Thursday, December 31, 2015

Cool Science & Engineering - Derby the dog with 3D printed prosthetics

I came across this video yesterday and, like most people, thought, "Oh, no way!" This is a spiffy example of science and engineering. So I had to cross-post it. 

I was also amazed at how much Derby looks like my dog, Shadow. 

This is Derby (image courtesy of
Derby without his prostheses - Image from 

This is Shadow the Arizona-Alaskan Malamute, image courtesy of the bajillions of pictures I take of him:
Shadow in Prescott with his toys.

The resemblance is uncanny. #malamutes

Support the Visual Arts in Prescott - Milagro Arts Center

Courtesy of our business membership in Local First Arizona, I just learned about an exciting visual arts center opening in Prescott - the Milagro Arts Center. They have a Kickstarter campaign open until January 30, 2016. 

You can learn more about the plans for the arts center at the Milagro Arts Center blog

Since the Spore Consulting, LLC "Commensal Fund" is a bit dry this year, we're being selective about the charities and non-profit organizations we support with 10% of our profits. We just signed up as an official backer ($75) of the Milagro Arts Center Kickstarter Project! We're looking forward to receiving our supporting membership (and t-shirt) when the project is fully funded.

If you scroll down on the Kickstarter information page for Milagro Arts Center, you'll see their "What We Believe" statements and the "Milagro Manifesto." Some of the statements of Milagro's "What We Believe" resonate with what we believe at Spore Consulting:

  • #1 - We believe that art makes our lives better.
  • #2 - We believe that curiosity, creativity and innovation shape the world.
  • #3 - We believe in being respectful, humble and kind.
  • #5 - We believe in attention to detail.
  • #6 - We believe in finding the balance between the heart and the head.
  • #9 - We believe that everyone is an artist.
  • #14 - We believe in building safe supportive spaces to take creative risks, to collaborate and inspire.

If these statements also resonate with you, and you want to support the creative arts in Northern Arizona, please join us and become an official backer of the Milagro Arts Center! 

In the vein of visual arts, here's one of our latest pieces of art to end the year - this is Jamie the selkie (as a seal) and his sister Fiona, from The Secret of Roan Inish (1994).

Fiona and Jamie the selkie from "The Secret of Roan Inish" (1994).

Some of the other charities and non-profit organizations we've supported over the last 12 months with 10% of our profits are:

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Electronics Recycling for the Conscientious Consumer

So, Christmas is over. You can all breathe a sigh of relief (until you receive your credit card bill, that is). Maybe you received all the presents you schemed for, and hopefully you gave more than you received. Chances are that you received some shiny new electronics – a new cell phone, a new TV, the latest tablet computer. The question is: What do you do with the old electronics?

There are many options for you to choose from:
  • If the electronic equipment is still fairly new and functional, the manufacturer might buy it back, refurbish it, and re-sell it at a reduced price. 
  • If the electronic equipment is still fairly new and functional, you can always factory reset it and sell it yourself on an online platform (think eBay or something similar).
  • If the electronic equipment is still functional, ask around in your social network to see if anyone has use for it – just because you’re done with it doesn’t mean someone else won’t find it useful. 
  • If the electronic equipment is still functional, consider placing it back to factory reset and donating it to charities such as Goodwill or Deseret Industries. 
  • If the electronic equipment is non-functional, PLEASE don’t just throw it in the trash.

Let’s talk about electronics recycling. The options below are for Arizona residents.
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – There is an “Electronics Donation and Recycling” page that you can visit to learn the benefits and importance of electronics recycling, and see which companies will accept electronics for recycling on a national scale (i.e., Best Buy, Dell, Staples, LG, and others). 
  • Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) Recycling Program – This is a useful site where you can just plug in your zip code and select the item(s) you want to recycle. The site will tell you the closest location that will accept the kind of waste you are hoping to recycle. 
  • City of Phoenix – No, you can’t recycle your TV or cell phone in your normal recycling container. City of Phoenix recommends contacting Westech Recyclers for electronics recycling. There are community recycling collection events scheduled throughout the year.
  • City of Mesa – According to the City of Mesa’s website, “Residents can recycle their old electronic equipment, such as computers, televisions, stereo equipment, etc., through the Salt River Landfill Electronics Recycling Program. In addition, retailers such as Best Buy also offer an electronics recycling program. Computers in working condition and other select electronics may also be donated to AzSTRUT.”
  • City of Flagstaff – Flagstaff has a “Accepted Waste Chart” that explains where each type of waste to be disposed or recycled should be taken by homeowners.
  • City of Tucson – The City’s “Keep Tucson Clean and Beautiful” website showcases the recycling vendors for various types of materials. 

A simple Internet search will tell you the available options for electronics recycling in your area. The obvious benefits of recycling your electronics are that they won’t end up in the landfill (possibly leaching metals and hazardous chemicals into soils and groundwater) and many of the components can be re-used to make new electronics (reducing the need for more raw resources). Be a good steward of the environment and recycle or donate your old electronics.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Making of the 2015 Holiday Manga

In keeping with requests from my loyal readership, here is the "making of" for the 2015 Holiday Manga. The following steps and associated pictures explain my very un-scientific process at completing a manga. 

