Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Paying Attention to Daily UV Index Ratings Can Decrease the Risk of Cancer


Although studies have repeatedly shown that UV sterilization is an extremely effective method of killing airborne biological contaminants such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi, did you know that extremely high levels of outdoor UV rays from the sun can be harmful to your health?

According to AirNow, a cross-agency of the U.S. Government, the public should take into consideration UV Index ratings before going outside or engaging in any sort of strenuous outdoor activity. This is especially crucial for those who experience UV sensitivity or patients on medication that causes sun sensitivity, such as Accutane, Flexeril, Pamelor, or even Motrin.

The ozone layer shields the Earth from harmful UV radiation, but ozone depletion, as well as seasonal and weather variations, can cause different amounts of UV radiation to reach the Earth at any given time. Therefore, the UV Index was developed by the EPA and the National Weather Service to predict the day’s UV radiation levels on a 1-11+ scale, and this index has helped the public determine appropriate sun-protective behaviors. Whenever the level of solar UV radiation is predicted to be unusually high and when the risk of overexposure is greater, the EPA will thus issue what is called a “UV Alert”

In terms of how the UV Index works, it entails measuring the next day forecast of the amount of skin damaging UV radiation expected to reach the earth’s surface at the time when the sun is highest in the sky. This amount of UV radiation reaching the surface is also primarily related to the elevation of the sun in the sky, the amount of clouds present, and the amount of ozone in the stratosphere. As such, the higher the UV Index, the greater the dose rate of skin and eye damaging UV radiation; therefore, the higher the UV index, the smaller amount of time it takes before skin damage occurs.

Overexposure to UV radiation can primarily cause two serious side effects: severe sun burn following intense, short-term exposure, and serious skin cancers such as Melanoma that develop after long-term, high UV exposure. Melanoma is one of the most deadly types of skin cancer, and this usually occurs after a patient is subjected to several intense overexposures. Non-melanoma skin cancers, on the other hand, are almost 100 percent curable, and usually occur in those who are overexposed for long periods of time, such as farmers or fisherman. In addition, studies have shown that long-term UV overexposure can also cause cataracts in the eyes as well.

If your city’s UV Index is especially high and you must venture outside, follow some of these important steps:

1. Limit the amount of sun exposure and avoid going out during the late morning to early mid-day, as these are the hours with the highest UV radiation levels.

2. Wear protective clothing such as long pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and shirts with sleeves that completely cover the arms.

3. If going to the beach, remember that sand reflects the sun’s rays and will increase the chance of burning.

4. Be aware that even on cloudy days, sunburns can still occur, as clouds do not have the ability to stop UV rays.

5. Wear protective sunscreen to minimize UV ray exposure, and find a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. Light-skinned people will need to use an even higher SPF, and all sunscreens should be applied right before going out into the sun and reapplied often.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Air Quality and Aging: What's the Relationship?

As we age, our bodies become less able to compensate for the effects of environmental hazards, and studies have shown that air pollution can actually aggravate stroke, heart disease, diabetes, and lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). All of these health problems eventually lead to increased medication use, admissions to emergency rooms and hospitals, and sometimes even death.

Particulate matter and ozone have the greatest potential to affect the health of the elderly, and fine particles have been repeatedly linked to cardiac arrhythmias, heart attacks, bronchitis, and premature death. In addition, ozone has also been shown to exacerbate respiratory diseases.

In an attempt to address the issue of older adults and air quality, the EPA has developed and published fact sheets that are intended to inform older adults about environmental health risks and how to reduce those risks.

One such fact sheet deals with the problem of COPD, and the EPA notes that the disease includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema – lung diseases which frequently coexist and are characterized by obstruction to air flow, making it difficult to breathe. In terms of environmental triggers for COPD, the EPA also notes that exposure to outdoor air pollution can pose a significant risk, especially to those suffering from lung disease. As well, ozone has also been shown to aggravate respiratory diseases and may result in increased emergency room and hospital admissions.

Regarding indoor air, because older people spend more than 90 percent of their time indoors, common indoor airborne pollutants such as tobacco smoke, dust, animal dander, mold, and pollen can trigger COPD and asthma attacks. In addition, combustion products such as oil, gas, coal, and buildings and furnishings made of pressed wood can also exacerbate the above diseases.

