Blizzard Helps Scientists Visualize Airflow Around Large Wind Turbines

Yale Environment 360 - June 25, 2014
A Minnesota blizzard has helped scientists understand airflow patterns around large wind turbines, paving the way for more efficient turbine designs and wind farm

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Airflow patterns are visible during blizzard. configurations, researchers report in Nature Communications. Wind farms lose roughly 10 to 20 percent of the potential energy they could harvest, and complex airflow patterns play the largest role in those energy losses. Studying airflow around large turbines, which can be more than 100 meters tall, is not feasible in lab settings, so scientists typically test smaller turbine models in wind tunnels and use tracer particles to visualize airflow patterns. Researchers from the University of Minnesota realized they could scale up their experiments to real-world conditions by using heavy snowfall during a blizzard to trace airflow patterns, as shown in this video. Their findings show that airflow patterns under real-world conditions differ from smaller-scale laboratory tests in important ways, and those differences should be taken into account when designing turbines and wind farms.
Categories: Environment, Health

Searching for safer chemicals – but safer for whom? New EPA flame retardants report highlights the dilemma

Pump Handle - June 25, 2014

When a widely used chemical is identified as an environmental health hazard and targeted for phase-out and elimination, among the most challenging questions for those involved with using and making such a chemical are: What to use instead? and Will the replacement be safe? The US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) report identifying alternatives to the flame retardant hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) illustrates how difficult those questions can be to answer. It also highlights how important it is to consider the entire life-cycle of finished products when looking for hazardous chemical replacements.

So what’s the problem?  HBCD has been used as a flame retardant since the late 1960s, primarily in the polystyrene foams known as expanded and extruded polystyrene (EPS and XPS) used to insulate buildings. It’s also been used in high-impact-polystyrene plastics in electronic equipment and the back-coatings of textiles, mainly for upholstered furniture. But like other brominated flame retardants (notably the widely-used polybrominated biphenyl ethersPBDEs) HBCD has turned out to be persistent, bioaccumulative (able to biomagnify and move up the food web as it collects in fat tissue) and toxic. It’s an endocrine disruptor with adverse reproductive, developmental, neurological and other hormonal effects. It’s also potentially carcinogenic and highly toxic to aquatic organisms. HBCD has been found in wildlife worldwide, in indoor air, household dust, human blood, fat tissue and breast milk, and it has the ability to cross the placenta. Its toxicity has earned it a spot on the list of chemicals covered by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. Europe will discontinue its use in 2015, Canada a year later and Japan has added HBCD to the list of highly toxic substances whose use is prohibited.

Given these concerns,any new use of HBCD must be reported to the US EPA, and the EPA’s Design for Environment Program (DfE) convened a process to find out what safer alternatives might exist for use in insulation foams.

What the DfE process found were three existing chemical products that could be used as possible drop-in replacements for HBCD in these polystyrene foams. Two are TBBPA (tetrabromobisphenol-A) compounds that are environmentally persistent and – like HBCD – are bioaccumulative and also have an array of adverse health effects. The third, which the DfE report identifies as a “viable” and “safer” alternative to HBCD is a compound called butadiene styrene brominated copolymer. While this chemical is also environmentally persistent, as a polymer, this flame retardant is a big molecule, so in EPA’s assessment the butadiene styrene brominated copolymer is considered “unlikely to be released from the polystyrene” in which it’s used. Because of its molecular size and structure, it’s also expected to have low adverse human and environmental health effects, although the DfE report notes that data are not available for all toxicity endpoints and “its long-term behavior in the environment is not currently known.”

Limitations of the DfE process

While the EPA’s DfE process did find an apparently less toxic, drop-in replacement for HBCD, EPA notes that its identification of such a chemical doesn’t mean that the agency is recommending this substance. And the DfE process has limitations that prevent it from focusing on solutions that may be safer throughout the entire life-cycle of the products where HBCD has been used. The DfE assessments are limited to chemicals as they’re marketed commercially – in this case, the whole polymer being used as a flame retardant – rather than the chemicals that make up that product.The process is also structured so that DfE focuses on the problem chemical – such as the HBCD – rather than the design of the whole product in which it’s used.

