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Environmental Health and Safety Blog | EHSWire

Best Available Technology for Community Air Monitoring at Hazardous Waste Clean-up Sites

Posted by Shivi Kakar

Jul 12, 2010 7:57:55 AM

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Topics: OSHA, indoor air quality, Personal Protective Equipment, health and safety, Construction H&S, EPA, Hazardous Waste Management, Hazardous Materials, Compliance, worker safety, Occupational Health, Occupational Safety, Air Sampling, environmental air monitoring, Respiratory, Public Safety

EPA: Air Monitoring at Schools…the Results are IN

Posted by Shivi Kakar

Jun 28, 2010 1:12:47 AM

Lee Bishop, CIH

Have you ever wondered if the air your kids are breathing at their school is safe?  Well, so has the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA).

The US EPA has completed sampling outside air at 63 elementary, middle, and high schools in 22 states.  Even better yet, they have completed the analytical work associated with these samples and have uploaded more than 22,500 results to the EPA website.

The EPA is now analyzing the sampling results to see if there may be long-term health consequences for young people attending these schools.  Reports of the analysis have been released for two schools:  Pittsboro Elementary School in Pittsboro, Ind. and Minnesota International Middle Charter School in Minneapolis.  At both schools, levels of the high-profile pollutants monitored were below levels of both short-term and long-term concern.  EPA previously released analyses for two schools in Tennessee.  These results will also be used for air contaminant modeling programs.

The samples were analyzed for 6 distinct pollutant groups:

  1. Carbonyls such as acetaldehyde,

  2. Diisocyanates such as methylene diphenyl diisocyanate, 2,4-toluene diisocyanate, and 1,6-hexamethylene diisocyanate,

  3. Metals such as arsenic, cobalt, lead, manganese, and nickel,

  4. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH)s such as benzo(a)pyrene, and naphthalene,

  5. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as acrolein, benzene, and 1,3-butadiene, and

  6. Other specific pollutants such as 4,4’-methylenedianiline, and hexavalent chromium (Chromium VI).

While some of these materials may be found in nature, they are concentrated in processed materials and uses related to dyes, plastics, tobacco, transportation, pesticides, and steel / energy production activities.  Many of the emissions related to these products can become concentrated in some areas.  Where schools existed in such areas, outside air was tested.

Particulates were collected by using the EPA’s PM10 method (for dust less than 10 um [microns] in diameter that can enter and be impacted in the lungs), and by the TSP method for particulate matter greater than 10 um in diameter and can be a human health hazard due to dermal contact and subsequent ingestion, or by drinking water contaminated with these materials.

Since these are OUTDOOR air samples – the results tell us a lot about the air quality not just at the schools, but in the communities around these schools.  Check out these data for schools in your community at

I’ve looked at the results for schools in New Jersey, and even though they are schools close to or in urban areas, the levels measured were well below the Short Term Screening Limits established by the EPA.  While the results are reassuring, they do reinforce that we do live in a chemical world!  I wonder what the air quality is like INSIDE my house. What do you think?
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Topics: indoor air quality, EPA, Exposure, environmental air monitoring, Respiratory

Could a Bhopal Disaster Happen Here?

Posted by Shivi Kakar

Jun 21, 2010 1:00:36 AM

Dian Cucchisi, PhD, CHMM

The Bhopal Disaster has been in the news again with the eight former company executives getting convicted of negligence.     A court in the Indian city of Bhopal returned the verdict on June 7, 2010, more than 25 years after the incident

What was the Bhopal Disaster?

For those of us old enough to remember, the words “Bhopal, India” brings to mind the very tragic events of December 2, 1984.  On that day a Union Carbide facility had an accidental release of approximately 40 tons of methyl isocyanate, a chemical used in pesticides.  The chemical plume killed 3,000 people and left an estimated 500,000 people with long-term, damaging health effects.  Amnesty International reports that approximately 15,000 people died in the subsequent years as a result of this incident.  As a result the Union Carbide Bhopal accident is often considered the world's worst industrial disaster.