Step 1: Find relevant portions of Fullmetal Alchemist that portray roughly what I'm trying to draw. This is for several reasons, including my limited time and limited talent - I'm pretty decent at revising an existing work, but have difficulty "seeing" the layout and characterization on my own. Plus, it is significantly faster for me to use existing work.

Step 2: Develop the layout and story for the page.

Step 3: Pencil sketch each panel to make sure it will fit and makes sense.
The Industrious Hygienist's 2015 Holiday Manga - pencil sketch and layout planning.

Step 4: Ink each panel with changes in the outfits and facial expressions as needed.
The Industrious Hygienist's 2015 Holiday Manga - inked product just before full coloring.

I'm pretty dang proud of the center middle panel. The hatching and ink work turned out much better than I anticipated. I'm less proud of the right hand lower panel - the only excuse I can give for that panel is my 100-pound Alaskan Malamute being bored and nudging my elbow while I was drawing. Close-up of my favorite panel is below.
The Industrious Hygienist's 2015 Holiday Manga - snatching the "last perfect gift."

Step 5: Color in the panels using, you guessed it, Crayola colored pencils. I'm pretty low tech with my art. A smaller version of the final product is below for your enjoyment. 
The Industrious Hygienist's 2015 Holiday Manga - sketched, inked, and colored.

I hope you enjoyed this "making of" blog. I'm working on new art and posts for 2016.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Holiday Manga - 2015 - Mall Safety Tips

In this year's much-anticipated Holiday Manga, the Industrious Hygienist takes you to the mall (a place she dares not venture alone). If you're shopping for holiday gifts this week, remember to focus on your personal safety and security while attempting to adhere to your budget. 

Some mall safety and security tips from the Industrious Hygienist:

  • Make a list. Check it twice. (Otherwise you'll end up buying a bunch of random useless stuff.)
  • Shop with a buddy. (This helps with safety, security, possibly reduced spending, and more fun.)
  • Be aware of your surroundings. (Park in a busy area with good lighting.)
  • Don't overload yourself with gifts. (Maintain proper visibility, and if you're a safety nerd, use the NIOSH Lifting Equation.)
  • Practice defensive techniques.
  • Escalators are scary things. Watch for pinch points and use the handrails.)

The Industrious Hygienist's 2015 Holiday Manga - with mall safety and security tips.

Since the Industrious Hygienist's family and friends pretty much all wanted gift cards, we weren't able to do much local shopping this year. However, we have been participating in Amazon Smile for most of our random purchases, which means that 0.5% of the purchase price of eligible items is donated by Amazon to a charity of our choice. 

We picked Brambley Hedge Rabbit Rescue as our charity of choice - it's a Phoenix-area rabbit rescue that we've donated to in previous years. And when we're ready for a new bunny, it's probably where we'll go. If you're looking for a new rabbit in Phoenix, take a look at their adoptable rabbits

Happy Winter Seasonal Holiday of your choice from the Industrious Hygienist and family! Be on the watch for the New Year's Holiday Card and a post about recycling or properly disposing of old electronics after the holidays. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Lab Safety Video with Puppets - Courtesy of Oliver Berger

I came across this laboratory safety video by Oliver Berger while searching for my Sock Puppet Safety video on YouTube. I'm sharing it in the interest of science education puppet solidarity. 

It's pretty spiffy to see the kind of improved video quality you get when working with a team of semi-professionals with real sets. Here at Sock Puppet Safety, we're a nerdy husband and wife team with two iPhones and a cheap Canon FS40 video camera. So we're doing the best we can with the limited tech and time available. 

As a side note, we were going to term our sock puppets as "soppets" (because it makes sense), but it looks like there is already a YouTube video channel called "The Amazing Soppets." We haven't watched any of their videos yet. But we're on the hunt for a new term for our sock puppets. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Cautionary Tales in Lab Safety - Extended Edition

The Industrious Hygienist has just posted the extended edition of "Cautionary Tales in Lab Safety," our #IHFundance third place winning video from AIHce 2015! 

We hope you enjoy the extended edition, which includes roughly 22 seconds of content we had to cut or shorten from the original video to meet the 2 minute time limit for #IHFundance.

We're working on more videos for 2016, including a short spill response training video, a video about Chemical Hygiene Plans for laboratories, and another general laboratory safety video. Thanks for watching and sharing Sock Puppet Safety!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Sock Puppet Safety - Piper Pangolin at Safety 2015

So, let's assume that you're an occupational health and safety specialist or industrial hygienist looking to expand your technical knowledge and professional network. If you haven't attended a professional development conference before, why not plan to attend one in 2016? 

The Industrious Hygienist is a regular attendee at the following conferences, attending at least one per year:

  • American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) - Annual Safety Professional Development Conference and Exposition
  • American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) - American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Exposition (AIHce)

Safety 2015 was held in Dallas, Texas. Safety 2016 (#Safety16) will be held in Atlanta, Georgia. The Industrious Hygienist will be co-presenting a concurrent session on gender equity in occupational safety and health programs at Safety 2016 with Dr. Ilise Feitshans and Dr. Aubrey Hb. Check out Session #769 "Remember the Ladies: Gender Equity for OSH Programs" on June 29, 2016 from 1:45pm-2:45pm. 