What this means is that the DfE process as it’s structured doesn’t allow EPA to look at the environmental health impacts of the butadiene and styrene – both potential carcinogens – that are components of the flame retardant identified as a safer alternative to HBCD. This also means that the DfE analysis does not really delve into the environmental heath impacts or implications of relying on polystyrene foam for the EPS and XPS-based insulation products.

“Polystyrene is inherently flammable,” points out Kathy Curtis, Executive Director of Clean and Healthy New York, whose organization participated in theDfE HBCD Partnership, as the process is called. She commends what EPA has done to consider materials that can be used instead of polystyrene foams in addition to drop-in replacements for HBCD – the DfE report includes an overview of such products, among them mineral wool and perlite – but says more attention needs to be paid to solutions that aren’t direct substitutes. “Design matters,” says Curtis.

A 2011 United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Risk Management Evaluation of HBCD, which outlines alternatives to polystyrene insulation foam containingHBCD in greater detail than the EPA’s DfE report, noted that “current building practice from Sweden and Norway, where most of the EPS and XPS used is HBCD-free, suggests that fire-safety of building materials and buildings can be obtained at a reasonable cost without the use of HBCD and without altering traditional building and construction techniques to a great extent.” While the DfE report mentions this possibility along with other options for insulation materials, it doesn’t attempt to look at these products’ environmental health impacts. But if other countries can safely insulate buildings without environmentally persistent and potentially toxic flame retardants, why can’t this be done in the US?

Whole product and life-cycle concerns

Healthy Building Network Senior Researcher Jim Vallette points out that when it comes to occupational hazards of working with EPS and XPS insulation materials, “Other than the HBCD, the logical primary concern is residual styrene monomer in the polystyrene.”

He’s talking about people working with the finished insulation products, but also explains that exposure concerns would be greater for workers involved with manufacturing these polystyrene foams and for those employed in plants where HBCD is produced. Occupational exposures are also a concern at the end of product life, when these insulation or other materials containing HBCD (or polystyrene) are disposed of.

The EPA DfE report cites a European study that measured elevated airborne HBCD dust levels in an industrial plant and found HBCD in plant workers’ blood. It also cites a study from China suggesting that over 60% of the HBCD particles released during thermal cutting of EPS and XPS would be able to penetrate lung tissue.  And despite the large volume of published studies on the environmental fate of HBCD and its health effects – including by US scientists – the DfE report notes what seems to be a striking lack of comparable attention to occupational exposure to HBCD. “No readily available HBCD occupational exposure information – including biomonitoring data – was found for U.S. workers,” writes EPA.

But polystyrene with HBCD is not the only plastic insulation material prompting occupational health concerns. One of the other popular insulation products, spray polyurethane foams that are used in buildings, also pose health hazards for workers. (They’re also a serious concern in the automotive industry where these spray polyurethanes are often used.) These materials are made with isocyanates – a common one is toluene diisocyanate – that pose serious respiratory hazards and can cause asthma, bronchitis and emphysema among other illnesses. (California has selected these spray polyurethanes as one of its targeted “priority products” under the state’s Safer Consumer Products Regulations.) Isocyanates can be absorbed through the skin as well as inhaled and don’t carry an odor that might signal exposure. And it’s entirely possible that people working in construction and the automotive industry – among others – may be exposed to both the isocyanates in polyurethane spray insulation materials, and the HBCD and any other compounds, including some styrene, while manufacturing, preparing and installing EPS- and XPS-based insulation.

But it doesn’t look as if polystyrene products – which make up about 40% of global styrene production (estimated at more than 21 million tons in 2010) – will be going away any time soon. In anticipation of the 2015 EU date for eliminating HBCD use, chemical manufacturers have been ramping up production of the substitute polymeric flame retardant that the DfE report identified – a move supported by chemical companies that produce styrene, an industry worth about $41.8 billion in 2012.

The challenges of finding alternatives to these insulation products that perform equally well are considerable – but some are already in use. But as the problems with HBCD and those associated with drop-in replacements suggest, perhaps the questions we should be asking are: What’s the best way to insulate buildings? and What are the life-cycle impacts of these materials? Obviously these aren’t easy or inexpensive questions to answer but the gains in improved human and environmental health seem well worth the investment.

