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Chemicals, the Environment, and You
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The Fieldtrip Howard's Videos Video Interviews Additional Information

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The purpose of this bus garage is to keep those school kids moving, literally. What have we got, over 2,000 kids, 90 classrooms, and over 200 field trips a year. When a vehicle isn't out on a run, we're checking it out, fueling it up, making sure it's good to go. It's a public relations job, too. People call the school district if they see one of our busses or vans doing something wrong. Sometimes it's the driver's problem. Remember, they've got precious cargo. But sometimes it's our problem here. Like when someone calls to say that our exhaust is making the air dirty and they wish we'd clean up our emissions. Well, it's true. Exhaust from our vehicles and everyone's cars does pollute the air. We've just got to make sure that we're within the legal limits of polluting. We tune up the busses and run emissions checks to make sure the engines are burning fuel right. We don't want to be part of this city's pollution problem, adding too much carbon monoxide, unburned hydrocarbons, and visible smoke through our air. But things do get crazy around here, you know. Tune them up, fuel them up, and send them off, over and over. It's a wonder we don't miss something sometimes.

OSHA Inspector

I am an inspector. Employees here at the museum love me. I'm the one who makes sure they're not harmed by exposure to stuff that might seem harmless. If people need to use chemicals that can cause health risks, I want to make sure they're safe. So I make sure that they wear gloves if they're handling things that could absorb through the skin. I give them a respirator if chemical vapors are a problem, and I make sure that everyone has a pair of safety glasses. I don't want any eye injuries because of flying particles while I'm around. Even though I am an inspector, you know, all official and everything, employers like me, too. That's because job safety is in everyone's best interest. Fewer injuries mean fewer days lost on the job. Our specs cover everything from ventilation to chemical storage. It can be a challenge because materials and tools keep changing. One minute somebody is handling fiber glass, dispersing particles into the air. In the next, she's mixing paint or solvents, creating a possible vapor hazard. But the museum has me. I serve as the site's own personal safety monitor. And I like a good challenge.

EPA Inspector

Gasoline, it's a great mixture of chemicals. Think of all of the things gasoline has done for you. It's the fuel you use to get to the mall, to the movies, to camp, to your orthodontist appointment—well, maybe that you can live without. But I guarantee you, you don't want to go back to the horse-and-buggy days. Gasoline is a great mixture of chemicals, but you need to remember to use some caution when you're around it. Here, for instance, at the gas station, the air here has more gasoline vapors in it than regular air has. And you don't want to add any more. Gasoline vapors aren't good for you. You could feel dizzy if you breathe a little, or lose consciousness if you breathe a lot. If gasoline splashes into your eyes, ooh, ouch, that can burn. So I check all of the gas stations around here to make sure they have this kind of pump, one that sucks back the vapors so you don't breathe them in when you fill your gas tank, and automatic shut-off valves so you don't splash any extra gasoline on the ground.

ER Nurse

Oh, I feel just like that lady, you know, that old lady that solved the mysteries in those old mystery books. Well, suddenly, lots of parents show up here with sick kids, all from the same school. What could it be that made all of those kids so sick at the same time in the same way at the same place? It's the mystery of the many children on the field trip. That's in case I have to give the mystery a title. Symptoms, I saw dizziness, I saw nausea. And they were moving really slowly. That old mystery book lady would say that when symptoms come on for that many people that quickly, a good snoop looks for recent events they all shared in common. I just can't wait until they feel like talking. But meanwhile, we're doing standard blood tests for the gas levels and a toxicology screen to look for a possible cause. Oh, the mystery of the toxic field trip, or maybe the mystery of the field trip toxin. Oh, the field trip's mysterious toxin.

Art Teacher

I have always been safety first. Before I came to the museum to direct the activity room, I was a performance artist—maybe you heard of me, the magnificent human paint brush. Well, anyway, I used to do the body-is-paintbrush thing. I knew paint fumes were bad, so I wore a respirator and only worked where ventilation was good. But, I got sick anyway. Who would have guessed that I could absorb toxin solvents through my skin? Now I use only nontoxic paint here in the activity room so that no one is exposed to any harmful chemicals. And I still do some of my performance art on the side, except now it's a little toned down. I paint only with my hands, which I cover first with liquid gloves. And I have eliminated my famous full-body brush stroke. Have you heard of me now, the magnificent finger painter? No? People tell me to be sure to keep this day job. What do you suppose they mean by that?

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