Tide Pod Challenge: ‘Don’t eat poison’

via Tide Pod Challenge: ‘Don’t eat poison’

PDF: Tide pods poison

I’ve written before in this column about the danger of laundry pods, those colorful little plastic pods that contain measured amounts of laundry detergent. Since they were first introduced to the mass market in 2012 as Tide Pods, they’ve been the target of kids, lured by the bright colors and candylike appearance.

The pods were heralded as a time- and mess-saver; instead of pouring liquid detergent from a bottle or powders from a box, all you had to do was throw the pod in with the wash and that was it. The products inside remained dry until the water from the wash cycle dissolved the plastic coating, dispensing the product at the right time. Actually, the concept came from medicine, which has used timed-release capsules for decades. Following the success of Tide pods, Tide parent company Proctor & Gamble and a number of other detergent companies subsequently started putting their products in a pod-like package.

But there was a problem: in 2013, Consumer Reports notes, thousands of children were being rushed to the hospital after eating or biting into the pods, which they mistook for candy. At least one 7-month-old child died after eating one. Soon, senior-citizen advocates began warning that the products could also be eaten by adults with dementia if not kept out of reach.

Now, we have the “Tide Pod Challenge.” In the past several weeks, accounts of teenagers eating Tide Pods on a dare have blasted through social media, resulting in memes such as a pizza covered in pods, and perhaps most disturbingly, teens biting into the pods and spitting out the distasteful contents. Although the possibility of eating a Tide Pod was (according to Forbes) first mentioned in 2015, the phenomenon quickly picked up steam as it erupted on Twitter, then Youtube and other social media, in mid-2017.

According to the American Poison Control Center, centers around the country recorded 39 cases of intentional laundry pod “exposures” among 13- to 19-year-olds in the first two weeks of January. That’s nearly equal to the number of cases in all of 2017.

This rash of apparent insanity has become serious enough for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to warn people about the dangers of ingesting the colorful pods. (“A meme should not become a family tragedy,” warn the CPSC’s social-media posts. “Don’t eat poison.”)

Although you would think most people would understand not to intentionally ingest cleaning products, it bears repeating here. Consumer Reports notes the average detergent pod contains a cocktail of chemicals, of which those in the average bar of soap are just the start. Pods vary in the number and type of chemicals inside, but one recent report estimated more than 700 chemicals are in a standard pod (many of them toxic).

What happens when you ingest the contents of a pod is not a pretty story. The thin layer of plastic starts to break down immediately from your saliva and gastric juices, releasing its contents into your mouth and esophagus. When you ingest those chemicals, notes the Consumer Reports article, they begin to burn your esophagus and continue wreaking havoc through your digestive system. You could die.

Of course, a lot of people on social media are having a lot of fun with the concept, as they did with the Cinnamon Challenge a few years ago. And, the number of people who are actually biting into or consuming Tide Pods is probably a small fraction of those who say they’re doing it. The story will likely continue to build for a while longer, until the social-media world gets bored with it and moves on to something else. The fact the mainstream media is covering it may hasten its demise as a counter-cultural phenomenon. Regardless, this is one fad many of us will be glad to see in the rearview mirror.


Danger from detergent pods not limited to kids

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ABC News

via Danger from detergent pods not limited to kids, clarionledger.com

PDF: Detergent pod danger 1Detergent pod danger 2

Technology can be a wonderful thing, and innovations that make everyday tasks easier can be profitable for companies selling them. But sometimes, new products can introduce new risks. Recent research has highlighted the dangers to adults with dementia about detergent “pods,” which package detergent so it’s easier to use.

But first, a little history: A few years ago, consumer products giant Proctor & Gamble introduced the Tide Pod, a concentrated little shrink-wrapped packet of laundry detergent that removes the need to deal with messy powders and liquid detergents. Users simply had to throw the little pod in with their clothes. The plastic wrap dissolved slowly in the water, releasing the detergent at just the right rate. The technology was soon also being used in dishwashing detergent, and promised a host of other uses. Soon, pods were sold with liquid detergents, as well as powders.

