Category Archives: Education

Environmental educational issues

Student says mysterious illnesses caused by school’s air quality

By Meghan Schiller, http://www.abc57.com

gasmaskA Penn High School student says he is being poisoned by the air in his school. He believes the chemicals and mold in the air are making it difficult for him to breathe. His family is getting the Indiana Department of Health involved.

In a few days, 16-year-old Cody Hicks will go to Indianapolis to get tested by a toxicology specialist. He hopes to find an answer to his mysterious health problems.
“Think of your lungs burning and it felt like something was stabbing them,” said Hicks.

That’s how Hicks says he feels when he walks the halls of Penn High School.

He has dozens of doctor notes, prescriptions for every allergy medication in the book and 4 pages listing his excused absences.

“My doctor was completely baffled- he had no idea. He said an allergic reaction, but I’m not sure what’s causing it,” said Hicks.

The family gave us pictures showing possible issues inside the school. they believe the photos show mold, fungal growth, water leaks, and chemical cleaners.

Hicks says the only way he could walk down the halls without wanting to collapse was to wear a gas mask.

“I had to wear a gas mask through the halls because when I walked through the halls it would really get to me– it was like the worst area in the entire school,” said Hicks.

“I think they believe he’s making this up,” said Hicks’ mother Bonnie Hicks. “I know he’s not making this up.”

Hicks says he wasn’t allowed to walk the halls with the mask on.

His mom contacted the Indiana Health Department. They conducted an indoor air quality evaluation at the school.

The Health Department sent a letter to the superintendent on June 12 giving the district 60 days to take action on three deficiencies.

They include classrooms that exceeded the acceptable level of carbon dioxide, stained ceiling tiles in classrooms that show a moisture problem and use of chemicals such as Windex and other cleaners that aggravates respiratory conditions. Read more

China blames ‘pencil-chewing’ on lead-poisoning in children

By Karen Graham, http://www.digitaljournal.com

Pencil chewingA Chinese government official in Dapu, Hunan province has suggested that the cause of an outbreak of lead poisoning in over 300 children is the result of “pencil-chewing,” downplaying the possibility a chemical plant in the town could be at fault.
Beijing started its crackdown on polluters in April of this year, revising an already existing 1989 anti-pollution law by adding more teeth to the regulations. The revised lawis supposed to take effect the first of the year in 2015, but it seems that many provinces and industrial plants haven’t gotten the message.

State media is reporting that tests done on children in Dapu, Hunan province showed excessive lead levels in over 300 children, many of them too young to go to school. The head of Dapu’s governing body, Su Genlin, told reporters, “When kids are studying, they gnaw on their pencils — that also can cause lead poisoning.”

The official was dismissive of the chemical plant located in the township, as well as the lab reports of airborne dust in the village containing 22 times the legal limit of lead. He also failed to mention the levels of lead, zinc, cadmium and arsenic in the factory’s drainage ditch that runs into the village’s river. Those levels are three times the acceptable level considered safe.

According to the official news agency, Xinhua, township chief Su Genlin was dressed down and ridiculed online for his remarks. It seems the Chinese character for the heavy metal is also used for pencil, in much the same way that “lead” has a double-meaning in the English language. Lead hasn’t been used in pencils since the 1500s.

The People’s Daily, the official online mouthpiece of China’s ruling communist party, posted an op-ed on Monday, ridiculing the township leader. Commentator Zhang Yusheng wrote, “It is scientific knowledge that pencils are made from graphite. Does this official’s statement show ignorance, or just disregard for the people’s welfare?”

While people in Dapu are outraged that their children have been subjected to substances that can cause liver, kidney, brain and nervous system damage, they are not alone in their anger. China has been plagued with literally thousands of cases of children being poisoned by lead linked to industrial pollution. It is well known that lead poisoning is the most common pediatric health problem in China today. Read more

Why Is Asbestos Still Killing People?

asbestosis of the lung

By Nic Fleming, http://www.psmag.com

Health fears associated with asbestos were first raised at the end of the 19th century. Asbestosis, an inflammatory condition affecting the lungs that causes shortness of breath, coughing, and other lung damage, was described in medical literature in the 1920s. By the mid-1950s, when the first epidemiological study of asbestos-related lung cancer was published, the link to fatal disease was well established.

“Asbestos-related diseases disproportionately affect working-class people in semi-skilled or unskilled jobs, their relatives, and others who lived near the factories. There was this tremendous death toll but it didn’t have big repercussions because they were ‘just working-class people.”

Yet in 2012, rather than falling, worldwide asbestos production increased and international exports surged by 20 percent. A full ban did not come into force in the U.K. until 1999, and the European Union’s deadline for member states to end its use was just nine years ago. Today, asbestos is still used in large quantities in many parts of Asia, Eastern Europe, and South America, while even in the U.S. and Canada, controlled use is allowed.

The remarkable endurance of this magic mineral turned deadly dust is a complex tale. One of scientific deception and betrayal, greed, political collusion, the power of propaganda, and, above all, the willingness of some executives to knowingly subject hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people around the world to severe illness and even death in the pursuit of profit.