Elizabeth Grossman is the author of Chasing Molecules: Poisonous Products, Human Health, and the Promise of Green ChemistryHigh Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health, and other books. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications including Scientific AmericanYale e360Environmental Health PerspectivesEnsia, The Washington Post, Salon and The Nation. 

Categories: Health

Concentrated Solar Power Could Compete with Natural Gas, Study Says

Yale Environment 360 - June 24, 2014
Concentrated solar power (CSP) could meet a substantial percentage of current energy demand in some parts of the world, according to research

CSP plant in San Bernardino County, CA published in the journal Nature Climate Change. In the Mediterranean region, for example, the study shows that a grid-connected CSP network could provide 70 to 80 percent of current electricity demand, at no extra cost compared to natural gas-fired power plants. CSP could also feasibly meet energy demands in parts of southern Africa, according to researchers. CSP systems use mirrors or lenses to concentrate solar rays into a small area. The concentrated energy heats a liquid that produces steam to drive turbines, which means that the collected energy can be stored as heat and converted to electricity when needed — a major advantage over solar panels, which store energy much less efficiently.
Categories: Environment, Health

Not an “accident”: Jason Nolte, 31, suffers fatal work-related injury at Aurora, Colorado company

Pump Handle - June 24, 2014

Jason Nolte, 31, suffered fatal traumatic injuries on Saturday, June 21 while working at a window company in Aurora, Colorado. Local stations KMGH, KDVR and KUSA provides some initial information on Nolte’s death:

  • The incident occurred at about 8:30 a.m. at Manko Window Systems
  • Nolte was helping to unload two crates of glass
  • Nolte was crushed by the 4,000 pound load
  • A former employee of the facility said it wasn’t the first time that glass fell on a worker at the plant. He said he’d give their safety program a D-minus grade.

OSHA will conduct a post-fatality inspection of the plant. If the agency’s inspectors identify violations of health safety regulations, the company will be cited.

Manko Window Systems has a history with OSHA. Its Mahattan, Kansas facility has been subject to five OSHA inspections since 2005. It’s racked up two repeat and 13 serious violations. The site is currently in the midst of another OSHA inspection.

OSHA inspectors were at the Aurora, Colorado facility twice since 2004, both as a result of complaints. Those inspections resulted in four serious and one repeat violation. The company was cited for a variety of violations, including those related to forklifts, aerial lifts, guarding, and control of hazardous energy (lockout/tagout.) The company has paid about $25,000 in OSHA penalties for infractions at its Aurora and Manhattan facilities.

Manko Window Systems also has facilities in Omaha, NE, Des Moines, IA and Junction City, KS. The company has 400 employees and manufacturers commercial window systems, entrance doors, and storefront systems.

Each year, nearly 100 workers in Colorado are fatally injured on-the-job. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 82 work-related fatalities in Colorado during 2012 (most recent available data.) Nationwide, at least 4,628 workers suffer fatal traumatic injuries that year.

The AFL-CIO’s annual Death on the Job report notes:

  • Federal OSHA has 28 inspectors in Colorado to cover more than 151,000 workplaces.
  • The average penalty for a serious violation in Colorado is $1,649.

Federal OSHA has until mid-December to issue any citations and penalties related to the incident that stole Jason Nolte’s life.  It’s likely they’ll determine that Manko Window Systems’ safety program was inadequate and Nolte’s death was preventable. It was no “accident.”

Categories: Health

Too Much of a Good Thing

EWG Toxics - June 24, 2014
Categories: Health

Life on the Mississippi: Tale of the Lost River Shrimp

Yale Environment 360 - June 24, 2014
The 20th-century re-engineering of the Mississippi River wreaked havoc on natural systems and devastated once-abundant populations of native river shrimp. Biologist Paul Hartfield has focused his work on studying these creatures, which were known for making one of the world’s great migrations. BY PAUL GREENBERG
Categories: Environment, Health

Citizen Scientists: Using the How Citizen Scientists Are Using the Web to Track the Natural WorldWeb To Keep Track of the Environment

