lead contained in deeper levels of soil can still serve as a source of exposure for humans. “If you’re thinking about planting a garden, lead can be taken by the plants,” said Kim Boekelheide, professor of medical science, pathology and laboratory medicine and an author of the study. Children also risk exposure when they play in contaminated dirt, he added.

 

According to Rhode Island Department of Health standards, lead­-free soil refers to soil with less than 150 milligrams of lead per kilogram of soil, as noted in the study. This can be confusing, especially to residents with no scientific background, Thompson said.

 

“The use of the terminology ‘lead­-free’ was not really lead free,” Thompson added.

 

After the study highlighted faults in the state health department’s lead testing techniques, the department has committed to tweaking standards, Thompson said. Read More

 

 

Mold in food: Here is what you need to know

Chobani Greek Yogurt

Chobani Greek Yogurt (Photo credit: Janellie)

 

By Cathy Payne, USA TODAY

 

You may want to give some items in your fridge the cold shoulder.

 

The recent recall of Chobani Greek yogurt brought new attention to the issue of mold that develops in food, when it’s harmful and what to do about it. On Sept. 5, the company that makes Chobani yogurt voluntarily recalled containers with the code 16-012 and best-by dates of Sept. 11 to Oct. 7.

 

The Food and Drug Administration received a total of 170 complaints associated with Chobani yogurt as of Sept. 13. The various issues reported continue to be cramps, nausea, headache and diarrhea. The complaints were submitted by individuals in Arizona, Delaware, New York, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, California, Indiana and Florida.

 

“These reports about a product only reflect information as reported and do not represent any conclusion by the FDA about whether the product actually caused the adverse events,” says Tamara Ward, a spokeswoman for the agency.

 

Read More

 

 

Berkshire Hathaway subsidiaries deny, delay asbestos, hazard claims, suits, insiders allege

By Mark Greenblatt, Scripps News

 

For months, mysterious white flakes and construction dust fell on Nancy Lopez’s desk in the Jackson County Courthouse in Kansas City, Mo.

No question the debris was worse after renovation crews worked the weekend. But really, the mess was getting out of hand. On that Monday in 1983, Lopez grabbed a rag and started dusting.

The impeccably dressed young administrative assistant finished tidying her office and set to work. Unknowingly, she had brushed off her desk, into the air and into her lungs deadly asbestos fibers.

Those tiny fibers stayed with Lopez for decades, and, in 2009, at age 54, she learned she was dying from mesothelioma, an asbestos-caused cancer. She sued the construction company and the county for negligence and punitive damages.

Lopez didn’t realize her suit would eventually pit her against the empire built by acclaimed investor and philanthropist Warren Buffett. Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. of Omaha, Neb., has become one of the most powerful forces in asbestos and pollution litigation in the world.

Berkshire’s reach has grown so vast that if you or a loved one files an asbestos- or pollution-related lawsuit in America, like Lopez, you’re likely to encounter a Berkshire subsidiary.

Scripps interviewed more than 20 sources — some confidential — reviewed dozens of lawsuits and spoke with former insiders, who all allege the Berkshire-owned companies that handle its asbestos and pollution policies — National Indemnity Co. and Resolute Management Inc. — wrongfully delay or deny compensation to cancer victims and others to boost Berkshire’s profits. In multiple cases, courts and arbitrators have ruled that the Berkshire subsidiaries’ tactics have been in “bad faith” or intentional.

Through 25 known deals, insurers like American Insurance Group, CNA Financial Corp. and Lloyd’s of London have paid Berkshire to assume their risk for tens of billions of dollars in future asbestos and pollution claims. Read More

Bacteria, Mold Found In Vacuum Dust

Dust bunnies

Dust bunnies (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Posted by http://www.huffingtonpost.com

 

Think the dust created by your vacuum only contains harmless hair and dust bunnies? A new study suggests more nefarious organisms could be lurking.

 

The study, published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, shows that mold and bacteria — with some bacteria even carrying antibiotic resistance genes, as well as the Clostridium botulinum toxin gene — are present in aerosolized vacuum dust. The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Queensland, the Universitaire de Cardiologie et de Pneumologie de Quebec, and the Universite Laval.

 

“Human skin and hair have been shown to be strong sources of bacteria in floor dust and air indoors, which can be readily resuspended and inhaled,” the researchers wrote in the study. “Our results show that although vacuum operation is typically brief, vacuum emissions can release appreciable quantities of human-derived bacteria. Such emissions could potentially lead to inhalation of infectious or allergenic aerosols.”

