Safety Concerns with Pokemon Go

July 25, 2016

California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris issued a consumer alert advising Californians to use care when playing location-based virtual games, such as the Pokémon Go treasure hunt app, just released this month.

Pokémon Go is an augmented reality application that generates a virtual treasure hunt taking place in the real world. Consumers of all ages, including minors, play it on their mobile devices. Using the forward-facing camera on a mobile device, players search for Pokémon characters in their vicinity, including at local parks, landmarks, and retail locations.

For Pokémon Go to work, a player must grant the app access or “permission” to his or her mobile device’s GPS function, location, and camera when downloading the app. To play and “capture” the virtual Pokémon creatures, the player must then go to physical locations, called “Pokéstops” or “gyms,” where other players may also be gathering.

Users should be aware that the virtual experience in Pokémon Go can expose players to physical danger. For example, there have been reports of predators and thieves adding beacons or “Lure Modules” to Pokéstops to bait individuals playing the game to certain locations in order to steal from them. Recently in Southern California, two men were so distracted that they fell off a cliff while playing Pokémon Go, and another man playing the game alone late at night in a park in Anaheim was stabbed multiple times by a group of men when he was distracted.

The Attorney General offers consumers the following tips to help them better ensure their physical safety and protect sensitive location data while still having fun playing Pokémon Go:

  • Stop and think before you share your personal information with an app.
  • If you elect to download Pokémon Go and, therefore, allow the app access to the location function of your device, you should deactivate the app’s location access when you are not using it. This prevents Pokémon Go from running in the background and having access to your location when you are not playing.
  • On Android phones, review the permissions tab on app pages in Google Play store, which displays the information and features that the app can access on your phone. On iPhones, review the permissions you have already granted by viewing Pokémon Go in iPhone Settings. Make sure you are operating the updated version of the app to protect the security of your mobile device and privacy of your data.
  • Take the time to review the privacy settings on your mobile devices and the permissions within the app.
  • To prevent children from making in-app purchases—buying extra content and subscriptions once the app has been downloaded—parents can adjust the settings on their mobile device. For iPhones, turn off in-app purchases and for Android, set your phone to request a password before purchases can be made. For parents who do not want to create a Google account for their child, there is an option to create a Pokémon Trainer account. Parents also have the right to refuse collection, use, and/or disclosure of their child’s personal identifiable information by directly notifying the game’s developer, Niantic.
  • As you search for characters, remember that Pokémon Go is a game you play in public, with the public. As you play, be aware of your surroundings and the people around you. If possible, only go to a Pok?stop with a friend or partner.
  • Parents and guardians should take extra care to know where children are going, when and with whom when they are playing the game.
  • Pokémon Go characters and locations are randomly generated and some real locations may be dangerous or unsafe for players to enter. Stay alert and always watch where you’re going—being distracted by a phone in your hand could make you a target for a crime or susceptible to injury.
  • Don’t trespass onto private property and don’t go into areas that are unfamiliar or risky to your personal safety.
  • Business owners and local leaders can play a role in community safety by determining if their business, park, or landmark is a Pok?stop or gym.
  • Don’t play Pokémon Go while you are operating a vehicle or riding a bike or skateboard.

The Attorney General has published a consumer information sheet that gives step-by-step instructions for better controlling your location privacy on iPhone and Android devices: Location, Location, Location Tips on Controlling Mobile TrackingFracking Associated with Increased Asthma Exacerbation Risk

Residential unconventional natural gas development activity, a process that involves fracking and creates a source of energy used both domestically and internationally, was associated with increased risk of asthma exacerbations in a study of patients with asthma in Pennsylvania, according to an article published online by JAMA Internal Medicine.

Asthma is a common chronic disease with nearly 26 million people in the United States with asthma. Outdoor air pollution is recognized as a cause of asthma exacerbations. Unconventional natural gas development (UNGD) has been associated with air quality and community social impacts, such as air pollution from truck traffic and sleep disruption.

Pennsylvania has moved rapidly with UNGD and more than 6,200 wells were drilled between the mid-2000s and 2012. However, few studies have been published on the public health impacts of UNGD.

The steps of UNGD include well pad preparation, drilling, stimulation (also called fracking), and gas production.

Brian S. Schwartz, M.D., M.S., of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, and coauthors looked at associations between UNGD and asthma exacerbations. The authors compared patients with asthma with and without exacerbations from 2005 and 2012 who were treated at Pennsylvania’s Geisinger Clinic. The study included 35,508 patients identified in electronic health records.

The authors estimated activity metrics for the four phases of UNGD (pad preparation, drilling, stimulation, and production) using the distance from patients’ homes to the wells, well characteristics and the duration of phases. Between 2005 and 2013, 6,253 unconventional natural gas wells were spudded (the start of drilling) on 2,710 pads; 4,728 wells were stimulated and 3,706 were in production.

