Archive for the ‘Environmental and Occupational Health’ Category

Hoarding, Rodents, and The Yosemite

September 10, 2012

Glenn Dean, a National Parks Occupational Safety and Health Specialist, inspects tent cabins for mice entry points at Curry Village at Yosemite National Park on Tuesday, September 4th.

Not cleaning out your basement can occasionally lead to some devastating consequences. Last week, the CDC reported an outbreak of hantavirus.

The National Park Service announced that there were 8 confirmed cases of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) in visitors who stayed at Curry Village in Yosemite National Park since June of this year. Public health officials believe that these visitors may have been exposed to hantavirus while staying at the Signature Tent Cabins in Curry Village.

Hantavirus is carried by mice, in their urine and feces, and is an airborne infection. The mice not suffer from the disease but humans do. Humans are thought to become infected when they are exposed to contaminated dust from the nests or droppings of mice. Contaminated dust is frequently encountered when working in or cleaning long-vacated cabins, sheds, or other enclosed areas. Infection is not passed between humans.

It affects the lungs and the symptoms resemble those of influenza–fever, chills, nausea, vomiting. The C.D.C. Web site quotes one survivor as saying that it felt as if he had a “tight band around my chest and a pillow over my face.” The worst case scenario is respiratory failure and internal bleeding.

The last time an outbreak of hantavirus made the news it was in 1993 concerning an outbreak on an Indian reservation in the Four Corners area of the southwest. It was due to a case of hoarding in trailers and tents where mice bred in dark, crowded little rooms.

As of now, five people are ill from the Yosemite outbreak and three have died. Health officials predict that up to 10,000 guests could have been exposed to hantavirus from  sleeping in the cabins since June 10.

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Sea of Oil

June 14, 2010

How ironic, and awful, that Alan Pakula’s movie adaptation of John Grisham’s The Pelican Brief, would be this prophetic.  The story drew our attention to the dangers of off-shore drilling, especially among the fragile ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico and the Louisiana delta.  Two Supreme Court justices were killed for their stubbornness and dedication in resisting drilling to preserve the sanctity of a pelican sanctuary.  What can John Grisham be thinking now, I wonder?

The peculiar and unsettling mixture of paralyzing confusion and complacency that has resulted after this spill, has done vast amounts of damage to the Louisiana coast.  And yet, not a lot seems to happen in terms of stopping it.

Posted by Amy Davidson in The New Yorker, June 4, 2010:

And President Obama is down in Florida today; he wanted to show his grumpy face. Last night, on CNN, Larry King asked if Obama was angry at BP. “I’m furious at this entire situation,” he replied. That’s not quite the same thing. “Has the company felt your anger?” King asked. “I would love to just spend a lot of my time venting, and yelling at people,” Obama said—and wouldn’t we all?—“but that’s not the job I was hired to do.” He said that his job was to “solve” the problem. Well, then let’s see him do it.

And from The Telegraph:

“This is a disaster on many levels,” said Larry Schweiger, president of the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), after touring the area. “About 90 per cent of gulf fishing is dependent on these wetlands. Fish spawn here, blue crabs and other sealife which are a key part of the food chain rely on the marshes, the oyster and shrimp populations rely on healthy wetlands.”

The disappearing bayou is also a crucial protective barrier from storms for communities like New Orleans. For a population still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the implications are viscerally understood.

The spill has damaged, perhaps irrevocably, an ecosystem and a way of life for a population.  The long-term health consequences of those who have been involved with the spill clean-up are horrible (let’s not forget that oil is poisonous to us).  Those exposed to the growing oil spill include residents, cleanup workers and those providing relief aid.

The CDC notes that people may be able to smell fumes from the oil spill from the shore, and that what people detect is from volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can include benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene, and naphthalene.

Thus far, 71 have been hospitalized due to oil spill related health problems, according to the Louisiana state health department. And while some say chemicals in the oil itself are to blame, others speculate chemicals called dispersants being used to break up the massive slick could be playing a role.

In the remaining days, we’ll just have to see how it plays out.  The world will be watching as we, the United States, attempts to cope with and contain this epic environmental disaster.