Yale Environment 360 - June 23, 2014

By making the recording and sharing of environmental data easier than ever, web-based technology has fostered the rapid growth of so-called citizen scientists — volunteers who collaborate with scientists to collect and interpret data. Numerous Internet-based projects now make use of citizen scientists to monitor environmental health and to track sensitive plant and wildlife populations. From counting butterflies, frogs, and bats across the globe, to piloting personal drones capable of high-definition infrared imaging, citizen scientists are playing a crucial role in collecting data that will help researchers understand the environment. Here is a sampling of some of these projects.
View the gallery.
Categories: Environment, Health

Citizen Scientists: Using the Web To Keep Track of the Environment

Yale Environment 360 - June 23, 2014

By making the recording and sharing of environmental data easier than ever, web-based technology has fostered the rapid growth of so-called citizen scientists — volunteers who collaborate with scientists to collect and interpret data. Numerous Internet-based projects now make use of citizen scientists to monitor environmental health and to track sensitive plant and wildlife populations. From counting butterflies, frogs, and bats across the globe, to piloting personal drones capable of high-definition infrared imaging, citizen scientists are playing a crucial role in collecting data that will help researchers understand the environment. Here is a sampling of some of these projects.
View the gallery.
Categories: Environment, Health

Assistant fatally burned in UCLA professor’s lab, not an obstacle in receiving NIH grants

Pump Handle - June 23, 2014

The June 2014 news on UCLA chemistry professor Patrick G. Harran’s website announces his lab’s award of an NIH grant. I wonder if it will be updated with his other news for the month?

Last week, Harran settled criminal charges with the Los Angeles County district attorney (DA) for the work-related death of Sheri Sangji, 23. Sangji was a research assistant in Harran’s lab. She’d only been on the job a few months. She was hired primarily to set up lab equipment, but on Dec. 29, 2008 she was assigned to use tert-butyllithium (tBuLi). The highly reactive liquid ignites spontaneously when exposed to air. The flash fire seriously injured Sangji. She suffered the intense medical treatment for the burns, but succumb to her injuries on January 16, 2009.

After an investigation by the California Bureau of Investigations (BOI) and Cal/OSHA, the DA issued an arrest warrant in December 2011 for Harran (and the Regents of UCLA) for willfully violating worker safety standards. (Details from previous posts here and here.)

Now, two and a half years later, the legal proceedings seem to be coming to a close. On June 21, the DA and Harran signed a non-prosecution agreement to settle the case. Chemical & Engineering News (CEN) reports on the terms of the agreement:

  • Harran must develop and teach an organic chemistry preparatory course for the South Central Scholars, a volunteer organization that helps prepare Los Angeles inner-city high school students for college and graduate school. … Harran must teach this course each summer of the five-year term of the agreement.
  • Harran must complete 800 hours of community service in the UCLA hospital system…[performing]  jobs such as delivering food to patients.
  • Harran must pay a $10,000 fine which will be given to the Grossman Burn Centers.
  • Harran must talk with all incoming UCLA chemistry and biology students about laboratory safety.
  • Harran must not violate California labor code over the five-year term.

Over the next five years, if Harran violates the terms of the agreement, the charges against him will proceed to a trial. According to the CEN reporter, the presiding judge said Harran’s compliance would be monitored at regular court appearances. The judge added:

“[Harran] will be given one chance to get this right.”

UCLA’s press offered released a statement following the announcement of the settlement. It notes that both Harran and UCLA

“have agreed not to deny responsibility for the conditions under which the laboratory was operated at the time of the accident.”

It seems pretty much business as usual  if you look at the website for Harran’s lab. There are announcements of students completing their doctoral theses, and others receiving post-doc fellowships. The two most recent entries publicize the lab’s recent award, in April and June, of two NIH grants. Sheri Sangji’s work-related death is clearly not obstacle to the lab receipt of federal research funding.

Harran offered a public statement of remorse. Sheri Sangji’s sister, Naveen Sangji, MD noted that his remarks were a condition of the settlement.

I hope Harran begins each of his community-service teaching gigs by telling the students why he’s in their classroom.  It could be something like:

I’m here because a young research assistant in my lab was fatally burned. I failed to ensure my lab was safe and provide the appropriate training and protective gear. She died because of my actions.

Categories: Health

Study: Safe Routes to School investments save millions and improve quality of life

Pump Handle - June 20, 2014

Building safe ways for children to bike and walk to school is more than just a way of encouraging kids to go outside and get active. According to a new study, it’s also an investment that reaps millions of dollars in societal gains. In other words, smart walking and biking infrastructures for kids make good economic sense.

