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Hazardous Releases in Professional Services
The Hazardous Substances Emergency Events Surveillance system (HSEES) has been working in Oregon since 1992. The goal of this project is to reduce illnesses, injuries and deaths resulting from hazardous substance emergencies. Incident reports of spills and releases of hazardous substances are obtained from state emergency response, environmental and health agencies. Further information on these incidents is then collected and analyzed by HSEES to find out how, when, where the incidents occurred and who was involved.

We found that Hazardous Material releases in the Professional Services industry sector had more (frequent) adverse health effects per incident than in other industry sectors. Other industry sectors had more releases than injuries. In Professional services, there were more victims than releases, and those victims were often children.

What does this mean for children?
  • The Professional Services industry sector includes schools, childcare facilities, and health care facilities.
  • Children are present in these industry settings in high numbers.
  • We found a high proportion of incidents involving victims in schools and daycare settings during 1993-1997.

Even though there were relatively few events with large numbers of affected persons, this has prompted concern about the potential for a release to have an impact on large numbers of children. In a setting not usually thought to be associated with exposures to hazardous chemicals, this information calls our attention to a potentially dangerous situation.

Why are children at risk?

  • They sustain greater exposure per unit body weight than adults.
  • Children have a different metabolism than adults.
  • Children have different susceptibility to the toxicity of hazardous substances than adults.
  • Children have different behavior patterns than adults, increasing their potential for exposure.

Enhanced susceptibility of children to toxic pollutants:

  • Children are growing and developing.
  • Toxic pollutants interfere with growth and development.
  • Children have higher intakes per body weight of food, fluids, and air.
  • The same exposures to children and adults result in significant illness and disabilities in children but not in adults.

Influences on children's exposures to toxic pollutants:

Differences in behavior from adults:

  1. Children exhibit continuous hand-to-mouth activity.
  2. Children's frequently wet skin surfaces are more permeable to toxicants.
  3. The breathing zone for a child is inches above the floor.
  4. Children are more physically active.
  5. Children have limited diets.

Differences in physiology from adults:

  1. Children have a greater surface-area-to-body-weight ratio.
  2. Children have a higher breathing rate per unit of body weight.
  3. Children consume more water per unit body weight.
  4. Children expend more energy per unit body weight.
  5. Children consume more food per unit body weight.

Influences on metabolism of toxicants in children:

Compared to adults, children generally have:

  • Low gastric acidity
  • Higher total body water per body weight
  • Increased permeability of blood-brain barrier in early life
  • Different enzyme activity
  • Different metabolic pathways
  • Different target tissue susceptibility during development
  • Development continuing through puberty

Why are schools, day care centers, or health care facilities possibly dangerous places?

Toxic substances are present because they are used for teaching, cleaning, maintenance, and medical care.

  1. cleaning solutions and custodial supplies including paints and solvents
  2. pesticides for yard maintenance
  3. chemicals for science demonstrations and laboratory use
  4. fuel for lawn mowers, leaf blowers, or generators
  5. chemicals for treating swimming pools
  6. art supplies
  7. drugs and medications for treatment

Staff, parents, and children are unaware of the presence of toxic substances, the potential for spills and releases, and what to do about them if they happen so that exposures and injuries can be prevented.

This report is presented to increase the awareness of the public and to encourage the persons working at or with children in these situations to learn what to do to prevent exposures to hazardous substances in the event of an emergency.
This report is adapted from a poster presentation given at the Annual Meeting of the International Society for Exposure Analysis/International Society for Environmental Epidemiology: Tsongas, T., Harter, L., Gunnells, L. Employee injuries during accidental hazmat releases in Oregon and Washington. Epidemiology 13:4:S230, 2002.