New research shows that a chemical compound found in many air fresheners, toilet bowl cleaners, mothballs and other deodorizing products, may be harmful to the lungs. Human population studies at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), a part of the National Institutes of Health, found that exposure to a volatile organic compound (VOC), called 1,4 dichlorobenzene (1,4 DCB) may cause modest reductions in lung function.
"Even a small reduction in lung function may indicate some harm to the lungs," said NIEHS researcher Stephanie London, M.D., lead investigator on the study. "The best way to protect yourself, especially children who may have asthma or other respiratory illnesses, is to reduce the use of products and materials that contain these compounds."
The researchers examined the relationship between blood concentrations of 11 common volatile organic compounds and lung function measures in a representative sample of 953 adults. VOCs are a diverse set of compounds emitted as gases from thousands of commonly used products, including tobacco smoke, pesticides, paints, and cleaning products. VOCs are also released through automotive exhaust. The researchers found that of the common VOCs analyzed, which included benzene, styrene, toluene, and acetone, only the compound 1,4 DCB was associated with reduced pulmonary function and this effect was seen even after careful adjustment for smoking, The researchers found that 96 percent of the population samples had detectable 1,4 DCB blood concentration levels. African Americans had the highest exposure levels and non-Hispanic whites the lowest.
This particular VOC, 1,4 DCB, is a white solid compound with a distinctive aroma, similar to mothballs. It is typically used primarily as a space deodorant in products such as room deodorizers, urinal and toilet bowl blocks, and as an insecticide fumigant for moth control.
"Because people spend so much time indoors where these products are used, it's important that we understand the effects that even low levels might have on the respiratory system," said Leslie Elliott, Ph.D. a researcher on the NIEHS-funded study. "There has been very little research on the health effects of this particular compound in non-occupational settings."
The researchers used data from the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and a special component of the study specifically designed to assess the level of common pesticides and VOCs in the US population. NHANES III is a nationally representative survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between 1988-1994 to determine the health and nutritional status of the U.S. population.
Data from 953 adults 20-59 years old who had both VOC blood measures and pulmonary function measures are included in the study published in the August issue of "Environmental Health Perspectives." Four pulmonary function measures were used in the analyses. The researchers found modest reductions in pulmonary function with increasing blood concentrations of 1,4 DCB.
There was approximately a 4 percent decrease in the test which measures forced expiratory volume in 1(FEV1) second between the highest and lowest levels of exposure. FEV1 is a commonly used index for assessing airway function and obstruction.
The researchers assessed the influence of other factors in an individual's environment that may be related to pulmonary function and to 1,4-DCB exposure, such as type of heating, use of wood fires, age of house, presence of furred pets, occupation, socioeconomic status, environmental tobacco smoke, smoking history, and diagnosis of asthma or emphysema. The authors noted that participants might have been exposed to other agents not assessed in this study1that have been linked to both respiratory impairment and levels of 1,4-DCB.
"This research suggests that 1,4-DCB may exacerbate respiratory diseases," said David A. Schwartz, M.D., NIEHS Director. "As part of the new disease-focused approach at NIEHS, researchers will use this information to better understand the pathogenesis of respiratory diseases." The NIEHS unveiled a new strategic plan, "New Frontiers in Environmental Sciences and Human Health," in May aimed at challenging and energizing the scientific community to use environmental health sciences to understand the causes of disease and to improve human health.
OSHA Issues Safety Bulletin for Asbestos-Automotive Brake and Clutch Repair Work
Although the use of asbestos in friction products is declining annually, it remains a substantial source of potential exposure. In addition, there is still potential exposure to asbestos contained in automotive brakes and clutches on older vehicles in need of service.
Exposure to asbestos, if not properly controlled can cause mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis. Symptoms may not appear for years, even decades, after contact with asbestos fibers. The bulletin includes recommended work practices and engineering controls.
OSHA Cites Fitzgerald, Ga., Trailer Manufacturer for Hazardous Material Violations
OSHA has cited Haulmark of Georgia Inc. for hazardous material exposure and other workplace safety and health violations. The agency is proposing penalties totaling $57,150.
"This inspection was conducted because the company has a history of occupational injuries and illnesses," said John J. Deifer, OSHA's area director in Savannah. "We found that significant safety and health issues still exist."
OSHA issued 29 serious safety and health citations to the trailer manufacturer for failing to prevent worker exposure to methylene chloride, a hazardous chemical used to clean equipment. Serious citations were also issued because the company failed to protect workers from falls, electrical shock, fire hazards associated with the use and storage of flammable paints and compressed gasses, and additional safety and health hazards. Proposed penalties for these violations total $55,350.
Serious citations are issued when there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result and that the employer knew or should have known of the hazards.
OSHA also issued four other-than-serious citations with proposed penalties of $1,800 for violations. These citations included the failure to develop and implement a respiratory protection program with medical evaluations for workers spray painting with hazardous solvents.
The inspection of Haulmark of Georgia Inc. was conducted under OSHA's Site Specific Targeting Program, which targets those workplaces with reported high injury and illness rates.
OSHA Cites Miami Roofing Company after Fatal Accident
OSHA cited Aleluya Roofing Co., Miami, with alleged safety and health violations following a fatal construction accident. The agency is proposing penalties totaling $154,800.
"This horrific accident could have been avoided if the employer had followed required safety procedures," said Luis R. Santiago, OSHA's area director in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "Tragedies like this simply should not happen."
The fatality occurred Jan. 25, 2006, when an employee fell from the roof of a six-story Abbott Avenue building in Miami and was impaled on the pickets of a wrought-iron fence. The worker had been assisting the operator of a trolley hoist when the rear of the machine lifted up, causing the machine and the employee to fall to the street below.
