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The Galson Blog

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Bill Walsh CIH


PPI Sampler Allows for Analysis of Thoracic Fraction of Sulfuric Acid Mists

Since 2004 the ACGIH TLV for sulfuric acid of 0.2 mg/m3 has carried with it a ‘T’ endnote, indicating that this TLV applied to the portion of the mist being sampled capable of penetrating the pulmonary tract into (and beyond) the Thoracic region.  This lower TLV (as opposed to the OSHA PEL of 1.0 mg/m3) is based on the theory that the farther a substance can penetrate into the respiratory tract, the more harmful it becomes.  Trying to sample the thoracic fraction of a sulfuric acid mist has caused hardships since a practical method did not really exist.

The thoracic fraction is defined as particulate having a 50% cut point diameter of 10 microns, as opposed to the 4 micron 50% cut point of the respirable fraction, and the 100 micron cut point of the inhalable fraction.

This means that when using a device to measure the thoracic fraction, 50% of the particles having a diameter of 10 microns or larger are captured. In practical terms this means that particles large enough to be captured by the body’s defenses prior to entering the thoracic region are screened during the breathing process.

The current OSHA procedure for measuring the total concentration of sulfuric acid calls for sampling on a standard 37 mm MCE filter at 2 LPM, followed by analysis using ion chromatography.  Using this method, if the results of this sampling fall below the thoracic TLV, then you can assume you have no problem.  Similarly, a high result above 1 mg/m3 indicates a problem that needs to be fixed, thoracic or not. As with all industrial hygiene analyses, it is the gray area in between these two examples that causes a problem.

In the past, SGS-Galson has recommended the use of SKC’s PEM sampler as the best alternative for sampling the thoracic fraction.  This sampler is designed to capture particulates 10 microns or less in size (PM 10).  As you can see this is not the same as having a 50% cut point of 10 microns.  And, as was pointed out by a loyal Galson client, the collection efficiency curve for PM 10 and the thoracic fraction are very different. However, SKC does offer another product called the PPI Sampler (Parallel Particle Impactor) that is a true thoracic sampler. 

If you look at the top of this blog you can see this graphically.  As can be seen, the red curve indicating the PPI sampler closely matches the dashed thoracic sampling curve.  Because of this fact SGS-Galson has changed its recommendation for sampling the thoracic fraction of H2SO4 mists. 

Thanks to the client who brought this to our attention.  The close working relationship we enjoy with our clients enables us to remain at the cutting edge of industrial hygiene sampling and analysis.

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SGS Galson Laboratories Now Offers a Formaldehyde Home Testing Kit

I wrote you recently with my reaction to a 60 Minutes story that high levels of formaldehyde are being released from wood laminate flooring made in China and sold through Lumber Liquidators.  Since then, the New York Times also has chimed in.

Without re-hashing the gory details, there’s no doubt that these stories have caused alarm among those who have purchased this flooring. After all, formaldehyde is classified as a known human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and as a probable human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,

To help homeowners get the information they need, SGS Galson Laboratories now offers a simple kit to test formaldehyde levels in homes. It costs as low as $99 and a home owner can readily determine if the levels are safe or if they need to call in an IAQ expert to assist. We try to make it as user-friendly as possible with simple instructions and offer a turn-around time for results in three days or less.

You probably spend most of your professional time at work sites but if you get questions from homeowners, we’re here to help.  The SGS Galson Laboratories Formaldehyde Home Testing Kit can be ordered by calling 888-432-5227 and we have a web page with more detailed information.  Let us know if we can help.

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Bill Walsh CIH


Should I test for formaldehyde after watching 60 Minutes?

