thesynergist | NEWSWATCH
EPA Revises Risk Determination for Methylene Chloride
A revised risk determination finalized by EPA on Nov. 10 finds that methylene chloride “presents an unreasonable risk of injury to human health.” According to EPA, methylene chloride is used as a solvent in vapor degreasing and metal cleaning as well as an ingredient in sealants and adhesive removers. The chemical also has consumer applications such as adhesives, sealants, degreasers, cleaners, and automobile products that contain methylene chloride. Adverse human health effects from acute and chronic inhalation and dermal exposures to methylene chloride include neurotoxicity and liver effects, EPA notes. The agency also identifies risks for cancer from chronic inhalation and dermal exposures to the chemical. The severity and potential irreversibility of the health effects associated with exposures to methylene chloride prompted EPA to use its “whole chemical risk determination approach” for the chemical rather than making separate risk determinations for individual conditions of use. The revised risk determination differs from previous risk evaluations of methylene chloride in that it does not assume that all workers exposed to the chemical always or properly wear personal protective equipment. This “reflects EPA’s recognition that certain subpopulations of workers exist that may be highly exposed” for a number of potential reasons, the agency explains in a press release. For example, some workers could have increased exposure if they are not covered by OSHA standards or if the OSHA permissible exposure limit alone may be inadequate for ensuring the protection of workers’ health, which EPA states “is the case for methylene chloride.” OSHA’s permissible exposure limit for methylene chloride is 25 ppm as an 8-hour time-weighted average, and its action level is 12.5 ppm. The PEL was lowered to 25 ppm from 500 ppm in 1997. In a regulatory review of its methylene chloride standard published in 2010 (PDF), OSHA found that the standard “[remained] justified and necessary in light of ongoing hazards and fatalities” and that it should continue with no changes. Methylene chloride is found in some products used to remove paint from bathtubs. In 2013, OSHA and NIOSH jointly issued an alert about the hazards of methylene chloride for bathtub refinishers. The agencies had identified at least 14 workers since 2000 who had died while using paint stripping agents containing methylene chloride for bathtub refinishing. The alert advised employers to provide adequate ventilation and respiratory protection for these workers. A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2021 identified 85 fatalities linked to use of methylene chloride paint strippers between 1980 and 2018. Most of the deaths—87 percent—occurred in occupational settings. EPA intends to develop a risk management rule for methylene chloride. “[EPA] will strive for consistency with existing OSHA requirements or best industry practices when those measures would address the identified unreasonable risk,” the agency explains. “EPA will propose occupational safety measures in the risk management process that would meet [the Toxic Substances Control Act’s] statutory requirement to eliminate unreasonable risk of injury to health and the environment.” The agency’s revised risk determination is available online. For more information, see EPA’s press release and its risk management webpage for methylene chloride.
ASHRAE to Develop IAQ Pathogen Mitigation Standard
ASHRAE, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers, announced in December that it will develop a national indoor air quality pathogen mitigation standard. The organization aims to finalize the new consensus-based, code-enforceable standard within six months. ASHRAE cites the recent convergence of the influenza, respiratory syncytial, and SARS-CoV-2 viruses as one reason for expediting development of its IAQ pathogen mitigation standard, which will provide guidance for jurisdictions and building owners. The standard will address design and operation; alternative paths with the goal of equivalent clean air; and testing, verification, documentation or commissioning, and periodic recommissioning. ASHRAE says it will gather a team of internationally recognized experts to develop the IAQ pathogen mitigation standard. For more information, read the news release. Other COVID-19 resources from ASHRAE are available on the organization's website.
Study Describes COPD Mortality by Industry and Occupation
NIOSH researchers have published a report that describes mortality rates in 2020 for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, by industry and occupation. The mining and food service industries had the highest proportionate mortality ratios (PMR) for COPD, a lung disease that causes long-term respiratory symptoms and airflow limitation and which ranks as the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States in 2020. The study was published in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
NIOSH researchers analyzed fatality data for more than 3 million people 15 years of age and older from 46 states and New York City. Ten percent of the decedents had COPD listed on their death certificate. To determine the PMR, researchers divided the actual number of deaths from COPD in specific industries and occupations by the expected number of deaths from COPD. In 10 of 23 industries and 11 of 26 occupations, the PMR was “significantly elevated,” the report explains. The mining and food services industries had PMRs of 1.33 and 1.28, respectively. The construction industry had the third highest PMR at 1.23.
Among occupations, the highest PMRs were for food preparation and serving-related workers (1.30), healthcare support workers (1.29), and construction and extraction workers (1.29).
While smoking is a risk factor for COPD, one in four workers with COPD have never smoked, according to published studies. Workplace exposures that increase the risk of COPD include dust, fumes, gases, vapors, and secondhand smoke.
Read the report on the CDC website.
Senate Confirms New CSB Chairperson, Board Member
In December, the United States Senate confirmed Stephen A. Owens to be chairperson and Catherine J.K. Sandoval as a member of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB).
