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Posted by on in Centers of Excellence
Posted on behalf of Suren Bandara.

Who is affected?

In the last couple of weeks, California has seen the most lethal outbreak of wildfires in the state’s history (CNBC 2017). The huge wildfires swept across Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties, sending smoke and ash over San Francisco (about 50 miles away) and to some towns and cities even further away. While the wildfires are being controlled, concerns over the wildfire smoke, which can persist for days or even months, depending on the extent of the fire, have arisen. Although the air may look clear, it may have particulate matter than can cause respiratory distress. Anyone who spends time outdoors during and after a wildfire can be affected by poor air quality, and outdoor workers are especially vulnerable.

Health basis

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), wildfire smoke is a mix of gases and fine particles from burning vegetation, building materials, and other materials (CDC 2017). This complex mixture resulting from combustion may contain carbon dioxide, water vapor, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and other organic chemicals, nitrogen oxides, trace minerals, and particulate matter (USEPA 2016). Outdoor workers exposed to these compounds via wildfire smoke inhalation might be at risk of developing mild to severe health symptoms, including difficulty breathing, scratchy throat, runny nose, irritated sinuses, reduced lung function, asthma attacks, chest pain, heart failure, or even death (CDC 2017, USEPA 2016). Persons with preexisting pulmonary and cardiovascular conditions may be more likely to get sick if they breathe in wildfire smoke (USEPA 2016).

Precautions employers can take

According to the US EPA, particulate matter is the principal pollutant of concern for persons exposed to wildfire smoke. Particulate matter larger than 10 mm do not usually reach the lungs, but may irritate the eyes, nose, and throat. However, wildfire smoke may contain particulates that are <10 mm, which can be inhaled into the deepest recesses of the lungs and can affect both the lungs and heart (USEPA 2016). Fortunately, steps can be taken to avoid particulate inhalation from wildfire smoke exposure.

NIOSH recommends that persons working outdoors should don two-strap N95 particulate filtering facepiece respirators (which capture 95% of very small particles) or respiratory protection devices with a higher level of protection, such as a P100 respirator (which capture 99.97% of very small particles). A full list of NIOSH approved N95 masks listed by manufacturer can be found here.

NIOSH warns that respirators and surgical masks are designed for different functions, and do not provide the same types or level of protection. Paper “comfort” or “dust” masks commonly found at hardware stores are designed to trap large particles, such as sawdust (NIOSH 2017). Therefore, these masks will not protect your lungs from the small particles found in wildfire smoke.

According to NIOSH, you should limit the amount of vigorous activity outdoors when wildfire smoke is suspected. Individuals traveling in vehicles in the vicinity of wildfire smoke should close all windows and make sure air conditioning is set to ‘re-circulate’ mode (USEPA 2016).

Persons working in office and commercial buildings can also be exposed to the hazards of windborne wildfire smoke. Unlike in the home environment, where setting air conditioners to recirculation mode is advised, workers in office spaces or commercial buildings with HVAC systems are advised against eliminating or substantially reducing the outdoor air supply to the building (Cal/OSHA 2008). HVAC systems in office buildings typically filter and condition outdoor air, and often have exhaust systems that require makeup air from outdoors. HVAC systems should thus be operated continuously to provide the minimum quantity of outdoor air for ventilation in accordance with standards and building codes. According to California OSHA, to protect building occupants from outdoor air pollution, building managers and employers should ensure that the HVAC systems’ filters are not dirty, damaged, dislodged, or leaking around the edges, and make necessary repairs as required (Cal/OSHA 2008).  

Additionally, California OSHA encourages employers to take steps to reduce employee exposure to smoke, including, alternate work assignments and telecommuting. In buildings that lack a functioning filtration system that removes particulates from the air, employers are encouraged to provide relocation options for employees (Cal/OSHA 2008).

To get real-time data on current air quality in your area, visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) website. In addition, information is available from the CDC on protecting fire cleanup workers (here) and on well-being after a wildfire (here).