But it didn’t take long for a problem to become apparent. Since the pods were brightly colored and just the right size for toddlers to mistake for a tasty treat and pop into their mouths, calls to poison-control centers began to skyrocket. In addition, since the chemicals they contained were concentrated, they were more likely to cause poisonings than other types of detergents. The Consumer Product Safety Commission announced that more than 500 kids that year had to visit emergency rooms after consuming or chewing on the pods. In some cases, kids were playing with them, causing the packaging to rupture and squirt detergent into their eyes. In others, ruptured packages led to kids accidentally inhaling the contents.

In response to the crisis, the industry began changing the products to make them less colorful and putting them in opaque containers. But that didn’t stop the problem from mushrooming in the next couple of years. By 2014, the CPSC estimated, at least 17,000 kids had been hurt. The Journal of Pediatrics studied the problem, and in 2014 issued its own warning, calling the pods a “serious poisoning risk to young children.”

In the years since, the number of products using “pod” technology has increased, with pods accounting for about 17 percent of the market. At the same time, pods accounted for nearly three-quarters of all calls to poison control centers from 2013 to 2015, according to Consumer Reports.

But now, a new danger has become apparent from the pods. Consumer Reports issued a report last week showing that, of the eight deaths directly related to laundry pods since 2012, two were children. The remaining six were senior citizens with dementia.

The report notes that people with dementia may often make the same assumption as a child when seeing the detergent pod: that it’s something to eat. Consumer Reports quoted an Alzheimer’s expert about how this process might work. “A hungry person with dementia foraging in a kitchen may misidentify a box of powdered detergent as cereal and still know to pour it in a bowl and mix it with milk from the refrigerator.”

The advice from the experts is simple: if you have an adult with dementia in the house, avoid having pods where they can reach them, and if possible avoid them altogether. “As a result of this new data from the CPSC highlighting the potential risks of laundry detergent pods to adults with dementia, we are amending our advice and recommending that family members caring for anyone who is cognitively impaired not keep pods in the home,” says Consumer Reports’ chief scientific officer, James Dickerson. “We also continue to believe that manufacturers should modify the appearance of laundry packets, so they do not look like candy.”

For more information about the risk detergent pods pose to seniors with dementia, and what you can do about it, you can read the full report at Consumer Reports.

Pool safety could stem child drownings

via Pool safety could stem child drownings, clarionledger.com

PDF: Pool drownings

For many, it’s a rite of summer. Having access to a swimming pool means the kids can have some way to spend the long, lazy summers. Here in the South, having a place to take a cool dip can be a blissful way to escape our notoriously hot weather.

But despite all the poolside fun, there is a dark side. Every year, hundreds of children drown in swimming pools across the country, and thousands more are injured in pool-related accidents. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 346 kids under the age of 15 died in 2014 (the latest year for which statistics are available).

The agency notes that accidental drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death among children aged 1-4, and the second-leading cause among kids 5-14. For the years 2014 through 2016, an average of 5,900 kids 15 or younger were treated for non-fatal drownings at hospital emergency rooms — most were under 5 years of age. More than two-thirds of drowning fatalities are boys, and the vast majority (86 percent) of fatal pool drownings occurred at backyard or apartment-complex pools.

Although grim, that report contains some good news: The number of drowning deaths among kids has actually decreased since 2010. “Despite the positive decline in numbers, there are still far too many children who drown each year in pools and spas across the country,” said Ann Marie Buerkle, acting chairwoman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. “Swimming should be fun and a great way for families to be active, so long as everyone knows how to pool safely.” (That’s not a misprint; the commission has been using the word “pool” as a verb for the purposes of its campaign.)

The Consumer Product Safety Commission and other agencies have stepped up their efforts to make people more aware of the dangers of pool drownings, and it appears to be having an effect. The commission’s “Pool Safely” campaign helps educate the public about pool safety and features an online “Pool Safely” pledge to identify your awareness level.

“Pool Safely” was started to help meet the requirements of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act. Congress enacted the law after the 2002 drowning death of 7-year-old Graeme Baker (the granddaughter of former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker), who died after being held underwater by a strong suction device at the bottom of a hot tub.