You may not have to look hard to find asbestos where you live or work. Many buildings still have asbestos-based components, including pipe insulation, decorative coatings, ceiling boards, fireproofing panels, window in-fill panels, and cold water tanks.

Research into precisely how asbestos causes mesothelioma and other forms of lung cancer is ongoing. The fibers are so small that most can only be seen under a microscope. Billions can be inhaled in a single day with no immediate effect, but longer-term the consequences can be deadly.

The fibers can become lodged in the lining of organs such as the lungs, causing damage that interrupts the normal cell cycle, leading to uncontrollable cell division and tumor growth. Asbestos is also linked to changes in the membranes surrounding the lungs—the pleura—including pleural thickening, the formation of scar tissue (plaques), and abnormal collections of fluid (pleural effusion).

“There is absolutely no doubt that all kinds [of asbestos] can give rise to asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma,” says Paul Cullinan, professor of occupational and environmental respiratory disease at the National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College London. “It’s probably the case that white asbestos is less toxic in respect to mesothelioma than the amphiboles. The industry tries to argue that you can take precautions so that white asbestos can be used safely, but in practice, in the real world, that is not what is going to happen.”

This is the firm scientific consensus. But not everyone agrees.

“One of the first things that strikes you when you look at asbestos is just how long ago it was discovered to be toxic,” says Geoffrey Tweedale, former professor of business history at Manchester Metropolitan University. Following a U.S. legal case in 1995, Tweedale and fellow historian David Jeremy obtained a copy of the T&N company archive. They studied the almost one million documents and Tweedale went on to co-write two books on asbestos and the industry.

What this extraordinary collection of internal papers showed was how much some senior figures in the asbestos industry knew about the damage they were causing to their workers, and how their response was to launch a campaign of scientific concealment and distortion, and public misinformation that dates back over 80 years and continues today.

In 1927 a doctor called Ian Grieve wrote a detailed study of the health of workers at the J.W. Roberts asbestos textile plant in Leeds. He used X-rays to confirm his evaluation that the hand-beating of asbestos mattresses for locomotives (to remove lumps) could cause asbestosis within five years. A government inquiry set up a year later found that a quarter of workers with five or more years of experience in asbestos textile factories had fibrosis, rising to half of those who had worked in the industry for 10 years. Regulations on dust control, medical surveillance, and compensation were introduced in Britain in 1931.

Two years after Grieve’s findings, executives from U.S. asbestos companies Johns-Mansville (the owners of the Jeffrey Mine) and Raybestos (a manufacturer of automotive parts) asked Metlife, the country’s largest insurer, to investigate whether the mineral was an occupational hazard for workers at five textile mills. It was found that only 17 of 108 male workers studied and three of the 18 women were free of asbestosis. These results were not published. Read more

Experts say deal with mold before health issues arise

By Marisa Lagos, http://www.sfgate.com

Health experts say any apparent mold growth or dampness needs to be taken care of swiftly or it could lead to asthma or other respiratory problems.

These health issues could be particularly acute for children and firefighters, who are already vulnerable, but should be of concern to healthy adults as well, said Dr. Mark Miller, director of UCSF’s Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit. Many families on Treasure Island are already worried that polluted soil is causing health problems, including respiratory issues, in their children.

“From a practical standpoint, if there is mold in a house, it needs to be remediated – and if you can see it or you can smell it, it’s there,” Miller said. “It’s always the result of moisture of some sort, and the first thing you have to do is do something about the moisture … certainly people with underlying respiratory disease and asthma are more prone to have effects, and we are always particularly concerned about the very old and very young. And firefighters already have respiratory-related problems. You don’t want to pile more things on.”

Mark Mendel, an epidemiologist with the California Department of Public Health, said wiping off mold or painting over it is an insufficient approach and that state law requires landlords to fix dampness in homes. He said expensive tests aren’t actually necessary, because if you can smell or see mold at all, it’s a problem.

“Painting over it is absolutely not acceptable and not effective … you need to find out where the water is coming from and fix it,” he said. “You need to dry damp materials, and some you have to get rid of – if you have carpet or ceiling tile that’s been wet more than a couple days, you really need to get rid of it. In addition to drying or removing any damp material, you need to remove any mold.”

Read More

Solvent, paint exposure beyond moderate level could be a memory buster, says new study

By Judy Mottl, http://www.techtimes.com

brainExtensive exposure to solvents, paints and glue may lead to memory issues later in life, says a new research report, though moderate exposure appears not to have such a damaging effect.

The study released Tuesday evaluated lifetime exposure among 2,143 utility workers in France who spent workdays dealing with petroleum solvents, benzene and chlorinated solvents. Of the group, 26 percent were exposed to benzene, 33 percent to chlorinated solvents and 25 percent to petroleum solvents.

“Our findings are particularly important because exposure to solvents is very common, even in industrialized countries like the United States,” said study author Erika L. Sabbath, of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.

The results state that cognitive impact among moderately exposed workers may subside over a period of time but that may not be the case for higher-exposure situations.