If you or a loved one experiences symptoms of COPD or asthma, the EPA recommends consulting a doctor and taking the following precautions:

- Check the Air Quality Index if planning to spend extended time outdoors
- Avoid smoke from wood-burning stoves
- Avoid tobacco smoke
- Reduce mold and dust from your home
- Regularly check furnaces and heating units annually
- Keep pets out of sleeping areas

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Do You Have an Asbestos Problem?

Asbestos is a mineral composed of long, thin fibrous crystals, and the name is derived from a Greek adjective meaning inextinguishable. The Greeks named asbestos the “mineral miracle” because of its soft texture and pliant properties, as well as its ability to withstand heat.

Asbestos became very popular among builders and manufacturers during the late 19th century because of its resistance to heat, electricity, chemical damage, sound absorption, and strength. In fact, many building materials manufactured before 1975, including insulation, floor tiles, cement shingles, roofing, and ceiling tiles, contained large amounts of this mineral. However, due to the health effects associated with asbestos, the EPA and Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) have banned it from use, and most products made today do not contain the mineral.

Nonetheless, as mentioned above, long-term exposure to asbestos fibers have been associated with a range of health problems. Asbestos fibers are too small to be visible and they can become airborne when materials containing asbestos are disturbed or improperly removed. Once inhaled, asbestos can lead to increased incidence of lung cancer, mesothelioma (cancer of the abdominal lining and chest), and even irreversible lung scarring that can be fatal (also known as asbestosis). Unfortunately, symptoms of these diseases often do not show up until many years after exposure begins, and most people suffering from asbestos-related diseases were exposed to high concentrations while on the job.

To address asbestos problems, it is sometimes best to leave asbestos material alone, assuming it is in good condition, because material in good condition will not release asbestos fibers. However, these materials should also be periodically inspected for damage and properly handled and disposed according to appropriate officials. Also, if the asbestos material is even slightly damaged, the EPA recommends removal by a professional.

If you have had asbestos removed or sealed from your home or workplace, your second level of clean up can involve using an air purifier with a high-quality, warm-rolled, True HEPA filter, or even vacuuming floors with a HEPA vacuum. Asbestos fibers range anywhere from 0.1 to 50 microns and length, and HEPA filters must be capable of removing at least 99.97% of airborne particles as small as 0.3 microns in diameter. Therefore, while a HEPA air purifier or vacuum should not be your only line of defense against asbestos, it can certainly help filter out large fibers and keep you breathing cleaner air.

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Friday, February 01, 2008

Yamaha to Pay California $2 Million for High Emissions Motorcycles


Last week, a ruling found that Yamaha Corporation, USA and South Seas Cycle Exchange of Honolulu will have to pay over 2 million dollars to the state of California in order to settle a 2005 lawsuit over the importation of motorcycles that failed to meet California emissions standards.

The California Air Resources Board is the "clean air agency" in California, and given California's track record for high levels of air pollution, the organization was established to maintain healthy air quality; to protect the public from exposure to toxic air contaminants; and to provide innovative approaches for complying with air pollution rules and regulations. As well, the CARB is also the agency responsible for banning ozone air purifiers by the year 2009 in the state of California.

With that said, the CARB began an investigation into Yamaha’s case back in 2002, and they concluded that Yamaha had imported over 400 illegal motorcycles, registered them to Yamaha in California, obtained state license plates, and eventually sold the vehicles to California residents.

Air Resources Board Mary Nichols stated that the reason why Yamaha was targeted was because of California’s already poor air quality and she stated that "too many parts of California still fail to meet federal health levels for air quality." She also noted that due to the high levels of emissions, the Yamaha motorcycles in question "could well have contributed to Southern California’s already fouled air."

Other California motorcycle dealers had already settled this case with the Air Resources Board, but Yamaha and South Seas Cycle apparently held out until the end. In addition to paying 1.2 million dollars to the Board, the company will also be forced to pay $500,000 to fund a project to test the impact of ethanol fuel blends on emissions from off-road gasoline engines, and $300,000 to the Office of the Attorney General for attorneys' fees.

Yamaha and South Seas Cycle will also have to begin a vehicle purchasing program to buy back, remove, or destroy any motorcycles not certified for use in California. California motorcyclists can find out if their bike is illegal by looking at the emissions label, and if it does not state "California," the bike has only met federal, but not California, emissions standards.

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