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Recommended Standards Target Tall-Building Safety
Following a three-year investigation of the World Trade Center collapse, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has recommended new safety standards for all tall buildings, including changes in construction and evacuation strategies.
The nonbinding recommendations are meant to help occupants in tall buildings survive terrorist attacks or natural disasters.
NIST recommends that evacuation plans be changed to provide faster escape routes for occupants of higher floors, who tend to be isolated during emergencies, investigators said.
NIST also recommends that elevators be built with stronger shaft walls and equipped with wiring that will not short-circuit if they are exposed to water, thereby providing an alternate escape route to stairways.
Standards for ensuring that steel is fireproof also should be stricter, according to NIST, and sprinklers should have a backup supply of water. The goal is to create buildings that can achieve burnout without collapse so a major fire doesn’t bring down the entire structure. The International Building Code Council and the National Fire Protection Association, representing the insurance industry, will review the recommendations.
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Hazmat 101: Hospital’s Mislabeled Containers Worry Patients, Regulators
Doctors at two North Carolina hospitals unknowingly used surgical instruments that had been cleaned with hydraulic fluid instead of detergent, a mistake that affected nearly 4,000 patients.
Near the end of 2004, elevator maintenance workers at Duke Health Raleigh Hospital and Durham Regional Hospital drained hydraulic fluid into empty soap containers and capped them, but they did not change labels on the containers, according to news reports.
Soon afterward, medical staff members complained that some of their surgical tools felt slick. But it was not until January 2005 that the affected patients learned that, for two months, their surgeons had unknowingly used instruments washed in the fluid. The instruments also had been run through a steam bath for sterilization.
The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services determined that both hospitals had endangered patients. But Duke University Health System assured patients that the mix-up created little chance of medical problems. Hospital officials say they monitored infection rates and found no increase for the time the hydraulic fluid was used. Since the problem became public, at least one patient has sued the elevator company, complaining of severe infection, temporary loss of kidney function and other ailments.
EPA Guidelines Aim at Small Incinerators
Two classes of solid waste incinerators would be affected by changes proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In November 2004, the agency proposed rules to reduce emissions of air pollutants from:
- waste incinerators located at schools, colleges, universities, fire and police departments, and municipal, state and federal government institutions.
- very small municipal waste incinerators that burn less than 35 tons of solid waste per day.
The rules would establish emission limits for nine air pollutants, including particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen chloride, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, lead, cadmium, mercury and dioxins.
The rules consist of new source performance standards for new incinerators — those built after November 2004 — and emission guidelines for existing incinerators.
The guidelines would be implemented through state plans. If states do not develop approvable state plans, a federal plan would apply to existing incinerators located in that state.
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