Researchers in Missoula County, Montana are gathering data about how the worst wildfire season on record affected county residents. Emergency room visits and other respiratory issues increased dramatically after a month long series of wildfires enveloped the area in a smokey haze.
If you have red, watery eyes, an itchy nose or can’t stop sneezing over the next few weeks, the holidays may be to blame. Don’t laugh. Apparently, “Christmas tree syndrome” is real and is caused by mold, pollen, dust, mites and other irritants that hitch a ride home on your Christmas tree or lay in wait with the decorations you stored last year. “There’s a number of ‘cutely’ named phenomenon that occur – there’s thunderstorm asthma, back-to-school rashes. We have these clinical observations that come from what’s going on in the environment,” said Patricia Lugar, a specialist in allergy and immunology at Duke University School of Medicine.
The risk can be especially high for those with allergies, asthma and other respiratory problems. Damp environments, like crawl spaces, attics and basements found in the Southeast, can make the problem worse, she said, especially for allergy shot patients. “We generally counsel people, particularly allergy shot patients, if you’ve been digging around in the crawlspace or the basement or your attic, wait 24 to 48 hours before you come to get your shot and let things settle down, just to make sure you’re not going to have a problem,” she said. Cardboard and paper boxes can cause the biggest problem, she said.
“Paper boxes are a great recipe for insects, they are a great recipe to become damp and hold dampness, become moldy. Plastic is really the way to go. Just get a bunch of those big plastic bins. They can seal out insects and cockroaches, and they’re also really resistant to moisture.” Don’t be afraid to throw out something either, especially if there is visible moisture damage, discoloration or a musty smell, she said. “The last thing you want to do is open up this incubator of mold spores, and it all goes into your face or you release it into the air, because it’s been sealed in this plastic box,” she said.
10 TIPS FOR A CLEAN CHRISTMAS
- Use a damp cloth to wipe your decorations when removing them from storage
- Avoid scented sprays, candles and other decorations
- Stick with metal and plastic ornaments, and give them a warm, soapy bath, then air dry
- Protect fabric decorations or heirlooms by keeping them in a plastic, vacuum storage-type bag
- Store decorations and artificial trees in plastic bags or bins, not cardboard
- Wear a long-sleeve shirt, gloves and – for especially sensitive people – an N95-rated dust mask to handle the tree or dig through storage
- Remove visible pollen from the tree with a leaf blower
- Wipe the tree’s trunk with a solution of 1 part bleach to 20 parts lukewarm water
- Spray the tree with water and let it dry in an enclosed area outside the home, such as a garage, to dry
- Ditch the poinsettia; it belongs to the rubber family and contains compounds similar to those in latex
By Shivani Vora, New York Times News Service
Monday, April 10, 2017 | 2 a.m.
Did you know that your hotel room has the potential to make you sick? “Hotel rooms can be a hotbed for germs, and the lighting and poor circulation in some make for an unhealthy environment,” said Deepak Chopra, a doctor who specializes in alternative medicine and an author who is also on the advisory board of Delos, a wellness real estate firm that is focused on creating healthier indoor environments. But no matter where you hang your hat for the night, Chopra said it was possible to make your stay healthier.
Here, he offers his advice on how.
Reduce Contact With Germs: Bedspreads are notorious for holding germs, which is why many hotels use duvets with removable covers that are easy to launder. If your property doesn’t have duvets, request upon check-in that your bedspread be laundered. You can also reduce your exposure to germs by using antibacterial wipes to wipe down commonly used objects, such as television remotes, doorknobs and telephones.
Improve Air Circulation: Paint, furniture and cleaning products degrade the quality of the air inside because they are often made with toxic materials such as formaldehyde. And poor indoor air quality can cause headaches and fatigue. If weather permits, Chopra said, opening a window in your hotel room to allow for circulation can improve air quality. Or, choose a hotel that uses nontoxic cleaning products — the property’s reservations desk should be able to tell you if that’s the case.
Use a Dawn Simulating Alarm Clock: While the hotel’s alarm clock will wake you, Chopra said that waking to sudden loud noise was a stressful way to begin your day. He suggested traveling with a dawn-simulating alarm clock, which gradually transitions your room from a dim glow to full brightness and helps you wake up more naturally. “You can buy one of these alarm clocks for less than $30, and they are big in improving sleep quality,” he said.
Maximize Natural Light: Light is the primary driver that aligns the body’s biological clock and sleep-wake cycle, Chopra said. “You want to rely less on artificial lighting and more on natural light, which can help improve your energy, mood and sleep when you travel,” he said. A simple way to get more natural light is to request a hotel room with a window that opens out to a street, rather than another building. Also, keep the curtains in your room open during the day so that natural light can stream in. Come nighttime, unplug the alarm clock and other electronics that emit sleep-disrupting artificial light.