At AIHce 2014, the Industrious Hygienist was part of the first Personal AIHce Liaison (PAL) program - this fantastic experience was encapsulated in my AIHce 2014 manga

At Safety 2015, the Industrious Hygienist brought Piper Pangolin, the star of Sock Puppet Safety, to chronicle the experience of attending the conference. If you don't know Piper Pangolin yet, she is the Industrial Hygienist for Mad Labs as featured in our 3rd Place winning video from #IHFundance - the first-ever industrial hygiene video contest from AIHce 2015. Take a look at the fun times we had at Safety 2015 (#Safety15). 

Piper and the Industrious Hygienist look forward to meeting you at Safety 2016 - feel free to stop us in the expo hall and say hello! 

Saturday, December 5, 2015

What's an Exposome? Recent Research on Occupational Exposure Limits

This supplemental issue contains nine research articles and two introductory/summary articles detailing recent research in occupational exposure limits (OELs). Members of AIHA and/or ACGIH can log in to their respective member portals to view the research articles referenced below. This blog post is a high-level summary of each of the articles, including best practices that can be used by practicing industrial hygiene and safety professionals.

The Past and Future of Occupational Exposure Limits

This introductory article by Jonathan Borak and Lisa M. Brosseau about “The Past and Future of Occupational Exposure Limits” is a quick history of OELs and analysis of the barriers present in developing new OELs. The authors note that the ten articles “present a systematic approach that begins with an understanding of systems biology, mechanisms of action and the early (i.e., “pre-clinical”) effects of toxic exposures including genetic and epigenetic phenomena.” 

The most obvious barrier to developing OELs is the lack of data available that is relevant to human occupational exposure. Another barrier is the difficulty in establishing global exposure limits – since countries are at different stages of industrialization and the necessary controls may be infeasible. The third barrier mentioned by the authors is the lack of a formal, systematic approach to develop, establish, and update OELs.

Occupational Exposure Limit Derivation and Application

In a summary article titled “State-of-the-Science: The Evolution of Occupational Exposure Limit Derivation and Application” authors A. Maier, T. J. Lentz, K. L. MacMahon, L. T. McKernan, C. Whittaker, and  P. A. Schulte provide a review of the research articles provided in the JOEH supplement. The four-page summary article explains that the research articles in the JOEH supplement are not an exhaustive assessment of OELs, but they explain scientific advances to be considered for risk assessment and management of occupational hazards.

Historical Context for OELs

The first research article in this JOEH supplement is “Historical Context and Recent Advances in Exposure-Response Estimation for Deriving Occupational Exposure Limits” by M.W. Wheeler, R. M. Park, A. J. Bailer, and C. Whittaker. In the abstract of the article, the authors explain that most occupational exposure limits are not based on quantitative risk assessment (QRA), and provide examples of exposure-response modeling methods available for QRA. “The key step in QRA is estimation of the exposure-response relationship,” the authors state, recommending the use of statistical tools to properly characterize the risk.

One of the best takeaways of the article is found in Table 1: “Common Impediments to Inference When Developing an Exposure-Response Relationship from Epidemiological Studies.” This table presents issues such as confounding bias, selection bias, the healthy worker effect, reverse causation, and variable susceptibility, and provides the consequences and fixes for these issues when working on exposure-response relationships. Table 1 is a helpful summary for industrial hygienists or safety professionals who are just starting their education into epidemiology.

Another helpful element of the article is found in Table 7: “OEL Estimation Methods,” which sets forth the data requirements, considerations for use, epidemiological considerations, and caveats for estimation methods such as the no observed adverse effect level (NOAEL), traditional benchmark dose (BMD), and biologically-based methods. In the conclusion of the article, the authors recommend that risk managers select the proper “statistical methodology to estimate risks and quantify relevant uncertainties” in occupational risks.

Dosimetry Modeling for Occupational Risk Assessment

An article by Eileen D. Kuempel, Lisa M. Sweeney, John B. Morris, and Annie M. Jarabek explains the “Advances in Inhalation Dosimetry Models and Methods for Occupational Risk Assessment and Exposure Limit Derivation.” This article introduces the basic concepts of dosimetry, explains the hierarchical model selection criteria, considers agent-specific dosimetry and model selection with agent-specific examples, and discusses challenges to implementing dosimetry models and methods in risk assessment and OEL derivation.

When introducing the basic concepts of dosimetry, the authors explain that dosimetry involves determining the amount, rate, and distribution of a substance in the body. They also introduce the development and use of risk-based exposure estimates including the NOAEL, the lowest observed adverse effect level (LOAEL), and the benchmark dose (BMD), which is “the dose associated with a specified risk (e.g., 10%) of an adverse health effect (or benchmark response) as estimated from modeling the dose-response relationship.”

The authors explain that dosimetry is essential for understanding the relationship between exposure and the body’s response. Dosimetry can improve the accuracy of risk assessment by reducing the level of uncertainty in the calculated estimates. Reliable estimates of the internal dose at the target organ or tissue are accomplished by specific measurements or predictive models. 