Kids can get into trouble in swimming pools in many ways. Even when there are lots of people around, a drowning can occur without notice in a noisy pool. Some drownings occur when kids accidently fall in after getting too close, and others happen when kids get into water that’s too deep, or get snagged by some obstruction. Tragically, some kids drown even when adults are nearby, or sneak into a pool unobserved. Swim lessons can help, but there is no replacement for constant (and undistracted) supervision by adults trained in lifesaving and CPR, as well as some common-sense safety features such as enclosing the pool area with a fence.

“As a mother, grandmother and registered nurse, I raised my kids, and now my grandkids, with a respect for water,” Buerkle noted. “Constant supervision, along with four-sided fencing, knowing how to perform CPR and teaching children how to swim are all important steps to continuing the decline in child drownings.”

Here are some other things to remember, from the Consumer Product Safety Commission and other sources. Visit www.poolsafely.gov for more information:

  • Install a four-sided fence (at least 4 feet high) with a self-closing, self-latching gate around all pools and spas.
  • Install alarms around the pool area. A gate alarm and floating alarms can let you know if a person or pet falls in.
  • Don’t leave toys or flotation devices in the water. They can be an irresistible lure for children.
  • Designate a Water Watcher to supervise children at all times around the water. This person should not be reading, texting, drinking alcohol, using a smartphone or be otherwise distracted.
  • Learn how to swim and teach your child how to swim.
  • Learn how to perform CPR on children and adults.
  • Keep children away from pool drains, pipes and other openings to avoid entrapments.
  • Ensure any pool and spa you use has drain covers that comply with federal safety standards and, if you do not know, ask your pool service provider about safe drain covers.

Feds bite down on ‘Shark Tank’ winner



Source: Feds bite down on ‘Shark Tank’ winner, clarionledger.com

PDF: breathometer

Getting behind the wheel after you’ve been drinking is never a good idea. But many people would pay good money to know if they’re legally impaired before they drive or do other tasks. And, it turns out, many have. After debuting on the hit show “Shark Tank” in 2013 (the first time all five “sharks” invested in a new product), the Breathometer hit the market and brought in millions in sales.

The Breathometer is a little pocket-sized device that uses your cellphone’s headphone jack, and it is used with a companion app. After drinking, the user breathes into the device, which then gives you a reading of your blood-alcohol content on the phone’s screen and informing you of whether your blood-alcohol level is within legal limits. The company marketed two devices, the Original (sold for $49), and the Breeze ($99).

While the “Shark Tank” investors were impressed and immediately saw the potential in the device, the reviews about its effectiveness were mixed. CNET reviewer Wayne Cunningham remarked, after testing the device, that the Breathometer “makes for a fun party game and a potential way to meet people in bars, but its testing results should not be taken as proof of driver safety.”

The product also caught the attention of the Federal Trade Commission, which announced last week that the company had settled charges that its claims about the Breathometer’s accuracy weren’t backed up by scientific evidence and could endanger both drivers and the public by giving false reassurance to drivers.

 Breathometer was sold with the assurance that it had undergone “government-lab grade testing” and that it was a “law-enforcement grade product,” both claims the FTC says were unsubstantiated. In some cases, the device “regularly understated BAC levels,” and the company continued to market the devices even after it learned of the issues in late 2014.

“People relied on the defendant’s products to decide whether it was safe to get behind the wheel,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Overstating the accuracy of the devices was deceptive — and dangerous.”

The settlement requires the company and its founder and CEO, Charles Michael Yim, to cease from “making future accuracy claims for a consumer breathalyzer product unless such claims are supported by rigorous testing” against National Highway Traffic Safety Administration protocols. The company must also provide refunds to consumers who bought devices.

In a statement on its website, Breathometer noted it had settled the case and was moving on. Its next product, Mint, analyzes your breath for compounds that could indicate poor oral health. “We feel it is important to clarify that this settlement does not undermine our achievements in creating quality consumer health devices,” the statement read. “We proactively stopped manufacturing Original and Breeze in 2015 prior to the FTC’s inquiry. We stand behind our current product, Mint, and its quality and pioneering technology.”

