Intel Brief – August 2011


Toxic contamination in offices: New study reveals hidden chemicals in dust.
Researchers studied more than two dozen offices in Boston, Massachusetts, and discovered that dangerous flame retardant chemicals – polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) – banned by an international treaty – contaminated every office. Exposure to PBDEs in the Office Environment: Evaluating the Relationship Between Dust, Handwipes, and Serum, was published June 30 in Environmental Health Perspectives. “While our study sampled a relatively small number of offices, the findings suggest additional research could indicate most offices are contaminated,” said a study co-author and associate chairman of the Boston University School of Public Health. The study found frequent handwashing appeared to reduce exposure to certain PBDEs. “An outdated California regulation virtually forces manufacturers to put these flame retardant chemicals into foam for products meant for sale in California and elsewhere, even though doing so doesn’t prevent fires,” explained a member of Physicians for Social Responsibility – Los Angeles.


Mississippi’s Howard Industries cited by US Department of Labor’s OSHA for safety violations following fatal worker electrocution.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Howard Industries Inc. in Ellisville, Mississippi for 17 safety violations following the January death of a worker who was electrocuted while calibrating a transformer test station. Two serious violations related to the fatality include not requiring employees to use work safety practices when dealing with live electrical circuits, and failing to use locks and tags when de-energizing test equipment. Ten additional serious violations include: failing to develop specific lockout/tagout procedures; failing to conduct a personal protective equipment hazard assessment; missing a mid-rail on an elevated platform; exposing employees to potential electric shock hazards without providing them insulated gloves or other protective equipment; allowing a plasma cutter operator to not wear safety glasses; and having an unguarded shaft. Four repeat violations include failing to: provide machine guarding on the press brake and the welder; noncombustible welding screens for employees; and flexible cords in place of fixed wiring. The company was cited for all four of these same violations at its Laurel plant in June 2009.

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