Published in the July issue of the American Journal of Public Health, the study examined the cost-effectiveness of Safe Routes to School (SRTS) infrastructure in just one city — New York City. SRTS was initially enacted in 2005 as part of a massive federal transportation bill known as the Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act and was supported with more than $600 million that states could use to build new sidewalks and bike lanes and enhance road safety features. In New York City alone, the study found that SRTS is linked with an overall net societal benefit of $230 million as well as 2,055 quality-adjusted life years gained, which measures the quality and quantity of life gained through a health intervention. And like many such public health ROI (that’s return on investment) studies, that’s a conservative estimate.

“To be honest, I wasn’t really sure what we would find,” said study co-author Peter Muennig, an associate professor of health policy and management at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. “Changes to intersections are not that expensive and they last a really long time, but on the other hand, the chance of any one person getting killed at an intersection is fairly tiny. So we went into it not really knowing what would happen. But when you look across the whole city, the effect was pretty big.”

To conduct the study, which examined the impact of SRTS on everyone and not just schoolchildren, Muennig and his study colleagues focused on intersections with histories of high injury rates and estimated the long-term impact of SRTS improvements on injury and its associated economic and quality-of-life costs. They found that SRTS saves $5,500 per user and results in a net gain of about 0.02 quality-adjusted life years per user, noting that “in the parlance of cost-effectiveness analysis, SRTS is said to ‘dominate’ a no investment strategy, indicating that every dollar spent on SRTS saves both money and lives.” When all users of SRTS improvements are taken into account over 50 years, it comes to a net benefit of $230 million and more than 2,000 quality-adjusted life years gained. The study also found that even if the gains are isolated to just school-age children, SRTS still saves money over the long run.

Muennig told me that this is a conservative estimate, as it doesn’t account for other ways SRTS may impact health, such as the impact that increased physical activity can have chronic diseases such as obesity. Noting that SRTS has been found to increase walking and biking among children (click here for a wealth of evidence on inclusive transportation planning, physical activity and child health from the Safe Routes To School National Partnership), Muennig and co-authors Michael Epstein, Guohua Li, and Charles DiMaggio write:

About one third of obese children become obese adults, and obese adults accrue many additional costs, such as lost productivity costs, and obesity accounts for upwards of 10% of all medical costs. Moreover, the rise in obesity expenditures outstrips the medical portion of the consumer price index in part because obesity rates are increasing and in part because, as the population ages, the obese incur disproportionate costs.Were SRTS to prevent a small number of cases of obesity in each cohort, this benefit alone would likely pay for the entire program over time.

Muennig said the SRTS benefits that he and his colleagues found would likely be even greater in communities that don’t already have the extensive pedestrian networks that New York City does. In the context of a serious obesity epidemic in the United States, he added that smarter transportation and urban planning that supports safe walking and biking could be a key component to creating healthier populations.

“(Efforts such as SRTS) get people out and moving around in ways that don’t require a lot of volition on their part,” he told me. “Urban redesign to reduce dependence on motor vehicles has great promise. From a theoretical standpoint, it holds much greater promise than hoping people will diet and exercise on their own.”

Muennig said he hopes advocates will use his findings to justify continued investments in pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure and enhancement, though he knows it can be a tough sell. In the latest iteration of the federal transportation funding bill, now known as Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, or MAP-21, SRTS was combined with other biking and walking programs and funding was cut by more than 30 percent.

“It’s a tough funding environment in general,” Muennig said. “There’s a strong movement toward across-the-board budget cuts and we’re not thinking carefully enough about which cuts are targeting investments that will produce monetary returns and which are needed to address the deficit. …If you don’t have functioning roads, you don’t have a functioning economy. If you have a sick and obese population, you can’t have a functioning economy. We need to think carefully, on both the left and the right, about which kinds of investments will produce returns over the long run.”

To request a full copy of the latest SRTS study, visit the American Journal of Public Health. To learn more about Safe Routes to School, visit Safe Routes to School National Partnership. And to read more about why transportation design matters to community health and how inadequate public transportation disproportionately affects low-income workers, read Liz Borkowski’s recent post here.

Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for more than a decade.