The article focuses on inhalation dosimetry since it is a significant route of occupational exposure. Detailed mechanisms and models are provided for the respiratory tract, deposition of particles of fibers, clearance and retention of inhaled particles and fibers (including an interspecies comparison), and gas uptake factors. The interspecies comparisons discuss that similar clearance pathways are used by both humans and laboratory animals, but that extrapolation of animal data for human exposure estimates has changed due to an improved understanding of the differences between animal and human respiration.

Using Systems Biology and Biomarkers

The third research article in this JOEH supplement presents the use of “Systems Biology and Biomarkers of Early Effects for Occupational Exposure Limit Setting” as written by D. Gayle DeBord, Lyle Burgoon, Stephen W. Edwards, Lynne T. Haber, M. Helen Kanitz, Eileen Kuempel, Russell S. Thomas, and Berran Yucesoy. As provided in the abstract of the article, this article discusses “systems biology, biomarkers of effect, and computational toxicology approaches and their relevance to the occupational exposure limit setting process.” In the introduction, the authors mention the dearth of toxicity information known at present about tens of thousands of chemicals in use in industry today.

The authors note that complex exposure scenarios, where workers are “exposed to complex mixtures that may have additive, synergistic, or antagonistic actions” makes it difficult to conduct thorough risk assessments. Useful portions of this article include Table 1: “Glossary of Key Terms.” Table 1 provides definitions for key terms used in the article, including: benchmark dose (BMD), benchmark response (BMR), biomarkers, computational toxicology, metabolomics, proteomics, systems biology, and uncertainty factors.

A biomarker is an “[i]nternal [measure] or [marker] of exposures or effects for a chemical or agent in the body.” Research into biomarkers involves an assessment of which biomarkers can be quantitatively linked to human adverse outcomes from occupational exposure. The authors explain that “[e]nvironmental exposures can directly or indirectly cause alterations in gene expression at either the transcriptional (gene expression) or the translational level (proteomics).” Table 4: “Different Types of Biomarkers” shows the type of biomarker (exposure, effect, or susceptibility), its characteristics, and examples.

In the conclusion, the authors explain the advantages of using biomarkers, since they can be used to “establish more appropriate OELs to protect individuals who are at high risk.” They caution that the “whole field of computational toxicology and systems biology is still evolving and results have not been validated in human populations” and that interpretation of biomarker results is not yet available. These challenges need to be overcome before biomarkers can be used routinely in human occupational risk assessment.

Scientific Basis of Uncertainty Factors

An article by D. A. Dankovic, B. D. Naumann, A. Maier, M. L. Dourson, and L. S. Levy discusses “The Scientific Basis of Uncertainty Factors Used in Setting Occupational Exposure Limits.” The abstract of the research article explains that “[t]he use of uncertainty factors is predicated on the assumption that a sufficient reduction in exposure from those at the boundary for the onset of adverse effects will yield a safe exposure level for at least the great majority of the exposed population, including vulnerable subgroups.”

Of interest to practicing industrial hygienists and safety professionals, Table 1: “UFs Used in OEL-setting, and the Rationale for Their Use” explains the types of uncertainty factors, which area of uncertainty they are used for, and the basic principles when rationalizing their use in risk assessment and OEL setting. For example, UFA is used for animal to human uncertainty, and is used to adjust for differences in sensitivity between animals and the average human (not the occupationally exposed human). Figure 5 shows the hierarchy of approaches that are available when incorporating chemical exposure data into the risk assessment process, in order to improve scientific certainty.

Using Genetic and Epigenetic Information

The fifth article in the JOEH supplement by P. A. Schulte, C. Whittaker, and C. P. Curra is an introductory evaluation of “Considerations for Using Genetic and Epigenetic Information in Occupational Health Risk Assessment and Standard Setting.” The authors note that genetic and epigenetic data have not been widely used in risk assessment for occupational health. However, the authors envision that “genetic and epigenetic data might be used as endpoints in hazard identification, as indicators of exposure, as effect modifiers in exposure assessment and dose-response modeling, as descriptors of mode of action, and to characterize toxicity pathways.”

When evaluating the use of epigenetics in occupational health, the authors mention that using “epigenetics in epidemiologic studies of occupational disease may help explain the relationship between the genome and the work environment; however, other environmental exposures outside of work” also will need to be controlled for. Practicing industrial hygiene and safety professionals may be interested in Table 1: “Guide to Assessing Genetic and Epigenetic Data for Risk Assessment,” which is a 4 × 4 matrix showing the types of risk assessment functions (hazard identification, dose-response modeling, exposure assessment, and risk characterization) and the questions associated with using genetic or epigenetic data (both inherited and acquired) that may be asked.

Table 2: “Framework for use of genetic and epigenetic data in occupational and environmental risk assessment” is also interesting, since it uses the same 4 x 4 matrix and risk assessment functions with the recommended or estimated use of genetic and epigenetic data. For example, for the exposure assessment function, acquired genetic data can show deviations from normal pattern of gene expression, whereas inherited epigenetic data can be used as an indicator of exposure.