OSHA issued one willful citation with a maximum $70,000 proposed penalty for the employer's failure to comply with the manufacturer's operating specifications for the trolley hoist. A willful citation is issued when an employer has shown an intentional disregard of, or plain indifference to, the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. An additional willful citation with a proposed penalty of $44,000 was issued because fire exits were reportedly fastened closed with lumber and blocked on four separate occasions.
Aleluya Roofing also received 11 serious citations with proposed penalties totaling $40,800. These citations included the failure to provide fall protection in a hoist area and at the edge of a flat roof, train employees to recognize fall hazards, and protect employees from an array of dangers.
OSHA personnel issues serious citations when there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result, and that the employer knew or should have known of the hazards.
Grant Enables Local Response to Hazardous Material Calls
If people in Cherokee, Clay or Graham counties in North Carolina are contaminated by dangerous chemicals, Emergency Medical Service (EMS) personnel are better able to respond after getting a $100,000 state grant.
The grant was used to purchase a State Medical Assistance Team trailer that includes a decontamination tent, suits to protect EMS personnel from dangerous chemicals, a water heater to warm water for decontamination and a tent with plumbed-in showers that will be used to decontaminate people exposed to contaminants.
The unit will be housed in Cherokee County but is primarily for use in Cherokee, Clay and Graham counties. The unit and local EMS teams could respond state-wide or to a national disaster.
Chad McNabb of the Cherokee County EMS said there are 30 S-MAT teams in the state. Last week, McNabb had completed his first training classes with the new equipment and EMS personnel had a chance to suit up and practice decontamination of a dummy.
Some examples of how the equipment can be used include cases of chemical contamination due to a factory explosion, a train derailment or a tractor trailer accident. The unit can also be used for decontamination in the event that weapons of mass destruction are used.
"Before this unit, in the event of a chemical leak of any kind, we weren't prepared," McNabb said. "The closest unit was in Asheville."
David Crisp of the Cherokee County EMS said the first deployment in the state of an S-MAT unit was for a tornado. The tent was used as a command center for the disaster.
"The odds are that this unit will be used more for natural disasters (than chemical disasters)," he said.
Brent Burrell, Cherokee County EMS, explained that the decontamination tent has three lines. The line on the right is designated for male patients while the line on the left is for female patients. Each of those lines include a section to undress, the shower section for decontamination and a section to dress in temporary clothes before leaving the tent.
The center line includes a conveyor belt for those injured too badly to walk. EMS personnel on July 12 practiced cutting clothes off a dummy and sending him through the middle line while washing him off to decontaminate him.
McNabb said the course will be opened to various emergency personnel, such as law enforcement and hospital workers. He hopes the state will provide additional grants in the future to add more equipment.
Robin Caldwell, Cherokee County Emergency Management coordinator, said the S-MAT unit will allow them to respond to a variety of emergencies. For example, if there is a large brush fire, the tent can be set up to prevent firefighters from becoming too hot. The unit will allow local personnel to respond to a small chemical hazard. "We can be deployed anywhere state-wide or nation-wide," she said.
Cal/OSHA Investigates Third Possible Heat Illness Fatality
Labor and Workforce Development Agency secretary Victoria Bradshaw announced that Cal/OSHA is actively investigating the third possible heat illness related fatality of 2006. Alfonso Guitierrez, a 67 year old employee of MJ's Pizza in Santa Rosa, died while delivering pizza. He was found in his parked car after a passerby called 911.
"It's unfortunate that we've just experienced another loss," said secretary Victoria Bradshaw. "During this current extraordinary heat wave, we cannot operate as if it's business as usual. Both employers and employees need to take the necessary precautions when working in high temperatures. At the same time, we are fully committed to vigorously pursuing investigations of violations of the emergency heat illness prevention regulations throughout the state."
The regulations spell out that employers must provide ample drinking water and encourage workers to drink frequently, provide shade for breaks and watch closely for signs of heat stress including confusion, dizziness and headaches.
Employees need to remember that alcohol, drinks containing sugar, and medication (such as blood pressure medication) can put workers at risk. Health professionals advise outdoor workers to drink plenty of water, even if you are not thirsty. Seek shade and tell your employer if you are feeling ill. New employees need to allow their bodies time to adjust to the extreme temperatures.
"If we find that there were violations of these regulations, we will use every means at our disposal to hold those responsible accountable," added Bradshaw. Governor Schwarzenegger worked with leaders from the labor, business and healthcare industries to develop these health and safety regulations and we intend to make sure they are enforced to protect all of California's outdoor workers."
Cal/OSHA continues to work with employer groups and workers educating both on heat illness prevention.
Heat illness prevention regulations were put into place in August 2005 on an emergency basis to try to minimize heat related fatalities. Permanent regulations governing heat illness prevention should be finalized soon and will establish the nation's first mandatory precautions designed to protect outdoor workers from heat related illness and death.
Michigan Association of Home Builders and MIOSHA Form Alliance
The Michigan Association of Home Builders (MAHB) and the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) held a ceremony marking the formal signing of their alliance on Thursday, July 27.
Alliances enable organizations committed to workplace safety and health to collaborate with MIOSHA to prevent workplace injuries and illnesses. The MIOSHA program is part of the Michigan Department of Labor & Economic Growth (DLEG).
The Michigan Association of Home Builders is the voice of the building industry in the state of Michigan. MAHB is a professional trade association, chartered in 1948 with the National Association of Home Builders, comprised of local home builder associations and their builder and associate members.
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