Categories: Health

Average Summer Temperatures in U.S. Have Risen Up To 5 Degrees Since 1970

Yale Environment 360 - June 20, 2014
Summer temperatures in the U.S. have been rising on average 0.4 degrees F per decade since 1970, or about

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Average summertime temperature increases 2 degrees F overall, but the Southwest and West regions have borne the brunt of those increases, according to an analysis by Climate Central. In the Southwest, temperatures have risen an average of 0.6 degrees per decade, with a few localized areas warming as much as 0.9 degrees per decade. In the West, some parts of California and Nevada have warmed 1.32 degrees F per decade, or more than 5 degrees total since 1970. On the other end of the spectrum, the Upper Midwest has seen the lowest increases. Temperatures in that region have increased only 0.1 degree F per decade on average. The National Climate Assessment, released last month, found that annual average temperatures in the U.S. could increase by 10 degrees F before the end of the century if the rate of greenhouse gas emissions doesn't slow.
Categories: Environment, Health

It feels good to be cheered down a mountain by a throng of friends, supporters and family members

Breast Cancer Fund - June 19, 2014
Our Climb Against the Odds 2014 team made it back to civilization today in high spirits. Twenty of the 25 climbers made it to the top of the 14,179-foot Mount Shasta. The remaining five climbers made it to at least...
Categories: Health

Rerouting Flights to Avoid Contrails Would Slow Climate Change

Yale Environment 360 - June 19, 2014
Rerouting the flight paths of commercial aircraft to minimize the condensation trails, or contrails, they leave behind would help slow global warming, even if

Click to Enlarge

Alternate flight paths to avoid contrail formation the new flight path is longer, according to research published today. Contrails, thin clouds composed of ice crystals condensed from an aircraft's exhaust, can persist for 17 hours or more and are likely the single largest contributor to climate change associated with aviation. They form when a plane passes through parts of the atmosphere that are very cold and moist, usually near high pressure systems. The new research shows that avoiding contrail formation has greater climate benefits than avoiding additional carbon dioxide emissions associated with slightly longer flight routes. For example, for a small aircraft that is predicted to form a contrail 20 miles long, an alternative path that adds less than 200 miles will have a smaller climate impact than the contrail. For a larger aircraft, which emits more CO2 per mile than a smaller plane, the alternative route is preferable if it adds less than 60 miles, according to researchers from the University of Reading.
Categories: Environment, Health

Peak Coal: Why the Industry’s Dominance May Soon Be Over

Yale Environment 360 - June 19, 2014
The coal industry has achieved stunning growth in the last decade, largely due to increased demand in China. But big changes in China’s economy and its policies are expected to put an end to coal’s big boom. BY FRED PEARCE
Categories: Environment, Health

“Decide to be safe” is not an answer to workplace hazards

Pump Handle - June 19, 2014

Motivational speaker Kina Repp shares a dramatic story when she addresses audiences at occupational health and safety conferences. In 1990, Repp lost her arm in a piece of machinery when she was working at a seafood canning plant in Alaska. She was a college student trying to earn money for college tuition. It was Repp’s first day on the job—-only 40 minutes into her shift—-when the machine caught her arm. Repp not only lost her arm, her shoulder blade was torn off, she had a broken collarbone, a severe neck injury and a collapsed lung.

Repp was the keynote speaker at a recent conference organized by the State of Oregon’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Oregon OSHA) and its S&H Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP).  The Associated Press (AP) covered the event and reported:

“Another worker didn’t notice she was working on the underside of the belt and flipped the machine to high speed. Her left arm disappeared underneath a 24-inch-diameter roller in an instant. She held tight to a bar with her right arm until someone shut off the conveyor belt. Then she lost consciousness. ‘To this day, I wish I could forget the sound the machine made, the sound of my arm breaking, the sheer panic.’”

Setting aside the gruesomeness of her injuries, something else caught my attention in the AP story.

“‘I knew what I was doing was dangerous. I didn’t understand that machine. I gave away my safety that day. It was 100 percent preventable. It absolutely didn’t have to happen.’” She ticked off reasons why people have accidents at work. Fatigue. Complacency. Lack of training. Losing focus. Indifference. Attitude. Anger.”