In the conclusion, the authors state that: “It is not far-fetched that a worker’s ‘Right to Know’ might someday extend to the worker’s right to know their genetic susceptibility to workplace toxicants.” This is an intriguing idea for future research.

Setting OELs for Chemical Allergens

In an interesting article about “Setting Occupational Exposure Limits for Chemical Allergens—Understanding the Challenges” by G. S. Dotson, A. Maier, P. D. Siegel, S. E. Anderson, B. J. Green, A. B. Stefaniak, C. D. Codispoti, and I. Kimber, the authors discuss establishing exposure limits for low molecular weight (LMW) chemical allergens. The definition of chemical allergy is explained as “immune-mediated adverse health effects, including allergic sensitization and diseases, caused by exposures to chemicals.”

LMW allergens that are recognized occupational hazards include: diisocyanates, organic anhydrides (i.e., maleic anhydride) and some metals (i.e., beryllium and nickel). Table 1: “ACGIH Threshold Limit Values (TLVs) Based on Immune-mediated Health Endpoints” provides a list of chemical allergens with OELs already developed. These chemical allergens include beryllium, flour dust, natural rubber latex, various diisocyanates, and piperazine.

The article also provides an explanation of the biology of chemical allergens, including the difference between sensitization and elicitation, and forms of chemical allergy. The authors note that the two forms of chemical allergy of most interest to occupational health professionals are skin sensitization (resulting in allergic eczema and contact dermatitis) and respiratory tract sensitization (resulting in asthma and rhinitis). Specific challenges associated with development of OELs for chemical allergens are also discussed.

Exposure Estimation and Interpretation of Occupational Risk

The seventh article in the JOEH supplement provides a detailed analysis of “Exposure Estimation and Interpretation of Occupational Risk: Enhanced Information for the Occupational Risk Manager” by Martha Waters, Lauralynn McKernan, Andrew Maier, Michael Jayjock, Val Schaeffer, and Lisa Brosseau. The authors explain the risk characterization process for occupational exposures, including the regulatory basis for OELs, describing exposures and the exposed population(s), intrinsic variability and how to reduce uncertainty in exposure estimation, and methods for estimating exposures.

Table 1: “Occupational Exposure Limits (OELs) Developed by Various Organizations” shows the various OELs, which organization has set them, and whether they were developed based on a health basis, analytical feasibility, economic feasibility, and engineering feasibility. The authors provide an example of the compliance approaches used by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). OSHA and NIOSH’s “[approach] include[s] collecting samples from the worst case exposure scenario or randomly from a defined similar exposure group of interest. The measurement is compared to the OEL and is classified into one of three decision categories: clearly below the limit, clearly above the limit, or too close to the limit for an immediate decision.”

The authors also provide an explanation of the AIHA exposure assessment strategy, which “recommended that [time-weighted average (TWA)] OELs be interpreted as upper limits of exposure (e.g., 95th percentile) for each similar exposure group (SEG) and that the exposure distribution profile of each SEG should be controlled so that the 95th percentile exposure is less than the OEL over time.” Following the discussion of SEGs, a short section on Bayesian methods is provided.

Aggregate Exposure and Cumulative Risk Assessment

In this research article about “Aggregate Exposure and Cumulative Risk Assessment—Integrating Occupational and Non-occupational Risk Factors,” T. J. Lentz, G. S. Dotson, P. R.D. Williams, A. Maier, B. Gadagbui, S. P. Pandalai, A. Lamba, F. Hearl, and M. Mumtaz evaluate the benefits of considering non-occupational exposures as part of the occupational risk assessment. The authors debate using a “combined risk from exposure to both chemical and non-chemical stressors, within and beyond the workplace,” with the understanding that “such exposures may cause interactions or modify the toxic effects observed (cumulative risk).”

Like previous articles in this OEL series, the authors provide a glossary of key terms in Table 1, including aggregate risk, exposome, and total worker health. Exposome is defined as “the measure of all the exposures of an individual in a lifetime and how those exposures relate to health.” Exposomics is defined as “the study of the exposome, which relies on the application of internal and external exposure assessment methods.”

Figure 2 of this article will be of special interest to practicing industrial hygienists and safety professionals. It is an illustration of the relationship between the key factors that must be considered in a cumulative risk assessment. The primary factors are divided into three categories: occupational factors, non-occupational factors, and individual factors. The occupational and non-occupational factors are further divided into settings, sources, pathways, dominant exposure routes, key stressors, and effects. Using the illustration in Figure 2, the authors provide an illustrative case study in Figure 3 to assess the cumulative risk for hearing loss.

The Global Landscape of OELs

In this ninth and final research article from the JOEH supplement, “The Global Landscape of Occupational Exposure Limits—Implementation of Harmonization Principles to Guide Limit Selection” is discussed by M. Deveau, C-P Chen, G. Johanson, D. Krewski, A. Maier, K. J. Niven, S. Ripple, P. A. Schulte, J. Silk, J. H. Urbanus, D. M. Zalk, and R. W. Niemeier. The article’s abstract notes that an occupational hygienist seeking to determine the proper OEL to apply in an international setting will encounter a “confusing international landscape for identifying and applying such limits in workplaces.”