The authors identified 20,749 mild (new oral corticosteroid medication order), 1,870 moderate (emergency department visit) and 4,782 severe (hospitalization) asthma exacerbations and matched those to control index dates for comparison.

Patients with asthma in areas with the highest residential UNGD activity had higher risk of the three types of exacerbations compared with those patients in the lowest group of residential activity, according to the study results. Study limitations include that the electronic health record did not have information on patients’ occupations and only reflects patients’ most recent address.

“Asthma is a common disease with large individual and societal burdens, so the possibility that UNGD may increase risk for asthma exacerbations requires public health attention. As ours is the first study to our knowledge of UNGD and objective respiratory outcomes, and several other health outcomes have not been investigated to date, there is an urgent need for more health studies. These should include more detailed exposure assessment to better characterize pathways and to identify the phases of development that present the most risk,” the study concludes.

Occupational Noise is a Risk Factor in Tinnitus

Approximately one in 10 adults in the U.S. have tinnitus, and durations of occupational and leisure time noise exposures are correlated with rates of tinnitus and are likely targetable risk factors, according to a study published online by JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery.

Tinnitus is a symptom characterized by the perception of sound in the absence of an external stimulus. If persistent and intolerable or sufficiently bothersome, tinnitus can cause functional impairment in thought processing, emotions, hearing, sleep, and concentration, all of which can substantially and negatively affect quality of life. Tinnitus is a common problem for millions of people. A large epidemiologic study of tinnitus and its management patterns in the U.S. adult population is lacking.

Harrison W. Lin, M.D., of the University of California, Irvine, and colleagues conducted an analysis of the representative 2007 National Health Interview Survey (raw data, 75,764 respondents) to identify a weighted national sample of adults (age, ≥ 18 years) who reported tinnitus in the preceding 12 months to quantify the epidemiologic features and effect of tinnitus and analyze the management of tinnitus in the United States relative to the 2014 American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Foundation (AAO-HNSF) clinical practice guidelines.

Among an estimated (SE) 222.1 (3.4) million U.S. adults, 21.4 (3.4) million (9.6%) experienced tinnitus in the past 12 months. Among those who reported tinnitus, 27% had symptoms for longer than 15 years, and 36% had nearly constant symptoms. Higher rates of tinnitus were reported in those with consistent exposure to loud noises at work and during recreational time. Years of work-related noise exposure correlated with increasing prevalence of tinnitus.

In terms of subjective severity, 7.2% reported their tinnitus as a big or a very big problem compared with 42% who reported it as a small problem. Only 49% had discussed their tinnitus with a physician, and medications were the most frequently discussed recommendation (45%). Other interventions, such as hearing aids (9.2%), wearable (2.6%) and nonwearable (2.3%) masking devices, and cognitive behavioral therapy (0.2%), were less frequently discussed.

“The recent guidelines published by the AAO­HNSF provide a logical framework for clinicians treating these patients, but the current results indicate that most patients may not be offered management recommendations consistent with the suggested protocol. With the newly published guidelines from the AAO-HNSF, otolaryngologists may play a greater role in addressing this issue, not only with treating their patients accordingly, but also in educating other physicians and health care professionals. Future work can be directed to show changing patterns in tinnitus management before and after the implementation of these guidelines,” the authors write.

Chaparral Boats Exposed Employees to Particulate Hazards

OSHA issued citations to the Chaparral Boats in Nashville, Georgia, on July 18 for one repeated and two serious safety violations. OSHA initiated the follow-up inspection prompted by serious citations the agency issued in July 2013.

OSHA issued the repeated citation for exposing employees to dust particulates above the permissible exposure limit. The agency cited the company for the same violation at this facility in December 2013. The serious violations include failure to provide medical evaluations for employees required to wear respiratory protection and not implementing engineering/administrative controls to minimize exposure to airborne particulates.

Proposed penalties total $47,000.

“Like all employers, Chaparral Boats has the obligation to protect workers from known safety and health hazards such as excessive dust from cutting and grinding operations. Failing to do so can lead to long-term respiratory disease,” said Kimberly Austin acting director of OSHA’s Savannah Area Office. “All employers should take steps to anticipate, recognize, evaluate and control potential health hazards in their workplace.”

Air Liquide Fined for Carbon Monoxide Exposures

OSHA initiated the January 27, 2016, inspection of Air Liquide after following a complaint of unsafe working conditions at the company’s facility in Corpus Christi, Texas. The agency cited Air Liquide Large Industries US LP, for one willful and one serious violation. The willful citation was issued for failing to perform air monitoring to assess employee exposure to carbon monoxide gas. The serious citation was issued for failing to protect workers from a potentially hazardous atmosphere created by inadequately maintained valves found leaking within the pressure swing adsorption skid.

The fines totaled $77,000.

“Air Liquide is a large, multinational organization with vast holdings but it chooses to ignore simple processes to keep its employees safe,” said Travis Clark, OSHA’s Area Director in the Corpus Christi office. “Carbon monoxide can be deadly if it is not controlled and monitored closely.”

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