"Safety builds integrity and a
safe job site"
Watch Out for Those Pigeons
Every day on demolition jobsites
across the United States and Canada, industry workers face a host of diverse
hazards. It takes constant vigilance to maintain an accident free workplace.
With all these hazards, you wouldn't think a demolition industry worker would
need to worry about our feathered friends. The NIOSH and NCAD beg to disagree.
Histoplasmosis, a real tongue
twister, is an infectious disease caused by inhaling the spores of a fungus
called Histoplasma capsulatum which primarily affects a person's lungs and can,
if left untreated, cause severe respiratory problems.
H. capsulatum grows in soils in
throughout the world. In the US and Canada, the fungus is endemic and the
proportion of people infected in the US is higher in the central and eastern
states, especially along the large rivers of the US.
The fungus seems to grow best in
soils which have a high nitrogen content, especially those enriched in bird
manure. The organism can be carried on the wings feet and beaks of birds and
infect the soil under roosting sites and manure accumulations inside or outside
buildings, where workers are likely to encounter it.
Anyone at a job or present near
activities where material can be contaminated with HC becomes airborne can
develop Histoplasmosis if enough spores are inhaled. After exposure, how ill a
person becomes varies greatly and most likely depends on a number of spores
inhaled and the person's age and susceptibility to the disease.
The symptoms of Histoplasmosis can
vary greatly. The majority of those effected will have mild symptoms or none at
all. They may fight of the infection and never known they had the disease. If
symptoms do occur, they usually star 5 to 18 days after exposure.
Histoplasmosis can appear as a
mild, flu-like illness and has a combination of symptoms which include malaise,
a general ill feeling, fever, chest pains, dry or nonproductive cough, headache
and hoarseness. A chest X-ray can reveal distinct markings on an infected
Demolition industry workers at
risk for exposure to HC may learn useful information from a histoplasm skin
test. The results of skin testing would inform each worker of his status
regarding either susceptibility to the infection by HC or partial protection
against ill effects if reinfected.
The real secret to prevent
Histoplasmosis is to prevent the accumulation of manure in the first place. If a
colony of birds is found in a building, immediate action should be taken to
exclude them and seal off al entry points so they do not return.
When an accumulation of bird manure
is discovered in a structure, it is important to post the area with signs
warning of the potential health risks. Each sign should have the name and number
of a person to be contacted if there are any questions about the area.
Air sampling, surface sampling or
the use of any other method intended to confirm that no infectious agents remain
in a building following the removal of the manure is unnecessary in most cases. However,
before removal activity is finished, the cleaned area should be inspected
visually to ensure that no residual dust or debris
Disinfectants can be used to treat
contaminated soil and accumulations of manure where removal is impractical
or as a precaution before a removal is started. Formaldehyde solutions are the
only disinfectants proven to be effective for decontaminating soil containing
HC. Remember, that formaldehyde can produce serious health risks if improperly
applied so only trained people should be used to handle the chemical.
Any material that might be
contaminated with HC that is removed from a worksite should be properly disposed
of or decontaminated properly and safely and not merely moved to another area
where it could still be a health hazard.
Before an activity is started, the
quantity of material to be removed should be estimated. If the approximate
volume of manure in a building is known, the approximate weight can be
calculated using a conversion factor of 40 lbs per foot. Requirements
established by local, state and federal authorities for the removal,
transportation and disposal of contaminated material should be followed.
Arrangements should be made with a landfill operator concerning the quantity of
materials to be disposed of, the dates when the material will be delivered and
the disposal location.
It is also important to remember that the potential for
the exposure to HC exists for other trades onsite or to the general public.
The three largest outbreaks of HC all took place in Indianapolis
during the fall of 1978, the spring of 1979 and in early 1980. In the first
outbreak, an estimated 120,000 people were infected and 15 died.
Histoplasmosis can be prevented by carefully evaluating
the situation on your jobsite and following normal decontamination safe
(Reprinted by permission from Demolition Magazine,
National Association of Demolition Contractors.)