Owens, who was confirmed as a member of CSB in December 2021 and began his term in February 2022, previously practiced environmental, safety, and health law in Phoenix, Arizona, with a focus on chemical safety regulations and requirements. During 2009–2011, he served as EPA’s assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. Owens was also director of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality from 2003 to 2009.
President Joe Biden nominated Sandoval to be a CSB member in June 2022. According to a release published by the White House, Sandoval is a law professor at Santa Clara University in California, where her focus is on energy, communications, antitrust, and contract law.
Sandoval’s confirmation brings CSB’s board membership to three people: Owens, Sandoval, and Sylvia E. Johnson, who was confirmed as a CSB member at the same time as Owens. CSB is supposed to comprise five members who are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. Board members serve fixed terms of five years.
Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, said that “the confirmations of Mr. Owens and Ms. Sandoval come at a time when the CSB desperately needs leadership that can help the agency deliver on its important mission for the American people.”
In a separate statement, Owens said that Sandoval will “bring a wealth of experience and an important perspective to the CSB.”
More information about CSB can be found on the agency’s website.
New EPA Resources Aim to Reduce Lead Exposure During Home Renovation
New resources published by EPA are intended to raise awareness about the prevention of lead exposure during renovation, repair, and painting (RRP) projects in homes built before 1978, when lead-based paint was banned for residential use in the United States. The agency’s “Renovate Lead-Safe Media Kit” includes communications resources for those who work on pre-1978 homes and plan to film, document, or otherwise share their renovation projects with viewers, social media followers, and others. The media kit includes a fact sheet, sample public service announcement scripts, ideas for videos to promote lead-safe work practices, shareable social media posts, and a suggested shopping list. The materials discuss the risks of lead exposure during RRP projects and steps for reducing lead exposure during home renovation. They also promote the availability of contractors who are certified and trained in lead-safe work practices. The media kit is available on EPA's website.
DOL Highlights Resources for “Recovery-Ready Workplaces”
A new resource hub from the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Employment and Training Administration collects information about “recovery-ready workplaces” for workers and employers. The agency describes recovery-ready workplaces as those that adopt policies and practices intended to reduce the risk of substance use and substance use disorder among workers—for example, through the prevention of occupational injuries—and to facilitate help-seeking among employees with substance use disorders. Such workplaces can also help ensure worker access to services like treatment, recovery support, and mutual aid.
According to DOL, recovery-ready workplace policies can help reduce costs related to turnover, loss in productivity, and injury and accident risk due to substance-related impairment. Available resources include information about preventing substance use in the workforce, addressing stigma, and building the business case for recovery-ready workplace policies. Additional resources from unions and trade associations as well as agencies at the federal, state, and local levels are also available.
NIOSH describes workplaces as “a critical point of contact for Americans struggling with or recovering from a substance use disorder.” The agency refers to data from the 2018 National Survey of Drug Use and Health, conducted annually by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which found that approximately 13.6 million workers, or nearly nine percent of all employed adults, had current alcohol or illicit drug use disorders. Another 13.4 million workers reported that they were in recovery or had recovered from a substance use disorder.
For more information, visit DOL’s resource hub and the NIOSH webpage on workplace-supported recovery programs.
Study: One in Five Non-Healthcare Workers Exposed to COVID-19 on the Job
Approximately one in five workers from non-healthcare settings reported being exposed to COVID-19 at work, according to the findings of a new study conducted by NIOSH researchers. In addition, more than 48 percent of workers employed in protective service occupations, such as police officers, firefighters, correctional officers, and security guards, reported occupational exposure to COVID-19. The study, which appears in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, includes data from more than 1,100 workers ages 18–64 who were diagnosed with COVID-19 between September 2020 and June 2021.
The study found that work characteristics such as how physically close to others a person must work and whether they must interact with members of the public have an effect on different workers’ COVID-19 exposure opportunities. Researchers found that nearly 34 percent of survey respondents who had close contact with more than 10 coworkers reported being exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace, and nearly 29 percent of workers who reported being in close contact with more than 10 customers or clients per day also reported occupational exposures to COVID-19.
The authors conclude that “further research and surveillance are needed to accurately describe patterns in SARS-CoV-2 exposure inside and outside of work both for those who have worked outside the home throughout the pandemic and those who have or will transition from remote work to in-person work.”
The study is freely available to read in Clinical Infectious Diseases. More information can be found on the NIOSH website.
Agency Addresses Workplace Violence in Hospitals
A memorandum published by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in November addresses the growing number of occupational injuries and illnesses among healthcare workers due to workplace violence. CMS, a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, outlines its expectations that leadership at healthcare facilities ensure the safety of both patients and workers to facilitate the effective delivery of healthcare.
The agency expects hospitals and other healthcare settings to implement patient risk assessment strategies and to be able to demonstrate how they identify patients at risk of self-harm or who might harm others. The CMS memo also reminds leadership that under national emergency preparedness requirements, hospitals’ emergency preparedness plans must include “a documented, facility-based and community-based risk assessment, utilizing an all-hazards approach.” Additional obligations include training for staff regarding environmental safety risks for patients and identifying patients at risk of intentional harm to themselves or others as well as relevant mitigation strategies.
