Stories about: environmental health

Risk mitigation made easy: Apps make hospital safety proactive

A environmental health & safety hospital hot zone
A hospital ‘hot zone’

Hospitals are among the most hazardous workplaces in the U.S. In 2011, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, 253,700 accidents were reported, an average of 6.8 work-related injuries for every 100 full-time employees. Rates of injuries reported to OSHA are decreasing in all industries except for hospitals, whose rates are double the average.

Could a set of digital apps help identify and reduce occupational and environmental risks in a quick and efficient manner? That is what Nick Kielbania, MS, CSP, CHMM, director of Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S) and Adrian Hudson, PhD, MCompSc, principal software architect at Boston Children’s Hospital, set out to create.

Their web-based solution, enabled for Apple and Android devices, is called the BCH Environmental Health and Safety Application Suite. Designed to aid hospital emergency response, safety and support services, the applications encompass fire, clinical, research, construction and environmental safety, with additional apps for on-call and administrative personnel.

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A link between cystic fibrosis and arsenic poisoning?

boys playing in arsenic-endemic area of Bangladesh

Since its causative gene was sequenced in the 1980s, cystic fibrosis (CF) has been the “textbook” genetic disease. Several thousand mutations have been identified in the CFTR protein, which regulates the flow of chloride in and out of cells. When CFTR is lost or abnormal, thick mucus builds up, impairing patients’ lungs, liver, pancreas, and digestive and reproductive systems, and making their lungs prone to opportunistic infections.

But new research could add a chapter to the textbook, pinpointing an unexpected environmental cause of CF-like illness. A study reported in the February 5 New England Journal of Medicine found that people with arsenic poisoning have high chloride levels in their sweat—the classic diagnostic sign of CF.

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Climate change: A threat to our kids’ health

Aaron Bernstein, MD, MPH, is a faculty member at Harvard Medical School’s Center for Health and the Global Environment and a pediatric hospitalist at Children’s Hospital Boston. He strives to promote a deeper understanding of the health effects of global environmental change, and is coauthor of Sustaining Life: How Human Health Depends on Biodiversity (Oxford University Press, 2008).

Remember last July? It was hot. During a three-day swelter early in the month, the mercury topped 100°F in Boston for only about the twelfth time in the past century. I wasn’t surprised when I found myself caring for many kids at Children’s who wound up with asthma attacks that left them gasping for air, while just trying to enjoy a summer day. Heat catalyzes the production of ground-level ozone, a potent lung irritant.

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