 

While researchers did not actually show in the study that the bacteria and mold in the vacuum dust caused health problems, they noted it does illustrate the “potential capability of vacuum cleaners to disseminate appreciable quantities of molds and human-associated bacteria indoors and their role as a source of exposure to bioaerosols.” Read More

 

 

Lead advice group cut as poison concerns increase

lead paint on leila's house

lead paint on leila’s house (Photo credit: wayneandwax)

 

By Sue White, ABC Environment

 

Questions are being raised as to the ‘safe’ level of lead in children’s blood. They come as a popular Australian lead advisory group has its funding taken away.

 

ANY DAY NOW, the phone is about to ring in a small Sydney-based not-for-profit for the 100,000th time. But when caller number 100,000 gets through to the Global Lead Advice and Support Service (GLASS), there may be no one to take the call.

 

It’s not for a lack of concern. In fact, according to the organisation’s founder, Elizabeth O’Brien, the heavy metal that’s well known to be toxic when ingested, even in small doses, remains a very real health problem. But in June, the charity’s free service of 22 years did not have its funding renewed.

 

“It was just $115,000 a year,” says O’Brien. “But it allowed for a few paid staff to manage the 150 volunteers, and things like public liability insurance,” she says.

 

And it looks like those meagre funds will not be reinstated any time soon. Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt says of GLASS’s funding, “This was a decision made by the previous Government. Due to Labor’s financial mismanagement, we are not in a position to overturn their decision.” Read More

 

Ashland County may consider banning explosives near rocks with asbestos

By Mike Simonson, Wisconsin Public Radio

The Ashland County Board may consider a ban on explosives that disturb asbestos in rock formations, including at the proposed iron ore mine site.

Ashland County Board Chairman Pete Russo says he’s getting lots of calls from citizens who are worried about asbestos and mesothelioma, a fatal lung cancer caused by airborne asbestos fibers. Recent reports by Northland College geoscience professor Tom Fitz and the Department of Natural Resources have found that asbestos fibers are in at least part of the ore body that Gogebic Taconite (GTAC) hopes to mine.

The DNR says it needs more information before they know if that ore body is dangerous, while Fitz calls the asbestos lethal.

Russo has called a special meeting of the Mining Impact Committee Wednesday, which will hear testimony from Fitz and the DNR. Then, he says, the committee will consider an ordinance which would ban using explosives on asbestos rock. Read More

 

Colorado waives asbestos cleanup laws for flood recovery, but experts fear safety may be compromised

Colorado National Guard Flood Response

Colorado National Guard Flood Response (Photo credit: The National Guard)

 

By Keli Rabon, http://www.thedenverchannel.com

 

Relaxed state requirements for asbestos cleanup and removal have paved the way for a speedier recovery for homeowners and businesses affected by the devastating floods. But cleanup professionals say the trade-off could be putting people at risk.

 

 “You can’t see it, taste it or smell it. There’s no way you’ll know without having a certified person come in and test for it,” says an industrial hygienist and state-certified asbestos inspector whose name we have withheld because he fears retaliation for speaking out.

 

On average, he says one in three homes in the state contains asbestos, and despite a common misconception that asbestos-containing products are no longer manufactured, the products are often shipped in from Canada and Mexico.  

 

“If you don’t know if a material has asbestos in it, you have to assume the material does, and treat it as an asbestos-containing material until it can be sampled and proven to not have asbestos in it,” the inspector said.

 

But in flood cleanup guidance released earlier this week, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said, “To enable timely cleanup of flood debris… the department will temporarily not enforce certain regulatory requirements.”  When it comes to asbestos contamination, the document states that, “If this is not known, the material may be handled as non-asbestos flood debris, and disposed of at a permitted landfill.”

 

But the asbestos inspector disagreed.

 

“Just removing the gross materials doesn’t guarantee that all the asbestos fibers are going to be gone from the structure,” the inspector said.

 

“So there could still be asbestos in the home, even though the materials are taken out?” Call7 Investigator Keli Rabon asked.

 

“Absolutely, because it’s a microscopic fiber,” he said.

 

If inhaled, those microscopic asbestos fibers can cause chronic lung disease or cancer, like mesothelioma. Studies show it can take 20 to 30 years before symptoms appear.

 

“Through this policy, is the state putting people at risk?” Rabon asked.

 

“Absolutely,” the inspector said.

 

“I don’t agree with that at all. The safety of our citizens, first-responders and cleanup crews is our number one priority,” said Will Allison, CDPHE’s Director of Air Pollution Control.  

 

Allison says the safest option is to clean flood debris as quickly as possible.

 

“We’ve seen 20,000 homes damaged or destroyed by the recent flooding, and since that’s not the traditional type of remodel we would see, we recognize that in some stances, traditional regulations, it’s not practical to have them apply,” Allison said.

 

Previous guidance from the state has said, “Buildings of any age, even those newly built, may have asbestos containing material.”

 

Allison admits many people may not know if asbestos is in their home. Read More