Trivia and EHS Practice – Sometimes Serendipity

One of the delights of our EHS profession, for me anyway, is when trivia we pick up elsewhere pays off big time during an investigation.

Case of National Geographic: When I first started a new job, I assumed responsibility for indoor environmental quality investigations. One of the first investigations involved paper mites allegedly biting female employees of the top floor of a building. The men scoffed and the women suffered. This had been going on for several years with paper files being uselessly sprayed with pesticides and placebo water mist. The perceived benefits varied.

Upon learning only the women were claiming being bit, I remembered a National Geographic article I read about explorers sleeping in a New Guinea jungle hut. Fleas devoured the lone female explorer while her dozen or so male colleagues slept unmolested. Apparently, human female hormones are irresistible to fleas. Examination of some volunteers’ legs showed the signs of fleabites. An early morning reconnaissance above the suspended ceiling found bird nests (complete with bird fleas) in two of three locations checked. Problem solved.

Case of Dr. Royer’s Botany Field Trip: At one point in my career, I was representing my employer’s interest with regard to claims that a plating shop operation had caused outside soil chrome contamination. That’s what the agency claimed when they found alleged high levels of chrome in soil samples. This could have been very expensive to dispute, let alone “treat.” The agency thought they were on to something.

In college, my botany professor Dr. Royer took us on a field trip to observe the flora. The area was in the same geological formation as the shop. While there, I observed remains of 19th century mine entrances and pits. What are they, Dr. Royer? “Old chrome mines.” she replied. With this knowledge, I was able to disabuse the chrome contamination idea at minimal cost.

I’d love to read some of your cases of applying trivia.

Dave Ermer, CIH, QEP, CLSO, can be reached at [email protected].

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