Watch the In-Room Snacks: Those tempting goodies in your room’s minibar can sometimes be loaded with sugar and artificial ingredients. “Eating these processed and sugary foods is hard on digestion and can cause your energy levels to drop,” Chopra said. He advised traveling with healthy snacks such as whole fruits and raw and roasted nuts.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced a delay in enforcement of the crystalline silica standard that applies to the construction industry to conduct additional outreach and provide educational materials and guidance for employers.
OSHA has determined that additional guidance is necessary due to the unique nature of the requirements in the construction standard. Originally scheduled to begin June 23, 2017, enforcement will now begin Sept. 23, 2017.
However, despite the standard’s delay, OSHA expects construction employers to continue to take steps either to come into compliance with the new permissible exposure limit, or to implement specific dust controls for certain operations as provided in Table 1 of the standard.
OSHA’s final rule to protect workers from exposure to respirable crystalline silica includes these key provisions:
- Reduces the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for respirable crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over an 8-hour shift.
- Requires employers to: use engineering controls (such as water or ventilation) to limit worker exposure to the PEL; provide respirators when engineering controls cannot adequately limit exposure; limit worker access to high exposure areas; develop a written exposure control plan, offer medical exams to highly exposed workers, and train workers on silica risks and how to limit exposures.
- Provides medical exams to monitor highly exposed workers and gives them information about their lung health.
- Provides flexibility to help employers — especially small businesses — protect workers from silica exposure.
Construction employers should also continue to prepare to implement the standard’s other requirements, including exposure assessment, medical surveillance and employee training.
OSHA estimates 2 million construction workers who drill, cut, crush, or grind silica-containing materials such as concrete and stone, and 300,000 workers in general industry operations such as brick manufacturing, foundries, and hydraulic fracturing are affected by the final rule.
See also: OSHA’s Crystalline Silica website for working safely with silica and how to prevent its non-curable health effects.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that air in sealed-up houses, schools and offices can have concentrations of volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) up to 10 times higher than those outdoors. Poor indoor air can sicken occupants, with chemicals like formaldehyde and benzene causing fatigue, headaches and longer-term health hazards. The cumulative effects of indoor air pollution are not trivial, given that most Americans spend roughly 90 percent of their lives inside. Plants are just one line of defense against “sick building syndrome.” It’s best to start by controlling sources: avoid furnishings that off-gas chemicals; select low- or no-VOC paints and building supplies; and banish toxic cleaning products, scented laundry products and candles, clothes dry-cleaned with tetrachloroethene, and alleged “air fresheners.” Pollutants can remain in household air long after an aerosol can is sprayed or a dryer sheet used. They linger most in houses that are well-insulated and sealed, and lack venting systems to provide an adequate exchange with outside air. Efforts to control sources can improve indoor air, but they won’t entirely eliminate pollution. Even our own bodies generate what scientists none too delicately call bioeffluents. These aren’t the emissions that might follow a big chili dinner but are atmospheric pollutants like acetone naturally generated by metabolic activity. Whether chemical vapors come directly from us or from the stuff that fills our homes, having plants indoors can markedly reduce pollutants’ damaging impact. The plants deliver airborne toxins to soil microbes that break them down. Houseplants also mitigate dry winter air by serving as natural humidifiers. The drier the air, the more moisture they release; talk about accommodating houseguests! According to B.C. Wolverton’s book “How to Grow Fresh Air,” plants even “release phytochemicals that suppress mold spores and bacteria found in the ambient air.” (This beneficial effect can be undermined by operator error, though, as I can attest: Overwatering will turn houseplants into mold factories. Spare yourself this hard-earned lesson and water plants sparingly in winter months.) Many findings in Wolverton’s book trace back to NASA studies done in the early 1980s, when the agency began experimenting with how to maintain healthy air in sealed-chamber settings – an obvious need on space flights. They tested different varieties of plants to identify which were most effective for specific toxins. In terms of tackling pollutants, the plants are remarkably specialized. Palm plants, for example, are exceptionally good at reducing chemicals like xylene and ammonia. The peace lily does poorly with xylene, but is a standout at removing acetone. While the detailed breakout Wolverton provides is interesting, the bottom line appears to be that diverse ecosystems are best – indoors as well as out. Plan on an assortment of plants and keep good air circulation among them if grouped.= Wolverton suggests that people bring plants into the immediate spaces indoors they frequent most – what he terms the “personal breathing zone” of 6 or 8 cubic feet near one’s desk, bed or favorite chair. Concentrating houseplants in these areas can ensure that residents derive the greatest benefits from plants’ ongoing service purifying the air. Houseplants offer a salve for the eyes and lungs throughout the year. But in the depths of mud season, their effect is especially salubrious – for body and soul.
When you think of pollution, your mind may conjure images of car exhaust fumes and toxic factory smoke clouding the sky. But your sanctuary – the indoor space you call home – is two to five times more toxic than your outdoor environment? At least that is what the Environmental Protection Agency reports. Luckily, there are steps you can take to make your home less toxic by taking steps to reduce indoor air pollution. The World Health Organization attributes three percent of the world’s burden of diseases on indoor air pollution. And with 80 percent of all cancers linked to environmental factors rather than genetic ones, it’s ever the more important to consider every aspect of your surroundings and make sure that it isn’t hurting more than it is helping you.