“This has implications for physicians working with formerly solvent-exposed patients as well as for workplace exposure limit policies,” states the study. Read more

Tacoma firm owners admit fraud in asbestos-removal training

By Craig Welch, The Seattle Times

The workers sat down in the makeshift classroom, prepared to learn how to safely remove cancer-causing asbestos.

Instead, the instructor turned on a video of the 2004 action flick “Van Helsing.”

The owners of a Tacoma company that was among a mere handful certified by the state to train workers to inspect or handle asbestos pleaded guilty on Friday in Superior Court for faking training programs for years.

It’s just the latest in a string of issues nationwide with companies responsible for dealing with the ubiquitous hazardous substance commonly found in ceilings, siding and insulation.

“We get a lot of calls on individuals who are cutting corners — either from a business or a colleague,” Tyler Amon, special agent in charge with the Environmental Protection Agency’s law-enforcement division in Seattle, said in an interview.

“But what we are focused on is where it’s concentrated in a criminal enterprise.”

The Tacoma company, Emergency Management Training, let workers skip training altogether or show up for as little as 30 minutes of an eight-hour course. Owners submitted false records to let workers avoid state-mandated follow-up. It forged documents so its own untrained employees could bid on a hazardous-materials-removal job for the military at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

The company even took money under the table so that uncertified contractors could evaluate schools and hospitals to see if they were asbestos-free. Read more

How slime mold can design transportation networks and maybe even transform computing

By Biz Carson, http://gigaom.com

slime-mold-board-1

The yellow blobs of slime mold normally grow in dark forests, not on computer chips or on gelatinous squares shaped like the United States. But through his research, University of the West of England professor Andrew Adamatzky has shown that the mold can, and should, be grown elsewhere because of its potential in computing.

Physarum polycephalum is a brainless mold that’s sole purpose is to build transportation networks for the nutrients that sustain it. As it expands in search of food, it sends out slimy tubes that continue to branch out until it finds a food source, at which point it forms a blob around the nutrients. Its slime tubes then continue to grow and split until the mold forms a network of tubes to transport the food throughout itself.

The key to Physarum polycephalum’s computing power, however, is its ability to form the most efficient and optimal network.

Because it’s a self-repairing, living creature, it can also model emergency situations. So if a road was cut off due to flooding or an accident, the mold could also be suddenly cut off at that point and its resources redirected in another optimal way.

“By understanding how living creatures build transport networks, an urban planner would probably modify their approaches towards urban development and road planning,” Adamatzky said.

And while we may not see a petri dish of slime mold on an urban planner’s desk anytime soon, there are more practical applications of the mold when it comes to computing. Adamatzky wrote a book in 2010 where he defined the concept of Physarum machines: programmable, amorphous, living computing devices. Because the mold is sensitive to light and certain chemicals, the mold can be programmed to travel certain ways while still finding the optimal network. Read More

TEM Time

I know a lot of you will be doing Clearance Testing on asbestos abatement projects in the coming month, so here is a quick summary chart for your reference. As always, if you have any questions don’t hesitate to give us a call. 800-822-1650

 

TEMCheatSheet

Monks’ Secret: Asbestos Lurking Beneath Byzantine Wall Paintings

By Joseph Castro, http://www.livescience.com

monk asbestos

Hundreds of years before asbestos became ubiquitous in the construction industry, Byzantine monks used the fibrous material in plaster coatings underlying their wall paintings during the late 1100s, new research shows.

Asbestos is a type of natural, rock-forming mineral known for its ability to separate into long, flexible fibers. It has long been thought that asbestos fibers, which are corrosion- and combustion-resistant, were first integrated into such things as plaster, finish coatings and floors after the Industrial Revolution.

But while investigating the 12th-century paintings in the Byzantine monastery Enkleistra of St. Neophytos in Cyprus, UCLA researchers discovered the magnesium silicate mineral, chrysotile (white asbestos), in the finish coating of the plaster underneath a portion of a wall painting. The chrysotile provided a smooth layer with a mirrorlike surface for the painting.

“[The monks] probably wanted to give more shine and different properties to this layer,” said UCLA archaeological scientist Ioanna Kakoulli, lead author of the new study, published online last month in the Journal of Archaeological Science. “It definitely wasn’t a casual decision — they must have understood the properties of the material.” Read More

Meningitis outbreak in Los Angeles, three dead so far

By JC Sevcik, http://www.upi.com

MeningitisThree have died due to meningitis in Los Angeles, the L.A. County Department of Public Health said Thursday.

The department announced their have been eight cases of invasive meningococcal disease in the county so far this year, the L.A. Times reports.

Invasive meningococcal disease causes meningitis, an inflammation of the the meninges, the protective membrane surrounding the brain and spinal cord. It can be spread through exposure to sneezing and coughing and contact with saliva and mucous. Kissing, sharing beverages or cigarettes, and living in group settings can transmit the bacteria responsible for infection.

Symptoms usually onset within five days of exposure to the bacteria, and may include a high fever, stiff neck, aches, and an aversion to bright lights.

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