Cardno ChemRisk scientists have evaluated regulatory benchmarks and the underlying scientific literature regarding potential human health effects from particulate matter or other components of smoke, either from air pollution or wildfires. Cardno ChemRisk has a number of industrial hygienists and environmental health professionals who can assess exposure and risk of adverse health effects in specific settings. If you have any questions, or would like more information about our environment, health, and safety capabilities, please contact William Cyrs, CIH, at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
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Posted by on in Centers of Excellence
Most are probably familiar with the laundry detergent pods that can be found in laundry supplies. They are small, soft, and colorful packets of highly concentrated washing detergent sold by companies such as Tide, Arm & Hammer, and Gain. These pods pose an acute exposure concern for children, acting as a sort of household attractive nuisance and mouthing temptation, particularly for small children.
According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) Laundry Detergent Pod alert page, in 2012, 2013, and 2014, there were 6343, 10395, and 11714 reported exposures among children five and younger, respectively. As of August 31, 8318 exposures had been recorded for 2015. An exposure is defined as "contact with the substance in some way; for example ingested, inhaled, absorbed by the skin or eyes, etc." according to the AAPCC. However, AAPCC notes that "not all exposures are poisonings or overdoses." Various symptoms of exposure, including vomiting, wheezing, gasping, drooling and swallowing dysfunction, sleepiness, and corneal abrasions, have been reported on the Poison Control website, as well as the literature (AAPCC Position Statement, MMWR Report, Smith et al. 2014).
Laundry detergent pods, similar to other cleaners, are valuable household products, which can be used in a safe manner. If you use laundry pods at home, particularly if you have small children, please be sure to adhere to the following recommendations from the Poison Control Centers:
• "Always keep detergent containers closed, sealed and stored up high, out of the reach of children."
• "Follow the instructions on the product label."
• "Call your local poison center at 1-800-222-1222 immediately if you suspect a child has come in contact with this detergent."
Tagged in: laundry pods Safety
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Posted by on in Occupational Health/IH
In their recent blog, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) presents the necessary considerations for the use of Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Air Purifying Respirators (CBRN APRs). Specifically, they cover questions such as choosing the right respirator, maintaining the equipment and how to choose the correct components. Please visit their to site learn more.
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Posted by on in Occupational Health/IH

Cardno ChemRisk attended Safety 2013, the premiere conference for professionals in safety and occupational health field hosted by the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE). We were joined by thousands of other attendees representing manufacturing, government and public administration, agriculture, construction, and insurance. During this gathering, we delivered two well-received technical presentations: Settling the Dust – Silica Past, Present, and Future; and Surface Spills in Hydraulic Fracturing and Recommendations for Safety Management. One topic that everyone was interested in is OSHA’s priorities over the next few years, with David Michaels and his staff again at the helm for President Obama’s second term. Michaels touched on many of OSHA’s priorities during the Plenary Session earlier this week, including preventing fatalities in grain handling facilities, health and safety for temporary workers, reducing rates of illness and injury in healthcare settings, and progress on implementation of the new Hazard Communication Standard.

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Tagged in: ASSE conference Safety
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Posted by on in Health & Environmental Risk Assessment

In this past year, four additional Cardno ChemRisk employees passed the Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) exam. The CIH exam and certification process are managed by the American Board of Industrial Hygiene (ABIH). According to ABIH, a CIH “is an individual who has met the minimum requirements for education and experience, and through examination, has demonstrated a minimum level of knowledge and skills” in a multitude of areas, including, but not limited to Community Exposure, Engineering Controls/Ventilation, Health Risk Analysis & Hazard Communication, Toxicology, and Work Environments & Industrial Processes. Once obtained, certification is maintained through professional development activities such as certain work tasks, educational classes, conferences, committee work, presentations, teaching, authoring, and mentoring. As such, a CIH is well prepared to handle a wide range of complex situations related to industrial hygiene and associated fields of work, and it is the premier occupational hygiene certification in the world. In 2011, there were 6,690 active CIHs worldwide.

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Cardno ChemRisk is a respected scientific consulting firm headquartered in San Francisco with locations and consultants across the U.S. While our website provides a formal look at our capabilities, the Cardno ChemRisk View provides an informal voice too. Various Cardno ChemRisk consultants will be sharing news and views about current trends, happenings and methodologies in the industry. We’ll also highlight activities of interest at Cardno ChemRisk, within confidentiality restrictions of course.

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