Practicing industrial hygienists and safety professionals may be interested in Figure 1, which is a reprint of the hierarchy of risk-based occupational exposure benchmarks as developed by AIHA in their publications on control banding and SEGs. The authors note that the goal of international harmonization for OEL derivation and development has been under much debate and discussion, and explains the existing harmonization initiatives in place.


As occupational health and safety professionals, industrial hygienists can have access to new and exciting research by academic, governmental, and other groups through journals such as JOEH. In their supplemental issue about OELs, JOEH has selected nine research articles that provide the current state of occupational exposure science. This blog post has summarized the contents of each article and provided takeaways and interesting quotes from the articles, to allow practicing industrial hygiene and safety professionals to focus their continuing safety education on the articles that will most interest them.

Friday, December 4, 2015

2015 Holiday Manga Preview

(The following is a lightly edited and dramatized build-up to the awesome holiday card I made for a colleague at Apex Environmental Safety and Health Consulting Inc.)

Industrious Hygienist: "Hmmm, let's pop into LinkedIn for a few minutes and see what everyone is doing. A message? I rarely get messages!"

Nira (Message): "Hi Morgan, thought I'd take advantage of your artistic talent and see whether you can design us a Christmas card for Apex with an IH theme. We can have Shutterfly print it for us. Love the blog. Mahalo, Nira."

Industrious Hygienist: Holy fudge muffins, somebody actually reads my blog? No way! Wait, a Christmas card that other people will actually see? Keep it together and sound professional, dang it.

Industrious Hygienist (Message): "Hi Nira! I'd be happy to - how soon are you wanting it? Did you want something like the elves from last year's holiday blog, and do you want it to be a cartoon (I assume so)?"

Nira (Message): "A cartoon. Probably by November 15th."

Industrious Hygienist (Message): "Ok, I'll send you two sketches this weekend and you can let me know which one you like more."

The 2014 Holiday Manga was distributed in four parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4. But a Christmas card requires a more focused approach. Thus commences a furious couple hours of thinking, pondering, hemming and hawing about how to do an industrial hygiene themed Christmas card that wasn't incredibly nerdy.

I sent her the following mock up to get approval for the design and content.

Mock up of the Christmas card for Apex Environmental.

Approval obtained, I went to work inking and coloring the manga with special care, since it would be printed and needed to be as crisp as possible. The main character was designed to look like the Principal Hygienist of Apex Environmental, Nira Cooray. The final version is shown below.

Happy Holidays from the Industrious Hygienist and her colleagues at Apex Environmental!

The inside reads:  "Join us in sharing random acts of kindness during the holidays. Mahalo from Apex Environmental." We're excited to see how Apex's clients and colleagues respond to the colorful cartoon. More Holiday Manga coming up in 2015!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Revenge of the Christmas Tree

Ah, the joyous Holiday Season begins – a time for rampant illness (cue flu season), unsportsmanlike behavior* (never step foot in malls and big box stores), and increased levels of non-work-related injuries and illnesses (decorating and getting the house ready for guests).

I’ve come to one iron-clad conclusion about the whole holiday thing: the Christmas trees are getting revenge. It could be because the trees are fed up with only being associated with this winter holiday hoopla, or because they resent having to die and be used as decoration, or because they don’t want to spend their last living weeks laden with lights and tinsel and heavy ornaments. 

I’ll give the disclaimer that I don’t decorate for the holidays anymore, except for a smallish wooden wreath placed somewhere in the front room and three stockings, one for me, one for the Exceptional Spouse, and one for the dog. I will admit that having a 100+ pound Alaskan Malamute with a penchant for gnawing on ornaments was the original reason we stopped decorating.

So, why are the Christmas trees trying to get revenge?

Let’s start with the tree itself – do you purchase a real live tree, or an artificial one? Here’s the pros and cons of each related to safety and indoor air quality.

Real Live Tree

  • You get that pine-like smell to enjoy
  • Can be recyclable (i.e., turned into mulch)
  • Many trees come from local “plantations” so you’re likely buying local
  • Many people find the pine-like odor to be irritating
  • Someone had to grow and then kill a tree that is only used for 4 weeks or so
  • Trees dry out and can contribute to the overall fire hazard of the holidays
  • Trees harbor allergens like pollens, herbicides, fertilizers, mold, and pests

Artificial Tree

  • Usually listed as “flame resistant” and boughs made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
  • Can be re-used year after year if they are put away and stored correctly
  • Do not inherently contain allergens like pollens, herbicides, fertilizers, mold, and pests
  • The flame resistant nature can also be from addition of flame retardant chemicals
  • Are not recyclable – just end up in the landfill when you buy a new one
  • Can easily accumulate heavy dust, pests, mold, etc. if not put away and stored correctly
  • Will emit dioxins and other chemicals if they catch on fire
  • Some studies also show that the trees release dioxins over time
  • Some of the trees may also contain phthalates, lead, and other hazardous chemicals

According to Rodale’s Organic Life: “Real trees win. Why pollute your Christmas with toxic plastics and hazardous heavy metals? The durability and convenience of fake Christmas trees may make them more attractive than the alternative of buying a new tree every year, but a life-cycle analysis conducted in Canada found that you'd need to use your fake tree for 20 years for it to be considered more environmentally friendly than your yearly evergreen.”

