Southland Air Quality Unhealthy: Stay Indoors, Limit Activity

December 7, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Smoke from four wildfires raging across Southern California has resulted in unhealthy air quality across the San Fernando Valley, along with coastal areas and surrounding portions of Los Angeles County.

All people in those areas should avoid unnecessary outdoor exposure and limit all physical exertion, said Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, the county’s interim health officer.

“It is difficult to tell where ash or soot from a fire will go, or how winds will affect the level of dust particles in the air, so we ask all individuals to be aware of their immediate environment and take actions to safeguard their health,” Gunzenhauser said.

“Smoke and ash can be harmful,” Gunzenhauser said, especially for vulnerable individuals, such as the elderly, children, people with asthma or individuals with other respiratory or heart conditions. Throughout the county, sensitive individuals should stay indoors as much as possible — even in areas where smoke, soot, or ash cannot be seen or there is no odor of smoke, Gunzenhauser said.

“We are also advising schools that are in session in smoke-impacted areas to suspend outside physical activities, including physical education and after-school sports, until conditions improve,” Gunzenhauser said.

People can participate in indoor sports or other strenuous activity in areas with visible smoke, soot, or ash, provided the indoor location has air conditioning that does not draw air from the outside and has closed windows and doors, Gunzenhauser said.

“If you see or smell smoke, or see a lot of particles and ash in the air, avoid unnecessary outdoor activity to limit your exposure to harmful air,” Gunzenhauser said.

If outdoor air is bad, try to keep indoor air as clean as possible by keeping windows and doors closed. Air conditioners that re-circulate air within the home can help filter out harmful particles. People were urged to avoid using air conditioning units that only draw in air from the outside or that do not have a re-circulating option. And residents were advised to check the filters on their air conditioners and replace them regularly.

Residents in affected areas should also keep their pets inside.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District has also extended its unhealthful air and “No-Burn” alerts through Friday. Residents are prohibited from using wood-burning fireplaces, burning rubbish, or any other activity that adds to poor air quality.

World AIDS Day: County Health Launches HIV/AIDS Initiative

December 1, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Los Angeles County health officials announced an effort Friday aimed at significantly reducing the number of annual HIV infections in the county and helping bring an end to the virus that causes AIDS.

Nearly 61,000 people are living with HIV in Los Angeles County, and about 1,850 new cases are diagnosed each year — mostly among gay men and residents who are black, Latino or transgender, according to the county Department of Public Health.

“While we have made great progress in reducing new infections, HIV continues to significantly impact our county,” said Mario J. Perez, director of the department’s Division of HIV and STD Programs. “The rates of infection among certain groups are at epidemic proportions. If we can get people into treatment, the virus becomes undetectable — and undetectable equals untransmittable.”

Perez said the number of new cases each year has dropped from 6,500 in the 1990s to the current 1,850 cases annually, “and our goal is to get to 500 (new cases per year) by 2022.”

“We are now at a point where 60 percent of all cases in the county are virally suppressed — which means no detectable levels of HIV in their blood,” he said.

The county announced its goals for ending HIV/AIDS Friday — World AIDS Day — at a news conference at downtown’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, the county’s interim health officer, explained that the department is working to increase the proportion of people living with HIV who are diagnosed to at least 90 percent by 2022 and to increase the proportion of diagnosed people living with the disease who are virally suppressed to 90 percent in the next five years. Achieving viral suppression among people living with HIV is the single most effective strategy for reducing new infections and ending the epidemic, he said.

Perez said the Public Health agency is calling “for collaboration, communication and accountability from all sectors, including the community, all levels of government, and the private health sector.”

Grissel Granados, community co-chair of the initiative, said the HIV epidemic in Los Angeles can be contained.

“This is the time to center people of color, transgender people and young gay men; be unapologetically sex positive; and catch up to the science of HIV prevention, which includes the fact that when the virus is undetectable in people living with HIV, they cannot transmit HIV and that when HIV-negative people take Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, they reduce their chances of acquiring HIV,” he said.

Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis — or PrEP — is a daily pill taken by people at high risk for HIV. Taken as prescribed, PrEP can reduce the chance of becoming infected by up to 99 percent. Increasing the number of people who are on PrEP is one of the most effective ways to significantly reduce new HIV infections, according to Perez.
 

Health Officials Continues to Hammer State’s Exide Plan

October 5, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

The state is still not doing enough to protect residents who live near the now-shuttered Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon, the county’s public health director said Tuesday.

