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07/13/11
What are we being exposed to?
Filed under: Healthcare, Occupational Health and Safety, The Environment
Posted by: Tom @ 2:18 pm

When I wake up in the morning feeling congested, I turn on the Weather Channel.  As the Air Quality Report shows Unhealthy for Certain Groups, I think about growing up in a polluted Pittsburgh where the sun shone as an orange disk through the smog.  Later I saw a power plant in Ohio with a stack so tall that the company bragged that pollutants would never reach the ground.  Years later, I heard a that dust-borne bacteria from the Sahara Desert was killing coral in the Caribbean, and an aunt of mine complained that each time she took a cruise to Alaska there was less and less beautiful ice.  Forty years ago, I even heard about receding ice when I visited a glacier in the Canadian Rockies.  I also remember once when the smell of forest fires in Colorado was noticeable in the Northeast.  A lot has been learned about pollution since then.  Considerable progress has been made.  It is especially noticeable in Pittsburgh, but there is still much to be done in many other parts of the world.

I started my career at a steel mill with smoke and gases spewing everywhere and later spent time in factories all over the country that used dangerous chemicals.  I think about workers who have died from exposure to asbestos and coal dust including those involved in the cleanup of the World Trade Center site in New York after the 9-11-2001 terror attacks.  I remember the controversy about acid rain traveling to New Jersey from Ohio and dust coming to the Caribbean from the Sahara.  Now the talk is about mercury from China raining down on the waters off the coast of the Western United States and tainting wild fish caught in the sea.  Reports show more widespread damage as researchers keep looking for it farther and farther from the sources.  Measures like tall stacks may help to prevent high localized concentrations of pollutants, but cannot keep up with the broad, longterm impacts.

No doubt these poisons are building up in our bodies.  Certainly does not sound pleasant or reassuring, does it?  Especially when no one really knows precisely what concentrations are hazardous to our health!

The question is, “What can we do about it?”  Or, would it be better not to know so much?  One thing is certain.  This is an important subject for Outcome Improvement.  Please watch for more commentary on it.

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07/11/11
Avoid Hazards of Going Paperless
Filed under: Resources and Energy Alternatives, The Environment, Electronic Records, Contingency Planning & Disaster Recovery
Posted by: Tom @ 7:01 am

A few years ago, I printed a few thousand pages per month on my laser printer.  I wore out several of them and used dozens of cartridges and countless cartons of paper.  Today, I hardly ever turn my printers on.  In many respects I have gone paperless and have readily searchable files in electronic filing cabinets.  However, it is not as simple as it sounds.  Along with the benefits, there is a downside.

I can remember seeing people on television who had lost all of their personal records.  One woman tearfully told a reporter how all of her children’s baby pictures were in the house that they were watching float down a river to certain destruction.  A survivor of Hurricane Katrina had also lost all his medical records when his hospital and doctor’s office were distroyed.  It was difficult for him to tell doctors what they needed to know to treat him.   Having electronic records in their pockets would have helped both of them. 

Businesses also save millions of dollars of postage and other costs when they can send out bills via email, and it is easier and cheaper for customers to pay online.  There are security concerns, but think of all the forests that can be saved.  Yet, email reminders may get lost and there are healthy penalties for failing to pay on time, and people who need receipts must now print their own.  Also, if you store your records online, in a cloud somewhere, there is no guarantee that the business will not be discontinued as is happening with Google Health and their online personal health records.  Fortunately, for Google Health’s users, Google is giving their customers plenty of time to find alternatives and make an orderly transition.

For the do-it-yourself electronic recordkeepers, there is another set of challenges.  People who remember 35mm slides, 5-1/4 inch and 3-1/2 inch diskettes, 8-track tape, VHS and music cassettes, and other obsolete media have probably agonized when they found that they no longer had a means of using their old media.   When they could find a working machine to read it, they often found that the media had degraded and could no longer be read.  Electronic files become corrupted and, at best, it can take a costly commercial or government process to attempt to reconstruct electronic information.  It is certainly not possible for the masses.

I have scanners that enable me to convert documents and pictures into digital files.  I could not be without them.  However, once something is digital, dangers of corrupted files and outdated media need to be addressed.  The first time I lost a few pictures on a camera memory card reminded me that everything has a failure mode.  Same thing with hard drives that have a lot of moving parts and wear and tear.  Then there are CD-ROMs and DVDs.  Even if they stay in their jackets and avoid scratches, they will ultimately deteriorate.  Molecules constantly jump around and fields from magnetic particles damage adjacent areas on tapes.

Backing up information is extremely important no matter where it resides.  Consider the smartphone with the MicroSD card.  The phone can be lost or stolen.  It can fall into water.  However, even electronic solid-state memories have life expectancies like my camera memory card.  Some fail prematurely.  Same with ubiquitous flash drives.  Some memories are consumer grade, designed to last several years; others are commercial grade and cost a large premium, but should be good for ten years or so.

Even experts get surprised.  Redundancy is the best way to minimize risk and exposure.  Part of a good backup policy says to separate the copies as far as possible.  We are reminded of the small company in San Francisco that kept backups on a different floor in the same building.  They were lucky, but what if an earthquake had damaged or destroyed the building. 

           

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