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December 1998 Newsletter

From The President

A lot is happening as we gain momentum in our 1998-99 season. We’ve had three stimulating dinner meetings, one which included a brief update on the Association’s proposed name change - Occupational Health, Safety & Environment Association (OHSEA). According to AIHA by-laws, to become a reality the name change must be approved by 2/3 of the members WHO VOTE (in January). The way I see it, two camps have formed around this issue. Those who practice IH and do not get involved in safety or environment - I’ll call them IHcons. They oppose the name change. Those who practice IH and do have significant involvement in safety and environment I’ll call IHpros. They agree with the name change. I must admit, my allegiance is with the IHpros. You may not agree with my generalizations, but one thing is for sure, January’s vote will decide if we become IHs in OHSEA or remain IHs in AIHA. So, don’t be an IHinvisible - an IH not reflected in statistics. Your vote counts!

On a positive note - it looks like the ABIH has reconsidered its maintenance certification point verification policy. According to their web site, no verification beyond the traditional hotel, airline, and registration receipt are required for conference attendance. The regimental 4-hour verifications are no longer required.

As far as local news goes, the joint LV-AIHA/ASSE/NSC spring conference is still debatable. Communication between the groups has been lacking with little consensus on logistics. We haven’t given up completely, although we have reserved April 14 and 15 at the Bethlehem Holiday Inn as fall back dates for our own seminar, if it comes to that.

Plans for a joint meeting with the Air and Waste Management Association are being made for January. The AWMA is excited about the prospect and it fits well with my "vision" to network with the Valley’s environmental professionals.

Our next dinner meeting is on January 13, 1999. Our speaker is our treasurer Jim Kershner talking about EH&S management systems and the environmental management standard ISO-14001. Jim was a key person in the establishment of the conformance to the ISO-14001 standard of the environmental management system at the Allentown Facility of Lucent Technologies.

And finally, I wish all of you a Happy Holiday Season and may the New Year bring you everything you want.

John Mosovsky


Lucent and Project XL (Part II)

As you may recall from the previous newsletter, the Allentown Facility of Lucent Technologies is Part of EPA’s Project XL which is part of the federal government’s attempt to reinvent itself. The idea is that "in order to test innovative approaches to reinvent environmental protection for the 21st Century, Project XL offers potential project sponsors and co-sponsors the opportunity to develop and implement alternative strategies that produce superior environmental performance." SEP is defined in EPA guidance published in the Federal Register on April 23, 1997.

To show the EPA that what you propose is indeed SEP you have to establish a "quantitative benchmark of the project against the environmental performance that would have occurred absent the program." Translated, this means that if you are claiming that you already have SEP, then you have to figure out what your environmental performance would have been had you not been doing all the good environmental things.

The Allentown Facility is currently in the negotiation stages of the project. What this means is that we meet with the EPA and PADEP and discuss. It can be very difficult because we are talking with people who are regulators and want to regulate. Part of being a regulator is being suspicious of what company representatives tell you. You find yourself constantly trying to convince the regulators that what you are saying to them is the truth and furthermore that what you want is reasonable.

Negotiations are continuing and we expect to have something final by the first quarter of 1999. I will keep you posted through this newsletter.--WRK


Molds and Indoor Air Quality, Fact or Fiction?

R. Vincent Miller, Ph.D.
Aerotech Laboratories, Inc.

Molds have always had a love/hate relationship with humankind. Our early ancestors found out that molds and yeast could turn milk in to cheese and fruit juice into wine. But other molds have been the plague of humanity. Mold infected rye with ergot toxins destroyed over 30,000 men in a single night in Alexander’s army. And a mold destroyed the potato crop in Ireland resulting in one of the world’s worst famines. Now it appears, if you believe all the newspaper articles that we are yet again under siege by a mold, this time in the walls, ceilings, and carpets of our homes, schools and workplaces.

Public attention to molds in indoor environments really started from an incident that occurred in Cleveland, beginning in 1994. In this incident, cases of pulmonary disease in infants were associated with the presence of the mold, Stachybotrys, in the homes of the children. Subsequent research by scholars in the United States and Europe resulted in the isolation of a number of toxic and immunotoxic compounds from this organism.