We’ve seen a lot of cases come up in which companies claim their products are effective at doing some task or other, and back up those statements by saying their products have been tested (or even endorsed) by official agencies and reputable testing labs. Unfortunately, that’s not often the case, and sometimes the results can be dangerous. A wide range of products can cause potential harm or even death if a user trusts marketing claims, often in lieu of getting real medical or safety advice from experts.

“Representations about safety are of great significance to consumers,” the FTC said in its Deception Policy Statement, which gives guidelines about how companies should verify their advertising claims. “It’s usually hyperbole to suggest that companies substantiate their claims as if lives depend on it, but it’s an accurate statement for a product that promises to accurately test the BAC of a person who is deciding whether to drive after drinking,” added the FTC’s blogger Lesley Fair.

Since 950 Mississippians died in alcohol-related crashes in 2015 (according the Mississippi Department of Transportation), it’s a serious safety issue. Ultimately, deciding to drive after drinking is taking an incredible risk, one that might have catastrophic effects on your future and those of others. So, while such devices may be fun at parties, it’s far too big a decision to entrust to a smartphone.

Pain relief promise unproven

From Pain relief promise unproven: column, clarionledger.com

Millions of Americans deal with joint pain, much of it caused by arthritis and related conditions. The Arthritis Foundation estimates that more than 50 million Americans suffer from some form of doctor-diagnosed arthritis, and that number will soar to 67 million by 2030.

Joint pain is so common and so debilitating that many people will do just about anything to ease it. And while there are many ways to get some relief (even if it’s only temporary), the population of joint-pain sufferers has created a market for various types of products that promise relief.

Many products feature glucosamine and chondroitin, both of which are produced naturally in the body’s connective tissue. As to the effectiveness of these products, most reputable medical sources say more study is needed. But that hasn’t stopped promoters from coming up with hundreds of products that contain these products as dietary supplements. But, as one company found out recently, companies wishing to cash in on this lucrative market should be careful before making claims about what they can do for joint-pain sufferers.

Last week, the sellers of Supple, a glucosamine and chondroitin liquid supplement, agreed to a $150 million settlement with the Federal Trade Commission after the agency charged they falsely advertised that their product provided “complete relief from chronic and severe joint pain caused by arthritis and fibromyalgia” and was “scientifically proven to eliminate joint pain.”

Supple, the FTC alleged, didn’t have the medical evidence to back those claims.

“Companies need solid scientific evidence to back up the health claims they make,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Consumers should not have to take it on faith that products claiming to provide pain relief will live up to their billing.”

In federal court, the FTC alleged that Supple LLC,CEO Peter Apatow, and his ex-wife, Dr. Monita Poudyal, took in more than $150 million from sales. Marketing Supple through informercials, social media and by other methods, the company charged about $70 for a 24-day supply of the product while a 144-day supply sold for $270. In some infomercials, Poudyal acted as a medical-show host and Apatow (creator of the product) acted as the guest.

“Poudyal and Apatow described Supple,” the FTC noted in its news release, “as a powerful all-natural drink that provides complete and long-lasting relief from joint pain; treats or relieves chronic or severe pain, including pain caused by all forms of arthritis and fibromyalgia; provides pain relief comparable to drugs or surgery; repairs cartilage; rebuilds joints and entire joint structures; and restores mobility and joint function to consumers with severe mobility restrictions.”

For example, the website Consumerist.com quoted Apatow as saying, “If you just drink a can of Supple every day … it’ll help you get rid of all your pain, all your immobility, all of your suffering. You could stop taking dangerous pain drugs, you could avoid surgery.”

The FTC charges that these claims are false or not adequately substantiated. In addition, the commission alleges the defendants falsely claimed Supple is clinically proven to eliminate joint pain.

Other allegations included “expert endorsement” claims for the product made by Poudyal, while falsely representing herself as an independent, impartial medical expert and failing to disclose that she was married to Apatow during the marketing campaign. Endorsements, while effective in overcoming objections about buying a product, can be misleading if the objectivity of endorsers is compromised through conflicts of interest.