And then a smaller, but similar event occurred in the USA…

In August 1985 a Union Carbide facility located in Institute, West Virginia experienced an accidental release of toxic chemicals causing more than 100 residents of the area to seek medical treatment.

US Regulators Respond to Community Concerns

In response to these incidents and the growing concern by the American public that this could happen in their backyard, regulatory agencies enacted laws for facilities that manufacture, store, or use certain chemicals above designated threshold quantities.

In 1986 the United States Congress passed the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA). The law requires facilities to annually report the quantities of “extremely hazardous substances” to the facility’s state and the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC).  This information is available to any member of the public upon request to the LEPC.

In late 1985, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) created the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) (29 CFR 1910.1200) also known as “Right to Know.”  The HCS requires manufacturers and distributors of hazardous materials to communicate to employees the hazards of the chemicals in their workplace by providing Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and ensure that hazardous materials are labeled according to certain requirements.

The Clean Air Act was amended by Congress in 1990, including some regulatory changes intending to create safer workplaces and mitigate the risk of a Bhopal-like disaster in the US, such as:

  • Charging the EPA and OSHA with more authority over the chemical industry.

    • OSHA created the Process Safety Management Standard (29 CFR 1910.119), a program that looks in depth at process technologies, procedures and management practices.

    • The EPA codified Chemical Accident Prevention Provisions (40 CFR Part 68) which requires facilities to conduct a hazard assessment, develop a prevention program, and implement a risk management plan.

    • Other laws that regulate the use of hazardous materials were enhanced.  These include the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA); the Resource, Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA); and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA).

  • Creating the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB). 

The Senate legislative history states: "The principal role of the new chemical safety board is to investigate accidents to determine the conditions and circumstances which led up to the event and to identify the cause or causes so that similar events might be prevented." Congress gave the CSB a unique statutory mission and provided in law that no other agency or executive branch official may direct the activities of the Board. Congress directed that the CSB's investigative function be completely independent of the rulemaking, inspection, and enforcement authorities of EPA and OSHA. The CSB became operational in January 1998.  

Accidents in the U.S. STILL OCCUR

In spite of this, accidents continue to happen.  In 2002, the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) examined 167 chemical accidents that occurred between 1980 and 2001.  More than half of those accidents involved chemicals not covered by the regulations mentioned above.  The CSB recommended that the EPA and OSHA expand their regulations.  The Agencies did not agree with the recommendation stating they feel the best approach is worker education.  In 2004, OSHA formed an alliance with the EPA, the American Chemistry Council (ACC), and others to develop and provide worker education on chemical reactivity hazards. 

How do you feel about the expansion of regulations to include chemicals currently not covered by regulations designed to prevent accidents and reduce health risk?
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Topics: OSHA, health and safety, General Industry H&S, EPA, Emergency Response, H&S Training, Compliance, TSCA & R.E.A.C.H., Air Sampling, emergency response training, Exposure, environmental air monitoring, Respiratory, Public Safety

Vapor Intrusion Air Sampling…Getting the Big Picture

Posted by Shivi Kakar

May 29, 2010 11:18:04 PM

Dale Wilson, CIH, LEED AP

“Vapor intrusion refers to this migration of volatile chemicals from the subsurface into overlying buildings.”  Vapor intrusion (VI) air sampling is a method to evaluate if chemical vapors are entering a building due to contaminated soil or groundwater that is on or adjacent to the property on which the building is built. In order for vapors to enter a building from the soil or groundwater there have to be pathways such as  cracks in the foundation, openings around piping used for mechanical, pluming, and electrical systems, groundwater entering the basement just to name a few. Once vapors are in a basement or crawlspace, there have to be additional pathways for the vapors to enter the first floor occupied space. 
When it comes to vapor intrusion understanding “why it is happening” is just as important as understanding “what is happening”.

What is Vapor Intrusion?