CMS has previously cited hospitals for failing to meet these requirements. For more information, read the memo (PDF).
3M Scott Fire & Safety Issues Respirator User Safety Notices
In November and December, 3M Scott Fire & Safety issued two safety notices regarding its products for respiratory protection.
According to the company, a small number of Air-Pak X3 Pro Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus Pak-Alert Sensor Modules were inadvertently shipped with Rayovac brand batteries, which are not approved for use, invalidating the units' intrinsic safety approval. The notice (PDF) provides instructions for identifying and replacing the batteries in these units if necessary.
A second notice (PDF) states that some mask-mounted regulators manufactured by the company were shipped without cover screws installed. The affected regulators may include E-Z Flo+ Mask Mounted Regulators with a part number of 200077-60, -67, or -68 and a manufacturing date of Aug. 22, 2022. The notice provides instructions for inspecting regulators and says that any found to be missing the cover screws should be taken out of service. Affected users should contact their 3M Scott Fire & Safety Authorized Service Center to complete the repairs required.
These and other respirator notices from manufacturers regarding conditions or risks that may exist with NIOSH-certified products can be found on the website of the NIOSH National Personal Protective Technology Equipment Laboratory.
Assessment of Stockpiled PPE Identifies Potential Quality Problems with Surgical Gowns
A NIOSH study intended to assess the effects of stockpiling on surgical gowns stored for use in future emergencies has revealed potential quality problems that may extend to gowns sold on the open market, according to a report available on the agency’s website.
From 2017 through 2019, NIOSH assessed a total of 1,040 Level 3 surgical gowns from six stockpile facilities. Level 3 gowns protect healthcare workers from microorganisms, body fluids, and particulate matter during surgical procedures. All the stockpiled gowns were manufactured in 2008 by either Medline or Cardinal Health. Testing evaluated the gowns’ resistance to spray impact, which measures how well the fabric resists strikethrough when fluids splash or spray onto the fabric, and resistance to hydrostatic pressure, which measures how well the fabric resists strikethrough when water pressure is applied to the fabric surface. These results were compared to those obtained from a control group of gowns purchased on the open market.
According to NIOSH, testing results for resistance to hydrostatic pressure “strongly indicated” quality problems with one of the six stockpiled lots of Cardinal gowns. The agency also found potential quality problems with one of the two control lots of Cardinal gowns. For the Medline gowns, five of ten stockpiled lots did not meet performance requirements specified for hydrostatic resistance as specified in ANSI/AAMI PB70:2012, Liquid Barrier Performance and Classification of Protective Apparel and Drapes Intended for Use in Health Care Facilities.
NIOSH cautions that the AAMI PB70 criteria were not intended to be used as applied in this study but concludes that the gowns “may not offer the expected level of protection.”
Read the full report.
EPA Tests Solutions for Fentanyl Remediation
Recent EPA research focuses on remediation of fentanyl-contaminated indoor environments, according to an article published in November in EPA’s Science Matters newsletter. Agency researchers tested multiple products, including some containing the organic chemical compound peracetic acid, for their ability to degrade fentanyl on common building materials contaminated with fentanyl powder, including glass, plastics, laminate, and painted drywall. They also tested special solutions containing peracetic acid while studying methods for decontaminating personal protective equipment worn by first responders. The article explains that this research is intended to address some of the limits of available information regarding methods to degrade fentanyl or remediate areas contaminated by fentanyl in real-world scenarios.
“EPA researchers investigated methods to degrade fentanyl safely in real-life remediation efforts by determining what effective and efficient mechanisms exist to clean an area contaminated with fentanyl and whether such technologies can also be used for decontamination of [PPE] materials used during emergency responses,” the agency says.
According to researchers, a “peracetic acid or activated hydrogen peroxide, and acidified hypochlorite containing solution” was the most effective decontamination solution for the cleanup of fentanyl-contaminated surfaces. Regarding first responders’ PPE, the results of EPA’s study “demonstrated that special solutions containing peracetic acid are highly effective in degrading fentanyl on PPE in only a few minutes,” according to Science Matters.
EPA intends to conduct further research including studies of fumigation methods for more complex contamination scenarios as well as studies focused on assessing potential harm posed by decontamination degradation products.
NIH Website Enables Self-Reporting of COVID-19 Test Results
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has launched a new website, MakeMyTestCount.org, which allows users to anonymously report the results of at-home COVID-19 tests. An NIH news release explains that while laboratories have an established system for sharing test results, the results of at-home COVID-19 tests are often not reported. MakeMyTestCount.org was built from the system created for lab test results.
NIH stresses that COVID-19 tests remain essential public health tools. A record of testing data helps public health departments assess the needs of communities, states, and the nation as a whole and modify their responses accordingly. According to the frequently-asked-questions section of the MakeMyTestCount.org home page, the website’s goal is to help public health workers keep communities safe by tracking how fast COVID-19 spreads and where surges are occurring. Users’ anonymous test results are sent to the same systems that receive test results from labs and doctors’ offices.
For more information, read the news release.