While Apatow, Poudyal and the company apparently will not have to come up with the $150 million (after telling the court they didn’t have the money), they will have to stop making any unsubstantiated claims in the future.

For more on this case, visit http://bit.ly/2e3LzGq.

Flood-damaged cars put back on market



via Flood-damaged cars put back on market, clarionledger.com

PDF: flooded-cars

As the region cleans up after the catastrophic flooding of the past few weeks, there are going to be lots of folks looking to sell their flood-damaged cars. It happens every time there’s a major flood, and it often catches people off-guard. Usually, flooded cars often hit the market within days.

Vehicles in the path of floodwaters can have severe damage that is not always apparent or repairable. As we saw in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina here in Mississippi, flooded cars can be a big problem for unsuspecting buyers.

After insurance claims are settled, some cars are put back into the market. Unfortunately, it can be hard to detect a flood-damaged car. Unscrupulous owners and salesmen will often go to great lengths to hide flood damage. Legally and ethically, owners of flooded cars should disclose whether the vehicle has been in a flood, crash or other disaster. But unscrupulous sellers don’t always comply with the law, or care about ethics when there’s money to be made.

Just because a vehicle looks fine after being refurbished doesn’t mean it’s safe. Often, the floodwater has permanently damaged key components vital to operation and safety (such as the electrical system or brakes). While the vehicle may function fine at first, buyers can be on the hook for expensive repairs years later, with no recourse or warranties from the seller. And flooding can weaken the vehicle’s safety system through rust and corrosion, as well, making the vehicle unsafe to drive.

If you’re in the market for a vehicle, it’s a good idea to be extra careful of private-sale deals on vehicles. And running a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) check on Carfax, AutoCheck or another title-checking service may reveal whether the vehicle has been marked as salvage (but may not help if the title has been “washed” illegally). Any time you get a used vehicle, take it to a local mechanic you trust so they can check it out thoroughly.

There are a few things to look for which may signify the vehicle has been in a flood. Autotrader.com sent me these helpful tips:

  • Check under the vehicle’s carpets or floor covering for mud or rust, and don’t forget the trunk. Often, hurried cleanups will ignore damaged areas covered by carpeting.
  • Take a whiff of the carpets. A mildew-like smell could be a sign of trouble.
  • Check for mud and debris in hard-to-reach areas, and on the underside of panels and brackets; they may have been missed during the cleaning process.
  • Look for rust on the heads of any exposed screws under the hood, around the doors or in the trunk.

If you find out you’ve bought a flood-damaged vehicle that wasn’t disclosed as such, contact the Consumer Protection Division of the Mississippi attorney general’s office at 1-800-281-4418.

Key fobs latest VW woe



via Key fobs latest VW woe, clarionledger.com

PDF: The_Clarion-Ledger_State_20160818_A002_5

If you own certain models of Volkswagen diesel vehicles, you’re probably aware of the $10.3 billion settlement involving “clean diesel” claims made by the German automaker. This history-making settlement between VW and the Federal Trade Commission promises to compensate consumers who bought VW models with 2.0-liter diesel engines in a “buyback” program of unprecedented size, in many cases, offering more than the vehicle’s current value, or making repairs and paying cash in addition.

Now, a new concern has emerged for VW owners: some VW cars’ remote keyless entry systems could be hacked, leading to your vehicle being stolen.  British researchers and a German engineering firm announced last week that the key fobs for millions of VW Jettas and Passats sold between 1995 and 2016, as well as those for some Audis and other brands, could be compromised, letting thieves potentially unlock and steal the vehicles. The vulnerability could affect as many as 100 million cars.

According to many sources, it’s not the first time that VW vehicles have been found to have security vulnerabilities; the same firm that released this week’s results also found significant vulnerabilities back in 2012, but announcement of those results were delayed for two years after VW allegedly sued to keep the story quiet (citing the increased risk of theft if the results were made public).