“Vapor intrusion has become a significant environmental issue for regulators, industry leaders, and concerned residents. Degradation of the indoor air quality can cause fear and anxiety among building occupants, businesses, and other property owners.”

A Vapor Intrusion Project

Recently, Emilcott was hired to review vapor intrusion air sampling data collected by another consultant.  The building site was a large commercial property that was mostly composed of office space, but there was also an onsite daycare center.  After collecting data for several years, the vapor intrusion had not been resolved. 

After reviewing all the data, we made a site visit to help us understand what was contributing to the continued and increased vapor concentrations -- both in the basement of the building, which was used for storage, and in the first floor daycare center.   

Our initial site visit revealed multiple pathways that permitted vapors to enter the basement and additional pathways that permitted vapors to enter the first floor occupied space.  It was clear that the owner’s other consultant had focused on What Is Happening through continuous air sampling without understanding the dynamics of Why It Is Happening.  Based upon

  • An analysis of the collected air monitoring data,

  • A thorough site inspection, and

  • An understanding of vapor intrusion causes and migration,

we were able to propose a step-by-step procedure to protect the client’s building and occupants. In addition, by including the client in the process, the client stated that they had learned more about the building from our visit than they had over the several years of data collection.

Vapor Intrusion – A Way Out

When reviewing a VI problem with a building owner or property manager, indoor air quality consultants should have answers to these basic questions to fully understand the problem and suggest a remediation solution:

  1. What are the volatile chemicals that we are dealing with?

  2. What are the risks of short-term and prolonged exposure to these chemicals?

  3. Why and where are they getting into my building?

  4. Can I stop the VI chemicals from getting in?

  5. If I can’t stop the VI chemicals from getting in, what are the alternatives?

Interrupting and sealing the pathways is the only way to prevent building occupants from exposure to vapors. 

For our client the process of sealing pathways has been accelerated and should be complete in a few weeks.  With the complete understanding of vapor intrusion What? and Why?, a plan to seal the pathways between the ground and the basement, and the basement and the first floor, may reduce the occupants’ exposures to the vapors and avoid any increased levels of regulatory oversight and accelerated response actions.

Have you experienced a vapor intrusion problem that remains unresolved or puzzled the experts? Do you have questions about indoor air quality issues and evaluation techniques and best practices? Please share your story or questions below and we’ll respond quickly.
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Topics: indoor air quality, General Industry H&S, Construction H&S, Air Sampling, environmental air monitoring, Public Safety

EPA: Air Monitoring at Schools

Posted by Shivi Kakar

Oct 6, 2009 6:10:38 AM

Outdoor Air Sampling Program at Selected Schools Around the Country

Lee Bishop - CIH
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Topics: indoor air quality, EPA, Hazardous Waste Management, Air Sampling, environmental air monitoring, Public Safety, Clean Air Act

Life as a Health and Safety Officer

Posted by Shivi Kakar

Apr 23, 2009 9:53:47 AM

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Topics: OSHA, health and safety, Construction H&S, Emergency Response, H&S Training, Hazardous Waste Management, Hazardous Materials, Compliance, worker safety, Hazard Communication Standard, environmental air monitoring, Occupational Training, Safety Training in Spanish

OSHA Standards: What Training Do You Need To Handle Hazardous Waste?

Posted by Shivi Kakar

Nov 10, 2008 8:32:13 AM

The U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) under 29 CFR 1910.120 – Hazardous waste operations and emergency response requires workers who work at hazardous waste sites who may be exposed to safety and health hazards1 to receive initial and refresher training from qualified instructors. Initial training must be completed prior to work on hazardous waste sites. The following training discussion follows OSHA guidance in interpreting the standard. OSHA-approved state programs, however, may have differing interpretations or regulations.

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Topics: OSHA, health and safety, General Industry H&S, Construction H&S, Emergency Response, H&S Training, Hazardous Waste Management, HazCom, Hazardous Materials, Compliance, Occupational Health, TSCA & R.E.A.C.H., emergency response training, environmental air monitoring, Occupational Training, Safety Training in Spanish

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