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The Future of Air Monitoring: Real-time Particle Size Measurement

Posted by Shivi Kakar

Dec 12, 2010 9:31:15 PM

Bruce Groves

Why do we care about particles floating around in our air? Small, inhalable particles are themselves pollutants that have shown to cause illness and chronic diseases such as asthma and certain types of lung cancer . Particles are also excellent indicators (or surrogates) for measuring other pollutants such as vapors and gases. By measuring the aerodynamic size of particles in our air, it is possible to identify and sometimes “fingerprint” them so that we can reduce or stop local sources of pollution immediately. The goal AND end result are to develop as clean a living and working area as possible.

What are we doing today?

Today, air monitoring is a piecemeal approach that is government-mandated but generally project related. When the project is over, the problem is essentially considered to be gone. Of course, in areas of high population density or industrial activity, continuous, real-time air monitoring of general conditions does not exist. Other than pollen counts, very little information about these pockets of high pollution and high particulates is available to the public or government agencies. And, the data that is available is generally much later and does not present an accurate picture of today’s problem.

What is the future in environmental air monitoring?

As technology has improved, so have particle detectors and the ease of data transmission and analysis. By 2013, small particle size detectors, such as those found in the Greenlight Environmental Monitoring System, will be consistently deployed in high population areas in such cities such as NYC, Tokyo, London and Los Angeles. These particle size detectors will be coupled with wind-speed and direction detectors and web cameras to pinpoint the exact sources of particle emissions (e.g., construction or industrial equipment, idling vehicles or high traffic transportation corridors) that are creating a measurable increase in local air pollution.

This web of detector stations will form an active or “live” map of a city that continuously measures and reports the concentration of various particle sizes. The “map” will be automatically programmed to provide warning levels and alarms to reveal when and where total particle concentrations exceed warning and safe threshold levels. By locating (in real time) the place, the direction of the pollution source and supporting video evidence, private companies and government agencies can take measures to stop or reduce the indicated pollution sources. Constant real-time monitoring, assessment and action will provide continuous improvement in local air quality that will reduce the onset of disease associated with inhaling dirty air. Warning systems set up through websites will enable agencies and individuals to check on their local air pollution conditions using their computer or smart phone.

What is the first step?

At Emilcott, we have been working with particulate monitoring on job sites for over 25 years. As an extension of our field experience, we’re working on a solution that meets the needs of our clients (private companies and government agencies) -- the Greenlight Environmental Monitoring System. With multiple project implementations under its belt, the Greenlight System’s particle size measurement, assessment and reporting capabilities are demonstrating how real-time monitoring is helping projects get cleaner each day – reducing the liabilities of our clients while giving them the information to keep the public and workers safe.

As the Greenlight System’s next phase of engineering development is outlined, our goal is to have a universal system that will provide comprehensive sampling in potentially high pollution areas so that neighborhood air quality can be improved and the incidence of lung disease is reduced. It will be a future watchdog for providing cleaner air locally where no such means of protecting local air quality exists today.

What do you think the future of environmental air monitoring holds? What are the benefits or challenges that you associate with monitoring and mapping pollutants in a broad geographic area?
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Topics: Emilcott, indoor air quality, health and safety, Construction H&S, EPA, Emergency Response, Homeland Security, Hazardous Waste Management, Hazardous Materials, worker safety, Occupational Health, Air Sampling, Greenlight System, Exposure, environmental air monitoring, Respiratory, Public Safety, perimeter air monitoring

New Large Vehicle Greenhouse Gas Emission Standards from EPA

Posted by Shivi Kakar

Nov 28, 2010 11:22:41 PM

Megan Grennille

Your next visit to a truck stop may be more pleasant in a few years.  New standards were announced on October 25th from the DOT (Department of Transportation) and EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in heavy-duty trucks and buses.  The standards, which are set to be phased in on new vehicles in 2014, will include requirements to improve fuel efficiency which benefits businesses, the shipping industry, and cities and towns.

The large vehicles being targeted by the proposed standards are divided into three categories: combination tractors, heavy duty pickups and vans, and vocational vehicles.  Combination tractors will have a 20% decrease in CO 2 output as well as fuel consumption.  Heavy-duty pickup trucks and vans will have separate gas and diesel standards; by 2018 CO 2 emissions and fuel consumption will decrease by 10% in gas vehicles and 15% for diesel.  Vocational vehicles, such as buses and utility trucks, could see a 10% reduction in fuel consumption and CO 2 emissions by 2018.  

The new regulations bring environmental and economic benefits.  People who live near bus depots, cities, and highways should be happy.  And, on those hot smoggy days near the end of this decade, the air will be a little cleaner.

What do you think of the regulations? Will they impact your business?
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Topics: DOT, indoor air quality, General EHS, EPA, Hazardous Materials, worker safety, Occupational Health, Air Sampling, Exposure, chemicals, environmental air monitoring, Working Green, greenhouse gas emissions

Understanding Employee Safety Affects the Corporate Bottom Line (as demonstrated by Upper Big Branch Mine)

Posted by Shivi Kakar

Jul 26, 2010 5:40:09 AM

Paula Kaufmann, CIH

National Public Radio ( NPR) recently reported their findings of an investigation of safety issues at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia.  I was listening to the report while enjoying my morning walk in a nearby park.  It stopped me in my tracks!

As part of their investigative report, NPR discovered that there were situations at the mine when the methane gas monitors on continuous mining machines were disabled because the monitors repeatedly shut down the machines.  The miners interviewed explained that supervisors told them it was acceptable to disable these monitors as long as the miner operating the equipment used a hand-held methane monitor to test the air.  This is the part of the report that stopped me in my tracks!!!

