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What Has Changed in Environmental Monitoring Since Sept 11, 2001?

Posted by Shivi Kakar

Aug 15, 2011 11:00:53 PM

Dave Tomsey

On the second day of 2011, the James Zadroga Act was authorized to broaden and renew funding and extend benefits to Ground Zero workers whose death was a result of exposure.  These exposures were directly and indirectly caused by toxins present in the billowing clouds of dusts and smoke following the worst tragedy to happen on American soil in my lifetime.  The tragic sickness of countless rescue workers continues to add heartbreak where there is little room for more.

What Do We Know?

In the 9/11 crisis, workers were really battling two threats:   terrorism and vaporized building materials. The high levels of toxins at the World Trade Center site were identified and measured.  This process was carried out using sampling pumps, associated media and lab results in order to classify possible carcinogens and determine their percentage in a given volume of air.  The process is the same today. Although concentrations may differ from one area to another, the goal is to establish the worst-possible contaminant scenario to protect site workers and the public.  Once the type and levels of hazards are known, engineering controls, PPE and other methods of worker health protection are put in place.

Protecting Emergency Response Workers: What Has Changed?

In the time that has passed since the WTC tragedy, technology has progressed to offer improved worker protection. Just as smart phones have become prevalent in our lives, the same technology has been integrated into measurement devices producing smaller instrumentation with better, faster communication capabilities.  Put together, these smart systems, unthinkable ten years ago, enable real time environmental hazard monitoring.  In a nutshell, as hazards are detected at the site, real time systems send up an immediate flare.  What used to take a day (at best) to reveal is now known instantly at your fingertips.

How Would Real-time Monitoring be Used for Emergency Response Today?

As lab samples are being collected and rescue workers or cleanup crews are in service with respirators, monitoring field stations can be set up and started.  Once samples identify the risk, , the field stations can continuously measure dust and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in real time as a surrogate for contaminants found in laboratory samples.  Field stations located around and within the work area form multiple monitoring zones to (1) protect workers in close proximity to contaminants, (2) determine an exclusion zone for support personnel, and (3) protect residents and other businesses at an even greater distance from the site. End result? The constant stream of field data, with corresponding weather information such as wind, precipitation and temperature, would either confirm or indicate modified worker protection needs as the project continues.

How Do You Know When Workers Need Some Type of Additional Safety Precautions Beyond Respirators?

A real time environmental monitoring system is designed for continuous monitoring of all aspects of emergency response recovery and cleanup efforts so that risk can be evaluated as the scenarios change. Today’s technology has impacted and improved virtually every aspect of environmental monitoring:

  • Authorized personnel can receive constant updates and alarms via multiple means:  text, email or 2-way radios.

  • Incoming and historical data can be viewed by multiple stakeholders at varying locations and allow managers in the field to instantly assess trends with laptops, tablets and smart phones.

  • Measurements collected in real time are averaged and processed to show trends in and around the work zone.  These trends are displayed as either a table, graphic plots or shown with contours to establish if a work practice or area is safe for personnel

  • Plotting data points with corresponding wind speed and direction allows for managers to determine if offsite sources are impacting the job site or if the vapors and dusts shown on-screen are generated onsite.  Meteorological data showing site conditions (such as high winds) indicates when additional safety precautions should be considered.

  • New monitoring equipment now measures multiple levels of dust and vapors into the parts per billion range.  Vapors measured in the parts per billion ranges allow for managers to see if potential toxic vapors are steadily climbing from the lowest detectable levels.  Multiple particle sizing differentiates inhalable dusts from heavier ones that can contain heavy metals.  This allows managers to classify dust readings, watching diesel emissions across site for workers and heavier particulates for neighboring residents and the public.

With such new and remarkable technologies there is no reason to not employ them.