I did not watch the 60 Minutes segment Sunday regarding excess formaldehyde off-gassing from laminate flooring made in China and sold in the US by Lumber Liquidators. The first I heard of it was in our weekly conference call Tuesday where it was related that our Customer Service group was fielding an amazing number of phone calls from concerned homeowners wondering if they had contracted cancer from their floors.  It was decided that a blog was appropriate and either Ed or I should write something.  I won and went back, watched the segment, and read the various resulting news stories.  These are my thoughts on the situation:

1)      If you have this type of flooring you are no doubt suffering from anxiety and I really can’t blame you given the tone of the segment.  It is easy to determine if you are being exposed to high levels of formaldehyde by calling SGS-Galson and obtaining a formaldehyde passive monitor. Since you will be looking for non-occupational levels of formaldehyde, I recommend using the Assay Technology 571 passive monitor.  The badge with analysis will cost you $87/each.  I recommend putting a badge in each area where the flooring has been installed, leaving it in place for 24 hours, and returning it to SGS-Galson for analysis.  You will get your results in five business days from the time we get your samples back at the lab.  These results will tell you if you have a problem.

2)      You do not need to evacuate your home if you have this flooring.  Unless you have a specific sensitivity to formaldehyde that could cause respiratory distress, we are talking about long –term health effects. 

3)      You may get positive formaldehyde readings from sources that have nothing to do with your floors.  Any furniture or building materials that were made using formaldehyde could be off-gassing to some degree.  This would include many carpets, paneling, and things made from plywood or particle board.  Many cleaning products and disinfectants also contain formaldehyde.  Formaldehyde is also a metabolic product from some organisms, trees for example.  It is a fact that there is no such thing as zero exposure, only exposures at what is considered to be a safe level.  Your results will need to be interpreted in terms of this safe level and the recommended safe levels vary according to source.  The CDC recommends you take action to limit your exposures if the levels found exceed 1000 ppb (parts per billion), says you may experience some health effects if your levels exceed 100 ppb, and are generally exposed everyday to levels around 10 ppb. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) referenced in the story has limits between 50 and 150 ppb, depending on the material being manufactured.   As in almost everything concerning chemical exposures, an internet search will easily turn up sources that dispute these levels and you should consider consulting an Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) expert if you are concerned.

4)      If you are running a company that out-sources manufacturing offshore, it is very important that you consider contracting with SGS to confirm that the manufacturing is being performed to your specifications.  This segment is a poster child for this need, showing racks of flooring labelled “CARB 2 Compliant” just after the plant manager admitted they were not.  Assuring that this situation could not exist is a core business for SGS.

The following are my thoughts on the segment.  These are my opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.  This is the first time I’ve felt the need to say this, caused by some of the weasels involved in this story (my first opinion).

1)      The “short-selling” aspect of the story was glossed over in the segment but is really pretty significant.  The stock price of lumber liquidators has doubled in the past year, making it susceptible to price manipulation.  Short selling is the practice of promising to sell a quantity of stock on a certain date for a specified price.  If the price on that date is less than what has been promised, the difference represents profits. As you can imagine, the stock price of Lumber Liquidators has tumbled since this story aired and the people funding the legal actions referenced in the story stand to make a lot of money.  Is this a public health hazard or a pretty slick plan to drive the stock price down?

2)      The testing done on the flooring needs to be better defined.  Regulations such as CARB 2 specify limits on formaldehyde off-gassing at specific temperature and humidity parameters over a specific period of time.  Were these parameters followed when the flooring was tested?  For example, increasing the temperature of the testing chamber would increase the rate of off-gassing.  I am not saying this was done, but the testing parameters need to be clearly stated.

3)      The formaldehyde levels in the flooring may not directly correlate to levels found in homes.  Installation of the flooring as well as the environmental conditions in the homes will play a large role in amount of off-gassing that takes place.  The age of the flooring will also play a role and additional studies on these factors need to be done.  As I stated above, this testing is fairly easy to perform.

4)      A similar situation occurred around 10 years ago involving the temporary housing (trailers) distributed after Katrina.  Elevated formaldehyde levels were found due to the particle board used in manufacture of the housing. Were there lessons learned from the studies performed on these trailers that can be applied to the current potential problem?

My basic opinion on this story is that I’m not sure it is not just a stock-price manipulation but if I had the flooring I would do the testing, especially if anyone in my family displayed symptoms (sore throat, itchy eyes, cough, etc).  Given it is wintertime a lot of “false positives” regarding symptoms are going to exist, but peace of mind is worth the money it would cost to eliminate the possibility of a problem (at least to me).  If you agree SGS-Galson is ready to help.