It sounds like Kina Repp blames herself for the life-changing injury she sustained. That message—given at a safety conference—troubles me. The suggestion that workers are injured because they are “complacent,” “lose focus,” are “fatigued,” etc. leaves out the crux of workplace safety: fixing the hazards. Having a safety guard in place, or de-energizing equipment when it’s being repaired, will take care of the problem. Those fixes will protect workers’ lives—-whether or not workers are fatigued or lose focus.  Afterall, we’re not robots—many of us do get fatigued and we do lose focus. That’s not our fault. That’s because we’re human.

Repp’s experience is particularly interesting because she was only 40 minutes into her first day on the job. Forty minutes into the job, in one of the most hazardous industries in Alaska, and it’s her fault?  And it’s hard for me to believe that a college student eager for money was “indifferent” or “complacent.”  More likely, whatever training (if any) she received in those first 40 minutes had little to do with safety.  I cringed when I heard Repp say:

“I didn’t understand that machine,” and “No one knew how to turn off the machine.”

Repp’s wrong to blame herself for not understanding the machine—-apparently no one else did. A “you be safe out there” message won’t cut it when nobody even knows how to turn off a machine that can mangle a worker’s arm.

I realize the AP story did not cover her entire speech. I was curious what else she mentions in her safety speeches. Does she mention the responsibility of employers to ensure their workplaces are safe? When she addresses audiences with young workers, does she explain that there are certain tasks that workers under age 18 are prohibited from doing?

I checked out Kina Repp’s website and found several of her previous talks posted on YouTube. There’s no doubt she is inspiring and embraces life. She now has four children. She’s run 13 marathons and has a black belt in karate. Her family and friends are amazed at her determination (and success) at overcoming the physical challenges of having only one arm.

I don’t mean to diminish those accomplishments or her inspirational message. But the bulk of her safety message misses the mark. She places much too much emphasis on how workers are responsible for keeping themselves safe.

“I just feel so passionate about wanting for people to understand this is about you.  Making choices and making decisions to keep yourself safe. Repp holds up her prosthetic arm and says ‘this is what I traded my safety for that day.’”

She goes on:

“No matter your safety program, it all comes down to us. We make those minute-to-minute, second to second decisions, that dictate our personal safety. You are your last line of defense in safety. It boils down to you and the choices you make.”

The stage on which Kina Repp addressed the audience had a banner overhead. It was probably posted by the company hosting the event and likely referred to their record without a work-related injury. It read:

“5 million hours: Decide to be safe.”

A worker can decide all she wants to be safe, but if there are hazards that haven’t been addressed—-from poor ventilation and exposure to carcinogens, to disengaged safety devices on machines or blocked fire exits—she can be injured, made ill or killed by her job. Kina Repp should not blame herself. The finger pointing should not be directed at the victim, but at the employer who allowed the hazard to go unaddressed.

Categories: Health

Climbers slide back in to base camp

Breast Cancer Fund - June 18, 2014
Many of the climbers glissaded, or slid, back to base camp as you can see below. Leslie Kelly, Bridget Vanoni, Marlyss Bird, Lucas Parsons, Arthur Morgan, Lindsey Dal Parto, Tessa Montgomery, Cathy Ann Taylor, Frederique Mary, Barbara Winter and Maryann...
Categories: Health

2014 Team members reach personal summits

Breast Cancer Fund - June 18, 2014
It's incredibly rare for a whole Climb Against the Odds team to make it this far, and we are so proud of our whole team. Twenty of the 25 climbers have reached the pinnacle of Mt. Shasta: Arthur Morgan Lindsey...
Categories: Health

Second group of climbers reach Mt. Shasta summit

Breast Cancer Fund - June 18, 2014
Robert Abramowitz, Ruth Walter, Katie Bernell and Cristin Bailey have made it 14,179 feet to the top of Mt. Shasta! Ruth Walter lived only one mile away from Ground Zero on 9/11 and was breast feeding her daughter. After that...
Categories: Health

First climbers reach the summit

Breast Cancer Fund - June 18, 2014
We have confirmation that at least three people have reached the summit and others are close behind. Leslie Kelly, her daughter Bridget Vanoni and the North Face-sponsored climber, Marlyss Bird, have all reached the summit! Leslie Kelly was diagnosed with...
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