Regardless, the cons seem to outweigh the pros in either case. Solution? Maybe move past this “essential” aspect of the holiday season and choose not to buy a tree, live or otherwise.

For a pretty interesting history of Christmas trees, see this video and article from The History Channel.

Putting Up Your Tree, a.k.a. Tree Torture

Let’s move on to the process of putting up your Christmas tree. In the case of real live trees, you either go to a lot and find one that suits you, or go chop one down yourself. Then you find a way to plop it into or on top of your car, drive it home, and wrangle it into the chosen room.

Some hazards:
  • Fighting with your fellow humans (verbal or otherwise) over the “perfect tree”
  • Impairing your visibility (front and rear) from tree boughs akimbo atop or inside your car
  • Lifting injuries (from lot to car, from car to house, etc.)
  • Not properly securing your tree atop your car, resulting in the tree careening down the road when it breaks loose of the cheap bindings you used

If you put the tree inside your vehicle, you have likely released all the allergens (pollen, mold spores, pests) into your car, such that the allergens coat the seats and sides of the vehicle. This means that every time you or your kids get into the car, you’ll re-disturb all the microscopic particles, releasing them into the air. Pine is a well-established sensitizer as well, so you’ll roll into work feeling crummy and sneezy, wondering why it is that you “always feel sick at work” during the holidays. Don’t be that person. :)

The same issue arises when you’re wrangling the tree through your front door or garage and into whichever room you designated. You’re getting a nice face full of needles, pollen, mold, and whatever else is on that tree while shaking and dragging the tree into position. The particles are released into the room and will be there long past the time you recycle your tree.

So, now you have the tree in the designated room. You’re likely going to take the somewhat heavy tree and put it into a tree torture device tree stand, where there is just enough water to keep it alive (provided you remember to refill it) and large screws are applied to the trunk to keep it upright. However, these tree stands are usually made of cheap plastic or metal and may not be hardy enough for the tree you’ve selected. The tree may not be secure in its base and fall over. The stands usually state something like “for 10-foot trees, ideal for 6-inch trunk” rather than indicating the weight limit the stand can effectively support.

Keeping your tree well-watered during the holidays is important for fire safety and aesthetics. NFPA has a dramatic video showing the difference in fire spread between a dry tree and a well-watered tree. An alternate version of the NFPA video has other safety ideas for holiday decorating.

Your tree is up, installed in its stand, and is ready to be decorated. The anthropomorphized tree is chuckling to itself (when it isn’t wincing from the liberally applied steel screws at its base) as it watches you try to set up your too-short ladder to place the hideous tree-topper your son made 24 years ago. The chuckles turn to nervous laughter as you wrap the tree in cheap strands of lights – it wonders if you understand that heat + electrical malfunctions + combustible material = fire. The nervous laughter turns to a whimper when you load it down with heavy ornaments and garlands. The whimper turns to despair as you spray the tips of its boughs with artificial snow from an aerosol can.

CDC’s Fall-Related Injuries During the Holiday Season details the types and causes of fall-related injuries:  “The majority of falls were from ladders (e.g., while hanging holiday lights), followed by roofs (e.g., while mounting an artificial Christmas tree on the roof), furniture (e.g., while standing on a table decorating a Christmas tree, standing on a chair hanging holiday decorations, or standing on a step stool when hanging a tree topper), stairs, and porches. Other falls were caused by tripping over or slipping on holiday-related objects (e.g., tree skirts or ornaments). Among 46% of injured persons, injuries occurred to the extremities (i.e., arm/hand and leg/foot); most persons (88%) examined in EDs were treated and released, and 12% were hospitalized. Fractures were the most commonly reported injury (34%); approximately half (51%) of the fractures were caused by falls from ladders. Of those who fell from ladders, nearly half (47%) were hospitalized.”

NFPA also has some safety-related information associated with Christmas trees and holiday lights.

The strands of lights you install on the tree should be UL-listed and inspected prior to installation, checking for burnt out or broken bulbs, nicks in the electrical insulation, and other potential issues. Remember that older strands of lights frequently have lead coatings and are made of PVC. The ornaments you select may have heavy dust (you meant to clean them last year but became too busy), and may also contain irritating or dangerous metals (lead and nickel) and chemicals, either in the paints or in the ornament itself.

Garlands and tinsel are also frequently made with PVC and are excellent collectors of dust and other potential allergens. On to the artificial snow, which usually comes in an aerosol can. There is a silicone-based artificial snow spray that looks pretty intriguing, and it has a less-scary list of chemicals in its Safety Data Sheet.  A common type of artificial snow spray is this: “Santa” brand snow.