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Bill Walsh CIH


My Trip to Shanghai

Since early August, 2014, Galson Labs has been a part of SGS, a global company providing inspection, verification, testing, and certification services. Although Galson has always had global clients, being part of a company with more than 1,650 offices and labs in 141 countries has been eye opening.  Thankfully, in the six months since we were bought, I have found SGS to be huge, but very collegial.

The increase in available resources provided by SGS has meant that when a client asks ‘Do you have a footprint in (insert country name here)?”, the answer is very likely to be ‘Why yes, yes we do”.  However, determining how deep and broad that footprint might be, and who is the best person to interact, has meant that I have leaned on people who are unfamiliar with us and have other jobs besides answering my questions.  Thankfully, in the six months since we were bought, I have found SGS to be huge, but very collegial (a marked difference from other global companies for whom I have worked). Working with our US clients to identify and provide an offshore IH resource has become a larger part of my role, and one I have been enjoying very much.

One of the other neat things about being acquired by SGS is that Galson is seen as a “Center of Excellence” by SGS for Industrial Hygiene. SGS has major IH labs in the United States, Spain, Brazil, and China, along with smaller IH facilities within labs in other countries.  One of the reasons we were bought is to transplant the programs and procedures that have endeared us to our clients to other SGS IH labs around the world. Ed Stuber, Jim Trainer, and I are being given the opportunity to consult with our coworkers in other countries to both share what we have learned during our careers and to learn how IH is approached in other countries.  In December I traveled to Shanghai to tour the SGS IH lab there (an AIHA accredited lab) and meet with field consultants. At the same time, Dr. Dongni Ou, a senior staff from the Shanghai facility, came to Galson to spend a month learning how we do things.  It was my first trip to China and it was eye opening.

First of all, Shanghai lives up to its star billing very nicely.  It is huge, beautiful, and frenetic. Working in Shanghai is seen as the Chinese equivalent of working in Manhattan. It was not as congested as I expected but the traffic was probably worse than anything experienced in Los Angeles or London.  It can literally take hours to drive across the city and all schedules are made with this thought in mind.  The SGS IH lab, the only AIHA accredited laboratory in China, is located in a technical park, and occupies parts of a six story building along with SGS environmental and pharmaceutical labs. Since this accreditation means that it is ISO 17025 accredited, I was able to easily identify the same processes that take place in all such labs.  However, asking questions and gathering information was made difficult by the language barrier, although everyone tried very hard. Once again, the SGS culture meant that everyone was eager to share information and were open, in fact eager for suggestions.  As we speak, my observations along with what Dr. Dongni Ou learned in Syracuse are being processed for implementation.

I was also able to participate in a field exercise with three Industrial Hygienists from SGS.  We travelled to a huge tire factory about three hours northwest of Shanghai via bullet train. The train was fast, smooth and comfortable. In fact, my coworkers preferred them to flying because of a more convenient schedule and the ability to arrive at the urban centers rather than outlying airports. It remains a little embarrassing to me that these trains exist just about everywhere but in the US. 

The next thing that is easily noticeable is that air pollution is a problem in China similar to the 60’s and 70’s in the U.S. Coal is burned as a primary heat source and the smog is made worse by a winter marine layer that concentrates it.  I had to close my hotel window to avoid smoke coming in.

That problem was counterbalanced by the lack of things that in my naiveté I expected to see. The Chinese are not the homogeneous mass of worker ants portrayed by some news outlets but appear to strive very hard to foster and value a sense of individuality.  The workplaces, at least the ones I saw are not dens of horror and exploitation but were modern, clean, and staffed with employees that cared as much for their safety and well-being as anywhere in the US.  However, I have to point out that I was at facilities co-owned by western companies that applied the same workplace standards in China that they do in the rest of the world. My coworkers were highly skilled technically and had a deep understanding of both the Chinese regulations and how the regulatory system worked.

At any rate I enjoyed my week in Shanghai a lot, was impressed by my SGS compatriots there, and look forward to doing more of this consultation in the future.

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