This developing story comes on the heels of the emissions scandal (some have dubbed it “Dieselgate”), in which Volkswagen was accused of having falsified emissions test results. The automaker admitted to using what’s been called a “defeat device,” which caused more than 500,000 diesel vehicles to appear to be more environmentally friendly than they actually were.

The emissions scandal is already producing a lot of confusion about the settlement and the “buy-back” program. The FTC this week warned VW, and independent dealers, that they should be careful when using the buyback program for marketing.  “It would be unwise for anyone — including independent VW dealers — to make separate offers implying either that an offer is part of the $10.03 billion settlement if it is not, or that affected diesel owners must buy a new VW or Audi,” the FTC noted in a news release. “FTC staff will be watching closely to ensure that the compensation process is unsullied by deception.”

The agency advises consumers that their first step should be to visit VWCourtSettlement.com , the official settlement website. There, owners can register their vehicle, and find out their options. Buybacks could start in late fall of this year and emissions modifications will begin once approved.

VW owners shouldn’t feel pressured to make a quick decision; they have more than two years to decide. And, if they get settlement money, they can use it for whatever they want. Apparently, the FTC and other agencies have been hearing from VW owners who have been approached with alternate offers, trying to take advantage of the concerns.

“It’s unwise,” warned FTC blogger Lesley Fair, “for anyone — including independently-owned VW dealers — to make separate offers that: 1) falsely imply that the offer is part of the pending $10 billion settlement, 2) falsely tell owners they have to spend compensation under the settlement on a new VW or Audi or 3) use “Act now!” tactics to lock owners into a separate deal before owners have the full picture of what they stand to gain as part of the $10 billion settlement.”

“If someone makes you an offer for your VW or Audi car, or suggests limits on the buyback program that don’t exist, please report them to the FTC,” Fair added. “We worked very hard to get a fair deal for VW and Audi owners and lessees, and we don’t want anyone to undermine it.”

Meanwhile, many experts say that although the key fob vulnerabilities are real (and likely not limited to just VWs), it apparently takes quite a lot of effort, targeting specific vehicles. To find out more about the buyback program related to the emissions settlement, VW owners should visit http://VWCourtSettlement.com.

Be careful refueling your A/C

AdobeStock_514814.jpegvia Moak: Be careful refueling your A/C, clarionledger.com

As the weather heats up here in the South, our air-conditioning units will be getting busier and busier. The invention of air-conditioning has without a doubt created fundamental changes in how we live. Since its introduction in 1902, air-conditioning has not only changed the way we build structures (and even entire communities); it has also changed the way we interact (or don’t) with our neighbors and how much time we spend outdoors.

The rapid spread of air-conditioning (for which I, like most Southerners, am eternally thankful) has also led to rising concerns about the impact this technology has on the environment. Some refrigerants used in air-conditioning units (known as HCFCs or Freon) are being limited or banned outright by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency out of concern they’re damaging the ozone layer. (Which — in case you weren’t paying attention in your high-school science class — protects us from being fried by the sun’s ultraviolet rays.)

The EPA is in the middle of an aggressive phase-out of some HCFCs, which will force companies to stop making them by 2020. Since the phase-out targets the widely used R-22 or HCFC-22, it’s forcing the industry to find new ways to adapt. Although R-22 use is still legal, the phase-out means the cost is rising and will continue to rise due to decreased supplies. (It’s important to remember you can still use R-22, and if you have it in your unit, it’s perfectly fine.) You’ll only have to pay higher prices if your A/C unit needs to be “recharged” due to a leak.

As costs rise and R-22 stockpiles dwindle, however, people have tried a lot of ideas for replacements. Unfortunately, some of those ideas aren’t so smart; some alternatives to R-22 are being sold that could be dangerous because they contain highly flammable propane. Yes, the same propane that you use to light your campsite or cook your hamburgers is a primary component in a substance being sold as “R-22a.” The EPAissued a news release earlier this month warning about the products and how they can cause an improperly equipped air-conditioner to explode or catch fire.