Image courtesy of The Home Depot - showing 18 oz "Santa" Brand Spray Snow

A quick perusal of the Safety Data Sheet for the “Santa” brand snow shows the following:
  • Contains butane, propane, and calcium carbonate (to give it that nice white color)
  • Ingestion is “possible, but considered unlikely” (manufacturer has not met children or dogs)
  • “Not recommended for use by anyone with history of asthma or other respiratory problems, or anyone who is ultra-sensitive to airborne particles.” (ultra-sensitive? Would love to see that definition) 
  • “Keep away from heat, sparks, flame, and other sources of ignition” (so, don’t spray on your tree if it has lights?)
  • “When using indoors, keep windows and doors open until fumes dissipate.” (this is unlikely in winter)
  • Toxicological Information: “No Data Available…” (ellipses are theirs, not mine)

Not a chemist? Butane is the liquid inside your lighter (vapor catches fire easily) and propane is used as fuel in stoves, heaters, and barbecues (vapor also catches fire easily).

If you’re thinking that perhaps you’ll just try an artificial tree instead, just remember that the trees are currently not recyclable, they are made of PVC (and so are many of the items decorating your tree), and can catch on fire just like real live trees. The artificial trees with built-in lights are also potentially dangerous since it is difficult to inspect the tree and lights for electrical safety before putting the tree up.

Underwriters Laboratories has a “Christmas Tree Safety” video if you’re still bound and determined to do the holiday tree thing. The Industrious Hygienist has done a risk assessment and determined the inherent risks of Christmas trees outweigh the short-lived benefits.

More holiday-themed safety posts and the traditional Industrious Hygienist Holiday Manga coming soon!

* Fezzik in The Princess Bride (1987): “My way is not very sportsmanlike.” 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Improve Your Understanding of Science - Through a Blog!

The Industrious Hygienist has recently become aware of a fun science blog called "Things I Tell My Mom: Biology and Health for Real People." 

It's written by a colleague of mine, Cathy Seiler, PhD. Her tagline is: "Helping you understand today's science for better living."

Some posts that the safety and industrial hygiene realm might find interesting:

So, check it out and share the love - she has a Facebook page if you'd prefer to follow the blog that way. 

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Over the Glass (OTG) Spoggles

As a devout wearer of prescription eyeglasses, the Industrious Hygienist is always in the market for safety glasses that can be worn over existing eyewear.  

The unofficial term is "Over the Glass" or OTG.

Unfortunately, this usually means I am relegated to wearing a bulky pair of chemical splash goggles so I look like a mad scientist in a hard hat. Here are some of the less-hideous options available to other safety professionals who must have prescription eyewear under their safety glasses or spoggles

Safety Glasses

1) Uline OTG Safety Glasses

These are the most basic OTG safety glasses and have basic impact protection. No frills.

Uline OTG Safety Glasses - Image courtesy of Uline

2) ERB Safety 606 OTG Safety Glasses

These are more fashionable and have a smoke-colored lens. According to the manufacturer, these glasses also meet ANSI Z87.1 requirements, have anti-fog coating, and UV protection. They also add a nice bit of femininity - thanks ERB Safety! Probably going to buy a pair and check them out. 

ERB 606 OTG Safety Glasses - Image courtesy of Full Source and ERB Safety

3) SiteGuard Safety Glasses

If you're looking for a cheap/economical pair of OTG safety glasses for visitors to your facility, these are a decent option. Although, the visitors will silently curse you when they have to wear these and everyone else gets more stylish and attractive wrap-around glasses.

Bouton 250-97-0900 SiteGuard OTG Safety Glasses - Image courtesy of Full Source and Bouton Optical

Safety Goggles/Spoggles

1) Uvex Strategy Goggle

An option is the Uvex Strategy Goggle, which can be used for protection against impact, chemical splash, dust, sand, and debris. These are a decent stand-in for spoggles but do not have the foam lining I have come to enjoy. These also look like they would stick out from your face and draw attention to the fact that you're a four-eyed wonder.

Uvex S3800 - Image courtesy of Boss Safety Products and Uvex

2) Uvex Stealth OTG Goggle

This is the less-nerdy option compared the the Strategy goggles above. These can be used for protection against impact, dust, chemical splash, and optical radiation (UV and welding radiation). These seem like they would draw less attention but might smush your glasses against your face. Sort of "snowboarder-esque" but look lighter and more comfortable. These could also be used as a stand-in for spoggles.  

Uvex S3970 - Image courtesy of Honeywell Safety Products and Uvex

3) Outfitter Clear A/F Safety Glasses

These are the Industrious Hygienist's favorite, and the safety glasses I wear most frequently. They are comfortable, the foam is washable, and you don't look like a ridiculous bug-eyed mook when wearing them. They are ANSI Z87.1 compliant and are officially "spoggles" in my humble opinion. Various lens colors are available.

Outfitter A/F Safety Glasses fit OTG and have foam lining - Image courtesy of Amazon and Global Vision Eyewear

The Industrious Hygienist has no affiliation with any of the companies providing safety glasses, safety goggles, or spoggles listed on this blog post - just a helpful review for other safety professionals who may wear prescription glasses. 

The Industrious Hygienist hard at work in 2015, rocking the spoggles!

Look for more spoggle-related posts in 2016, and the ever-awaited 2015 Holiday Manga in upcoming weeks.