Barbara Ferrer, who leads the Department of Public Health, said the state’s method for testing soil to determine whether lead contamination exists is flawed.

“The sampling strategy just has you going to a handful of places in each yard. Unfortunately, with lead, it can be in one place in the yard and not another place,” Ferrer said.

County workers retested five parcels that had been cleared by the state’s Department of Toxic Substances Control and found three of the five still had hot spots, she told the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

Ferrer said the state needs to institute a block-by-block plan for cleanup to ensure environmental safety, rather than a house-by-house, parcel-by-parcel strategy.

County officials have also been pressing the state to clean up the inside of homes, saying residents track in contamination from their yards. And parkways, not just yards, need to be decontaminated, they say.

“The neighbors agree with us that the strategy right now doesn’t make sense at all,” Ferrer said.

The board and Ferrer acknowledged that they have no authority over the DTSC.

Ferrer, who was hired early this year, said she had tried cooperating with the agency but wasn’t getting the results she wanted.

“We share the frustration of the community at this point,” Ferrer said, citing “an inexplicable delay in actually coming into the community and doing mitigation.”

The DTSC released its cleanup plan in July and said it is committed to protecting the health of residents in the community.

“This cleanup plan is the result of more than a year of effort and community input,” a spokesman said then.

“In response to the public comments we received, DTSC adjusted the prioritization process to streamline it in a manner that continues to protect the health of residents at properties with the highest levels of lead in soil and the greatest risk of exposure to that lead,” said Mohsen Nazemi, deputy
director for DTSC’s Brownfields and Environmental Restoration Program.

The scope of work focuses on homes with soil lead concentrations of 400 parts per million or more, those with hot spot concentrations of 1,000 ppm or more, and daycare and child care centers with concentrations of 80 ppm or more.

As for the pace of its cleanup, the agency pointed out that it had stopped soil testing in order to accommodate a large-scale environmental review in response to complaints by residents and legislators.

When Exide agreed to close the lead-acid battery recycling plant, it committed to pay $50 million for cleanup of the site and surrounding residential neighborhoods of Boyle Heights and Maywood. Of that amount, $26 million is meant to be set aside for residential cleanup.

Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation providing $176.6 million in funding for environmental testing and cleanup work in neighborhoods surrounding the now-shuttered plant, with the testing expected to cover about 10,000 properties.

There are three pieces of legislation on the governor’s desk that could help prevent future contamination or provide more money for cleanup.

One bill would increase maximum penalties to $70,000 a day for violators of hazardous waste laws; another would require the state to convene a lead advisory task force; and the third is aimed at forcing owners and operators of hazardous waste facility to submit permit renewals on time.

The Exide plant, which opened in 1922, was allowed to keep operating under a temporary permit for 33 years, despite continuing environmental violations. It was permanently closed in March 2015.

Supervisor Hilda Solis asked that the board consider a permanent blood testing facility in the area and provide related health services for residents in a 1.7-mile radius of the plant. Staffers were tasked with evaluating the feasibility of that plan.

Maywood Fire Prompts Air Quality Warning

June 14, 2016 by · 1 Comment 

County public health officials today urged residents in Central, South Central and Southeast Los Angeles County to limit outdoor exposure and physical exertion because of smoke from a warehouse fire in Maywood.

“We are also advising schools that are in session in smoke-impacted areas to suspend outside physical activities in these areas, including physical education and after-school sports, until conditions improve,” said Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, the county’s interim Health Officer. “Non-school related sports organizations for children and adults are advised to cancel outdoor practices
and competitions in areas where there is visible smoke, soot, or ash, or where there is an odor of smoke. This also applies to other recreational outdoor activity, such as hikes or picnics, in these areas.”

Individuals with heart disease, asthma or other respiratory disease, should also follow the recommendations and stay indoors as much as possible even in areas where smoke, soot or ash cannot be seen or there is no odor of smoke, Gunzenhauser recommended.

“It is difficult to tell where ash or soot from a fire will go, or how winds will affect the level of dust particles in the air, so we ask all individuals to be aware of their immediate environment and to take actions to safeguard their health,” Gunzenhauser said.

Residents should also keep windows and doors closed and avoid using air conditioning units that only draw in air from the outside or that do not have a re-circulating option. If conditions at home are too hot, Gunzenhauser suggested going to a library or other public place to cool down.

The Department of Public Health also urged residents in affected areas not to leave pets outdoors, particularly at night. Both cats and dogs suffering from respiratory distress requiring medical care may pant or be unable to catch their breath, though cats’ symptoms are less noticeable

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