“Using an unapproved, flammable refrigerant in a system that wasn’t designed to address flammability can lead to serious consequences, including explosion or injury in the worst cases,” said Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. “As the summer cooling season gets started, we want to make sure consumers and equipment owners know what is going into their system is safe.”

The EPA has already conducted several enforcement actions about R-22a and related products, including the arrest of a Metairie, Louisiana, man who earlier this year allegedly sold a product called “Super-Freeze 22A” but didn’t warn his customers it could catch fire. In two additional cases, companies in Kansas and Illinois faced huge fines and were forced to stop selling similar products.

“EPA encourages technicians and contractors to consult our website for more information and recommends homeowners confirm that air-conditioning service providers follow manufacturers’ recommendations,” the EPA said in the news release. “Homeowners should be aware that recharging their cooling systems with the wrong refrigerant can void manufacturers’ warranties.”

The EPA has a list of questions and answers about R-22A atwww.epa.gov/snap/questions-and-answers-about-r-22a-safety.

In the meantime, if you are concerned about R-22 or alternatives, talk to your HVAC (heating, ventilation, air-conditioning) technician to make sure you know what’s being put into your unit. Most experts recommend having a qualified HVAC company take a look at your system at least once a year anyway, especially since our Mississippi summer is going to give your system quite a workout.

Pressure washers can deliver nasty bite


Wikimedia Commons

via Moak: Pressure washers can deliver nasty bite, clarionledger.com

PDF: Pressure Washers

All across the country, the annual ritual of spring cleaning is under way; in neighborhoods everywhere, you can already hear the unmistakable sounds of pressure washers as people prepare to erase a year’s worth of grime from their shutters, driveways, decks, siding, grills and more.

Pressure washers have come way down in price in recent years, and have revolutionized the business of grime removal for many homeowners. The technology is straightforward; a small electric or gas engine can increase water pressure more than 80 times from what you can get from your standard garden hose (around 4,000 pounds per square inch). That’s a lot of pressure in a very small area; a chore that once took a day of elbow grease now can be done in just minutes.

But a recent Consumer Reports article warns us to be careful; pressure washers can deliver a nasty bite. Especially with “zero-degree” settings, in which the water is concentrated into a tiny laser-like stream, getting on the wrong end of the pressure washer can cause serious injuries and even infections.

“The extreme danger with pressure washers is that even with what seems a very minimal skin break, the fluid can get deep into the tissue and spread out and cause bacterial infection,” says Dr. Howard Mell, a spokesman for the American College of Emergency Physicians.

“An estimated 6,057 people in 2014 alone went to an emergency room with injuries related to pressure washer use, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission,” Consumer Reports noted. “And 14 percent of those ER visits led to additional hospitalization. (Not all of the injuries could be attributed to contact with a powerful spray.)”

The article tells the story of one of Mell’s patients who was hit in the calf, producing a laceration less than 2 inches across. But internally, there was infection to the muscle. It took a long operation and months of physical therapy for the patient to heal.

One key issue with the devices is that many people automatically use the highest setting. Most pressure washers can be adjusted from a wide spray to a very small one (the “zero-degree” setting.) “The zero-degree nozzle in this case may be used to extend the reach of the water and thus eliminate the need of a ladder,” Consumer Reports quoted the Pressure Washer Manufacturers’ Association. “In addition, it may also be used for etching or removing extremely stubborn debris prior to washing or rinsing using 15-degree or larger-angle nozzles.”

Consumer Reports recommends consumers consider wider spray patterns, which may take a little longer, but are safer. They are also recommending the industry stop selling pressure washer tips that allow settings smaller than 15 degrees altogether, and if you have one (usually with a red tip), avoid using it. If you do use it, be extremely careful not to point it at any person or animal. And protect yourself with safety goggles, long pants and close-toed shoes.

PressureWasherToday, a blog that reports on pressure washer issues, has additional safety tips, including these:

  • Make sure you are working from stable ground, not a ladder. The high pressure can make the nozzle kick back and could knock you off the ladder, or make the nozzle point in a direction you didn’t intend.
  • Don’t try to work with a unit that has any damage, such as a cracked hose.
  • Avoid working around power lines or electrical cables. They can be damaged by the spray.
  • Be careful when working near windows. The spray can break glass.
  • When finished, be sure to turn off the engine, then release the pressure by squeezing the trigger.