Pulmonary disease symptoms could be induced in laboratory animals with high dosages of spores containing toxin, whereas toxin alone did not induce symptoms and spores from non-toxic strains induced only an allergic reaction. From the interest stimulated from this incident a number of case histories have been studied, many from the Nordic regions of Europe. These studies indicate that exposure to a number of molds including Stachybotrys, Penicillium, and Aspergillus, can cause symptoms in exposed people ranging from mild allergic reactions to pulmonary reactions to acute neurological, pulmonary, and immunological effects.

The current evidence, though not complete, certainly indicates that acute massive exposures to toxic molds can affect health. What remains a question though is, what are the effects of the long-term less concentrated chronic exposures that are probably more commonly experienced by people? This question cannot be fully answered at this time because such studies have simply not been done. What we can do though, is to extrapolate potential health effects based on the biology and biochemistry of these organisms and their toxins. Stachybotrytoxicosis, a disease in animals and man caused by aerosols of massive amounts of Stachybotrys spores has been described in farmers from Eastern Europe. Symptoms of this disease included rashes, respiratory symptoms, ulcers on mucous membranes, and low white-blood cell counts (leukopenia). Frederick Fung, Richard Clark and Saralyn Williams (Journal of Toxicology, Clinical Toxicology, Jan-Mar 1998) recently wrote an excellent review of Stachybotrys, its toxins, and clinical data.

We can also use knowledge that we’ve gained on other toxins from the same chemical class. In the case of Stachybotrys, for instance, we know that this mold produces toxins that are chemically related to ones produced by Fusarium that causes toxic effects in animals fed infected grain. Studies with the Fusarium toxins are more advanced simply because this problem has been known longer. This class of chemical compounds, the trichothecins, inhibits protein synthesis resulting in the destruction of internal target organs which depends on the route of introduction. At lower concentrations the trichothecenes suppress the immune system, making animals more susceptible to infection. This immune suppression would support the observation that people in mold-infested buildings often complain of increased numbers of colds, flu, and nasal congestion.

What is not known, even with the more studied Fusarium toxins, are the effects of these toxins on other immune related or regulated systems, such as autoimmune disease symptoms or cancers. In addition, other molds (Aspergillus, Penicillium, Cladosporium) commonly found in indoor environments can produce mycotoxins including aflatoxins, ochratoxin, and patulin which are not only extremely toxic but also powerful carcinogens.

There is a school of thought that people have always been exposed to low levels of molds, particularly in humid environments without any perceivable health problems. So the question is; are these low chronic exposures of people to molds and/or their toxins of real concern? Or, are we simply overreacting to the situation? But even though many people are probably exposed to molds and their toxins and live apparently normal life spans does not mean that the molds do not have adverse effect on their health. A good analogy is with second-hand smoke. After years of denial, we now know that second-hand smoke can and indeed does affect the health of non-smokers. Thus, indoor air professionals have taken the conservative approach that the presence of molds may affect health and should be remediated no matter what.

This then leads to a third school of thought which is, that we don’t need to test or identify the organism since we have to remediate if mold is present in any circumstance in an indoor environment. Although there is some merit to this argument, there are some very good reasons for identifying the invading mold including legal protection for the building manager, homeowner, and insurance company. It also helps inform the physician of victims so that he or she can provide the best medical care. For instance, an exposure to carcinogenic toxins might suggest monitoring over the lifetime of the patient whereas exposure to trichothecenes might only require short-term monitoring of the immune system. Complicating the issue is the report that fungi capable of producing toxins do not always do so in the field. These non-toxigenic strains appear to have the genetic capacity but turn off production of toxins when there is no competitive advantage. Thus, it appears that many of these fungi only produce toxins when confronted with another competitor mold species.

So, now back to the initial theme of this discussion: Are molds really a health problem in indoor environments or is this simply a fad that will disappear over time? Clearly, a massive exposure can have potentially dramatic effects on human health. So yes, they are a health concern that must be dealt with, if for no other reason than to prevent an injurious exposure.

Should we always call a qualified professional? The reality is that with tight budgets, many homeowners, building managers, and government agencies do not feel that they can afford such services in may instances. So the industry must respond by increased education to increase public awareness, enhance safety, and help determine when a professional is really needed. What about long-term effects? We simply don’t know. What is really needed now is financial support for research programs that address the issues of long-term exposures to these organisms and their toxins. But as with other environmental issues, it is inevitable that indoor air quality will continue to expand in importance and as an industry, and molds will be integral part of this issue.

Last Updated on March 17, 2000 by our webmaster jmyers@aiha.org
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