Humans reportedly spend nearly 90 percent of their time indoors and are exposed to a host of toxic materials, from mold, synthetic chemicals in cleaning supplies, carbon monoxide from cooking and heating, tobacco smoke, formaldehyde from pressed wood used for shelving and furniture, and other chemicals in house paint, glue, and insulation. The list goes on and on. And while you may not be able to eliminate your home of all toxins, you can take active steps to significantly decrease the load.
- Improve Ventilation – To reduce the concentration of indoor pollutants in your home, it is important to increase the flow of outdoor air coming indoors. Ventilation helps to remove or dilute indoor airborne pollutants coming from indoor sources. Most homes are equipped with heating and cooling systems that don’t allow outdoor air to enter indoors. To remedy this, try keeping a few windows ajar, weather permitting, or install local bathroom and kitchen fans that exhaust outdoors and thus transfer contaminants from the inside of your home, to the outside. Another approach would be to install a mechanical system that brings outdoor air into the home. Indoor air quality can get particularly poor if indoor air is humid, because humid air is ideal for bacteria and other airborne contaminants to thrive. Purchase a dehumidifier and keep it on in whichever room you spend the most time in, or next to your bed while you are asleep, to improve air quality.
- Toss the Obvious Culprits – Take inventory of each room in your house and take notes. What feels wrong? What feels synthetic? Pay extra close attention to the kitchen and bathroom. If you are having trouble identifying the culprits (it’s not always that obvious), hire a professional to test your house for molds and toxins. Replace mainstream harsh cleaning products with eco-friendly varieties. Use toxic free paints, replace carpets where bacteria and mold can bury, and embrace hard-wood floors.
- Get an Air Cleaner – There are plenty of air cleaners to choose from, and it requires a lot of research before you pick the one right for you. Mechanical air filters and electronic air cleaners remove particles form the air by capturing them in their filters. Gas-phase air filters remove gaseous pollutants with the help of sorbent, which adsorbs pollutants. Meanwhile, ultraviolet (UV) germicidal irradiation and photo-catalytic oxidation cleaners use UV light to destroy viruses, bacteria, allergens, molds, and/or gaseous pollutants.
Daily Press – The clock almost ran out, but Chinese drywall legislation was overwhelmingly approved by Congress last week, sending the bill to President Barack Obama’s desk to be signed into law. Had the bill not been approved by Jan. 2, legislators would have had to start over because the new Congress started on Jan. 3. Eric Bailey of Newport News and Colleen Stephens of Virginia Beach – both of whom have been activists on the toxic drywall issue for years – said they didn’t feel much like celebrating upon hearing the news. The drywall, imported from China during the building boom of the mid-2000s when U.S.-made drywall supplies were low, contained chemicals that corroded wires and caused appliances to malfunction.
Three senators this week introduced a bipartisan amendment to help prevent toxic drywall from entering U.S. markets. Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) have cosponsored David Vitter’s legislation. Since Hurricane Katrina, many homes in Louisiana were rebuilt with toxic Chinese drywall, leaving homeowners with few options to remedy the situation. The amendment has cleared any Republican objections and awaits approval by Democrats to allow it to pass by unanimous consent.
As property owners tighten building envelopes to make facilities more energy efficient, they also need to be more vigilant about properly maintaining cooling, heating and ventilation systems to ensure good indoor air quality. Buildings owners and operators who do the former and neglect the latter run the risk of recirculating stale — and possibly bacteria laden — air at their properties, which can make occupants sick.
In addition to proper maintenance of heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, keeping fresh air intakes open as recommended by HVAC design is important, says Boyle. Here is her list of tips for improving indoor air quality:
- Relocate any fresh air intakes to avoid pulling in outside contaminants from incinerators, garbage bins or loading docks.
- Follow the maintenance schedules on HVAC systems.
- Increase the Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) rating of air conditioning filters to the highest level acceptable for the AC system.
- Minimize copy toner and other chemical use in office space.
- Purchase office furniture with low or no formaldehyde and other volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions.
- Use low VOC paints for remodeling or decorating.
- Vacuum floors using equipment with HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters.
- Respond to any leak in the plumbing system, roof or windows within 24 hours and thoroughly dry any moist materials to prevent mold growth.
- Store chemicals in a central location with adequate ventilation to the outside.
- Use natural or organic janitorial cleaning and pest control products.
Core, one of the most recognized providers of commercial indoor air quality (IAQ) services, utilizes dry ice remediation techniques to safely remove toxic mold from buildings. Today most people recognize that mold and bacteria can cause a host of health issues when found in buildings. Floods, leaks, plumbing problems and elevated humidity can all cause microbial contaminates to grow in indoor environments.