Health Beat–6/6/03, Page 1


EPA warns of asbestos hazard
Another hazard you should be aware of when responding to a residential structure for a fire or other emergency is insulation that bears the brand name Zonolite. It is made from the mineral vermiculite that was contaminated with asbestos. (Vermiculite looks like gravel.)

Government officials estimate that the insulation may be present in as many as tens of millions of houses across America. (This is another good reason for wearing respiratory protection. You just never know what hazards you will come across, or where you will meet them.) Disturbing it can release asbestos fibers that can cause various forms of lung cancer and other serious respiratory diseases. The amount of asbestos in the insulation or the actual extent of the risk it poses to those who live in the homes where it is present is not known. You can view the EPA’s entire vermiculite warning at

Sobering Facts About the Dangers of Diesel Fuel Emissions
“If a private individual owned your typical neighborhood fire station, that person wouldn’t be able to get an occupancy permit to open it,” says Joe Doucette, vice president of Smoke Blotter(r), Inc. of Pelham, New Hampshire. “Government buildings generally are exempt from occupational health and safety laws that apply to private enterprise.”

In a report “Cleaner Air for School Bus Riders, Firemen, and Municipal Workers,” the company’s Doucette and Ted Siska noted the following about diesel fuel hazards for firefighters, bus drivers, truckers, and railroad workers, and others who are in daily contact with diesel smoke:

  • Workers subjected to the smoke daily in their occupations are 40 times more likely to contract respiratory illness, bronchitis, and lung disease. Workers in occupations that expose them daily to diesel smoke in garages, fire stations, and loading docks are at greatest peril.
  • Diesel exhaust is genotoxic and mutagenic, and it inflames and irritates airways.
  • In 1998, after 10 years of study, the California Resources Board identified diesel exhaust particulate as a toxic air contaminant.
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has mandated that the sulfur content of diesel fuel be cut 97 percent over the next decade.
  • Children who ride school buses constitute another endangered population. They are exposed to four to eight times the maximum limits of soot when standing near a running bus at the bus stop shelter. Their chance of contracting cancer is 23 to 46 times greater than the general population.
  • A diesel engine belches the greatest amount of black smoke when it’s first starting up and when the vehicle is taking off.
  • The common sense way to reduce particulate is to trap it before it enters the atmosphere.
  • State laws do not regulate actual emission of particulate levels on school buses or emergency vehicles.
  • No federal law requires routine emission testing of school buses, emergency vehicles, or off-road machinery.
  • When evacuating the smoke from indoors to outdoors, because soot particulate is close to being microscopic and has a long airborne residency, much of it reenters the building in the so-called “canyon effect.” The rest pollutes adjacent areas.
  • Buses and trucks built before 1991 were not manufactured to conform to today’s air quality standards.

Siska invented the Smoke Blotter(r) a retrofitting system that can be installed with ordinary auto mechanic’s tools. A Phantom Switch radio-control system enables the fire department to establish “Smog Free Zones” in areas where there is a need for better protection from soot emission, such as bays inside fire stations and ambulance ports and emergency entrances at hospitals and trauma centers. The radio-controlled fume purifier activates the filtration mode automatically when it enters the protected zone and stays on as long as it is in the zone. A First Responder countdown timer model designed for dispatch vehicles principally engages the filter for a predetermined number of seconds after the engine starts, allowing enough time for the vehicle to depart the building. Additional information is at

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