For more information, visit consumerreports.org or pressurewashertoday.com.

Did we go overboard over hoverboards?


(File: AP)

via Moak: Did we go overboard over hoverboards?, clarionledger.com, 1/5/2015

Recently, I watched all three “Back to the Future” movies once again (for at least the 20th time). It’s great fun; everyone loves watching the antics of Marty McFly and Doc Brown as they cavort through time in the iconic stainless-steel DeLorean. One really cool invention in the story was the hoverboard. This device came from an alternate 2015 in which the skateboard had lost its wheels, allowing Marty to hover up and down the streets of Hill Valley. Marty could be seen using the hoverboard to great effect as he escaped the clutches of bad guys and even used the board to save Doc and Clara from plunging into Shonash (or was it Clayton…er, Eastwood?) Ravine.

So, imagine the delight of millions when they started hearing hints that they would soon be able to buy one of these magical devices! And, although 2015 was disappointingly devoid of flying cars, a few of “Back to the Future’s”predictions had come tantalizingly close. (Pro baseball in Florida, tablet computers and video conferencing are just a few they got right; we’re still waiting for the Cubs to win the Series, fax machines jumped the proverbial shark a while back, and nobody’s seen a new Pontiac since 2009.)

But the hoverboard would have really been something; it seemed as though it had happened. Then, reality set in. The so-called “hoverboard” turned out to be just a down-sized, wheeled Segway (technically a “self-balancing scooter”), which looks something like a powered sideways skateboard. Still, it was pretty cool to be seen with one; many celebrities got in on the act, and the hoverboard began to top Christmas lists around the globe. Stores began selling out; it seemed as though we were witnessing the birth of an iconic new direction in personal transport. Several brands began to appear, ranging in price from about $400 to $1,800.

But, what a difference a day (OK, a few days….) make. The hoverboard is in trouble. Reports have surfaced that hoverboard batteries can catch fire, they’ve been banned in some communities (and the entire United Kingdom, except on private property), airlines won’t allow you to bring them on flights, and — in the ultimate indignity — Amazon has suggested you throw them out entirely. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has stepped into the fray, saying they are investigating the devices.

What’s going on here? Are hoverboards really the scourge of civilization? Not since the Heely have we seen such a backlash against youthful mobility devices. It could be that hoverboards were rushed to market too soon, improperly tested or ill-conceived. Counterfeit hoverboards are available online for under $300; who knows whether they are made with any quality considerations in mind?

The most likely explanation, though, is that it all happened too quickly. CNET — one of the Internet’s most trusted tech advisers — admits it hasn’t had time to test them and compare brands.

If you’re still interested in a hoverboard, though, CNET does suggest you shop carefully, with these things in mind:

It’s all about that battery. Hoverboards have powerful Lithium-Ion batteries, which can be faulty. In rare cases, they can overheat, catch fire or even explode (hence, their exclusion from planes). If you can wait, it might be a good idea to give the manufacturers some time to work out the safety issues.

Quality is important. Higher-end brands will cost more, but they are more likely to be better-made. Go directly to the manufacturer, rather than trying to get one through a third-party seller.

Keep safety in mind. Remember, these devices can propel you along at up to 10 miles per hour; that’s way faster than most of us walk, and probably as fast as most of us can run, too. If you hit an obstacle such as a pothole, piece of trash or curb, you will go flying and the result won’t be pleasant. Therefore, it’s a good idea to wear pads and a helmet, as you would with a skateboard.

We’ll have to wait and see if hoverboards (the wheeled kind) will be a lasting addition to society, or just a short-lived fad. It could be that, in a few years, the real thing will come; some inventors claim to have invented true levitation technology. If true, that will doubtless revolutionize transportation. It could be that our grandkids will wonder how they ever lived without being able to zip up and down the sidewalk on their hoverboards, as we get into our flying cars and head off into a future where we don’t need… roads.