The methane gas monitors are an essential part of the mining machine’s fail-safe system. They are factory-installed and essential components of the machine design; when the monitor senses an explosive atmosphere, the mining machine shuts down automatically.  The ONLY reason that spark-generating equipment can be operated in an environment likely to contain explosive concentrations of methane gas is precisely because the equipment is designed to automatically shut down if an explosive atmosphere is encountered. 

The procedures followed at the mine undermined (no pun intended) a fundamental safety feature of the continuous mining machine. 

The problem with using a hand-held monitor as a substitute for the interlock monitor is that the miner operating a continuous mining machine is 25 to 30 feet behind the face of a machine that is a continuous source of ignition (lots of sparks from metal cutting coal and rocks).  The monitor must be located directly at the source of the spark.  The miner isn’t at the source.

How could the mine leadership eliminate a critical risk management feature?  When deciding to override a critical safety system, the mine leadership should have considered the potential for loss of life AND damage to the mine AND damage to operating equipment.  You have to wonder if anyone really thought about “what if?” especially as Upper Big Branch was a notoriously “gassy” (methane producing) and, therefore, dangerous mine.  I wonder if any hazard or risk analyses were ever conducted for operating the mining machine without an operational methane monitor.   For clarity – here is a brief explanation about the hazards and risks of overriding a safety critical system and the outcome of their analyses:

What’s the difference between hazard and risk?

  • A hazard is the source of potential damage, harm or adverse health effects on something or someone (i.e., explosive concentration level of methane gas, source of ignition).

  • A risk is the chance or probability that damage, harm or adverse health effect will occur if something or someone is exposed to a hazard (i.e., a chance of the methane gas concentration would reach explosive levels in the presence of a source of ignition).

 A risk assessment is the process where one

  • Identifies hazards,

  • Evaluates the risk associated with that hazard, and

  • Determines appropriate ways to eliminate or control the hazard.

  • Safety controls minimize the risk by “controlling” the hazard (i.e., shutting down the mining machine eliminates the source of ignition)

Managers must understand the risk and the systems that put in place to control the hazard.  This is “managing the risk”. 

At the Upper Big Branch mine, the life-saving interlock system in a known high risk environment was disabled while workers were assured that an inappropriately-located substitute would be effective and work continued without interruption. It appears that appropriate risk management was not the goal since the presence of combustible concentrations of methane gas at sources of ignition might not be detected using the hand held monitors.   

The integrity of an organization depends on a leadership commitment to understanding and managing risk to protect their employees and assets as well as their reputation. This NPR report highlights what can happen when leadership is focused on one measure of success, in this case, production. Another recent example of compromised risk in exchange for uninterrupted production is the BP oil leak. Have you ever encountered myopic leadership in your workplace that trades risk management for another benefit. What happened? How do employees feel?
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Topics: General Industry H&S, Emergency Response, Hazardous Materials, Compliance, worker safety, Occupational Safety, Fire Safety, Exposure, Respiratory, Confined Space

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

Learning from H1N1 – Employers Need to Consider Continued Pandemic Threats

Posted by Shivi Kakar

May 3, 2010 4:48:24 AM

Genya Mallach - CSP
Most recently, we have had to educate ourselves on the wide-spread outbreak of influenza virus, H1N1, and the precautions necessary to break the pandemic, which is far from over. Not to downplay the risk of the H1N1 virus, a virulent, drug resistant form of Tuberculosis (TB) has appeared in the United States. This disease is so ancient that it has been found in the spine of a 4,400-year-old Egyptian mummy. Tuberculosis is still the top single infectious killer of adults worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, it lies dormant in one out of three people. Of those, 10 percent will develop active TB, and about 2 million people a year will die from it.

It was just six months ago that word was leaked to the public of a case of TB that was originally diagnosed in 2007, and has greatly alarmed the medical community. Oswaldo Juarez, a then 19-year old Peruvian visiting US to study English was diagnosed with XXDR (Extremely Drug Resistant) TB. This is a strain of TB that had never before been seen in the U.S.

Dr. David Ashkin, one of the nation’s leading experts on tuberculosis, described this form of tuberculosis as so rare that only a handful of people in the world are thought to have had it.The treatment of an XXDR TB is an equivalent to aggressive chemotherapy, requires strict quarantine and costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to treat.

The questions we must now ask are: Should we consider testing of TB in the work environment? Should periodic testing of all workers be required? Should we be worried of another pandemic?
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Topics: indoor air quality, health and safety, General Industry H&S, Emergency Response, H&S Training, worker safety, Occupational Health, emergency response training, Exposure, hygiene standard

My Immunity, No More

Posted by Shivi Kakar

Sep 15, 2009 11:27:08 AM

Losing a (Once Winning) Battle with Poison Ivy

Paula Kaufmann - CIH
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Topics: Personal Protective Equipment, General Industry H&S, H&S Training, Occupational Health, Exposure

Top Ten Things You Need to Know About…HEAT STRESS

Posted by Shivi Kakar

Jul 14, 2009 7:54:55 AM

Top Ten Things You Need to Know About…HEAT STRESS

Paula Kaufmann - CIH
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Topics: OSHA, health and safety, General Industry H&S, Construction H&S, Emergency Response, H&S Training, Hazardous Waste Management, Occupational Health, Occupational Safety, emergency response training, Fire Safety, Exposure, Respiratory, Occupational Training, Safety Training in Spanish

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