The connected lifestyle and technology of today’s standards help us accomplish many tasks and stay informed.  We are all used to checking our phone or bringing up a website to learn more.  This same connection through real time monitoring to hazardous work sites would be second nature to most and allow for the protection of many.  My hope is that there will never be a need for real time monitoring in response to an incident like 9/11 but, as an American and a CIH working at hazardous sites; it is reassuring to know that there are developed technologies in place to better protect workers if the worst does indeed occur.
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Topics: indoor air quality, Construction H&S, Emergency Response, Air Monitoring, 9/11, September 11, 9-11, Exposure, WTC, volatile organic compound, technology, VOC, environmental monitoring, real time monitoring, contaminants

TMI: Is there such a thing as Too Much Information for environmental monitoring?

Posted by Shivi Kakar

Jun 20, 2011 7:25:00 AM

by Barbara Alves

It’s funny, let’s face it. Someone shares some tawdry detail about their personal life and we wince. TMI…please just keep it to yourself! We chuckle or shake our heads. In reality, information equals power. The more we know, the better decisions we can make. If we have only half the important details, we will make weak decisions.

Let’s use some history to drive this home. Although the Allied Forces ultimately won WWII, overconfidence from the D-Day invasion and the quickness with which the Allies pushed the Germans eastward across France, caused Eisenhower to underestimate the tactical abilities and determination of Hitler’s army. This resulted in the disastrous Operation Market-Garden in the Netherlands and the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes. Because of lack of current data in the Market-Garden strategy, the Allies were not in Berlin by the end of 1944 as they expected. Instead, by December of 1944 the Germans had broken through into the Allies' line of advance in the Ardennes and caught us ill-prepared. Poor intelligence cost tens of thousands of lives.

This is perhaps one of the most dramatic examples of “not enough information”, but it makes the point. Amazingly, with the communication capabilities of today’s wireless, cellular, Internet and other “instantaneous” technologies, many choose NOT to use this power to gather all the project information that they can get. Like an ostrich with it head in the sand, if they don’t know something, they feel that they don’t have to react or worse, be held accountable. This “ignorance is bliss” type of decision-making is often the primary reason people make the choice to NOT implement real-time environmental monitoring on construction and remediation sites. “If we don’t know that it’s dangerous, than it must be ok, right?” Sounds crazy, but it’s true!

Using a modern and proactive approach, technology is available (right now) to continuously retrieve important and fluctuating intelligence about environmental field conditions. The information is gathered and immediately transmitted wirelessly to smart phones, PDAs, PC and laptops – all accessible by the Internet for all authorized viewers. And the data keeps rolling in throughout the project’s life cycle. What power!  To be able to make an immediate decision (or better yet, a correction) from a remote location and save time, expense, and ultimately, human health.

And what about the ability to review, store and retrieve project environmental data, which was collected over a period of time, for comparison or trending?  Super powerful! This can only result in better planning. Adding better decision-making abilities to better planning capabilities should ultimately result in doing a better job, a cleaner site and healthier workers. Who wouldn’t want that?  So the real question is, if an environmental monitoring system is NOT collecting reliable, real-time data, aren’t you really just making anecdotal decisions based on guesstimates instead of a foundation of actual data?

Many historians feel that Eisenhower’s planning of Operation Market-Garden was anecdotal because it was based on what the Allied Forces experienced coming out of Normandy. It was certainly wrong. Historians also believe that what turned the war around was the unbelievable ability our forces had to assess the real-time intelligence they gathered as they were “living in the field of battle” to make tactical decisions and outsmart the enemy.

If real-time, reliable data is available to help you make good, solid decisions, get it and use it. You will do a better job and make fewer mistakes. Information is power and you can NEVER have too much of it.  How have you used TMI to develop a better project or framework?
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Topics: indoor air quality, General Industry H&S, General EHS, Construction H&S, Emergency Response, Air Monitoring, Hazardous Waste Management, Air Sampling, construction, remediation, technology, environmental monitoring, environmental air monitoring, Respiratory, perimeter monitoring, air montoring

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