The next time you pick up your dry cleaning, you might want to consider what you have unwittingly encouraged. Perchloroethylene, a mainstay chemical used in all dry cleaning, is one of the primary poisons seeping into our soil, and from there, into our homes, where it can cause illness, birth defects, and death.
In October, 2005, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued a guidance document on these toxins and other intrusive vapors. The solutions and problems created by this document are among the hot topics in the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education's Environmental Forum on Friday, June 23, at 7:30 a.m. through Sunday, June 25, at the Golden Inn Hotel and Restaurant in Avalon. Cost $219. Visit www.NJICLE.com
Attorney and chemical engineer Frank Boenning speaks on technical and legal aspects of vapor intrusions at 8:30 a.m. on June 24. A native of Point Pleasant Beach, he attended Stevens Institute, graduating in l988 with a degree in chemical engineering and an environmental specialty. He then took these talents to the historic town of Loredo, Texas, where he joined Anzon, a mining company, working as an environmental consultant.
"Anyone who works with the environment," says Boenning, "sooner or later ends up rubbing up against law and government a lot of the time." So, shaking the dust of the mines, he entered the School of Law at St. Mary's University in San Antonio. Since l998 Boenning has worked as an environmental specialist for the law firm of Lowenstein Sandler in Roseland.
The DEP's intrusive vapors guidance document may sound like an advisory proposal, but it bears the full weight of law. Its goal is to define buildings that may contain lethal vapors - and ensure their remediation. While the eradication is relatively simple, the discovery of these hazardous pollutants has proved hard and costly - and has met with significant protests.
What lies below. As far back as the ancient Roman poet Ovid people have feared invisible diseases borne on foul air. The illness, although not recognized, was malaria, was carried by swamp-bred mosquitoes. Ovid's suggestion for a cure was to enter the victim's room singing joyous tunes and waving large fans to sweep away the pollution.
A surprisingly similar solution was employed two millennia later to rid American structures of the invisible radon gas that seeped through foundation cracks. The gas would be simply be blown outside and away by electric fans (tunes optional).
Radon was a naturally occurring substance that stayed put. A high radon site could be surveyed and known. However, the new list of lethal intrusive vapors have sprung from man-made sources and it is difficult to determine where they may seep through the earth.
The three biggest intrusive vapor villains are perchloroethylene, used in dry cleaning; trichloroethylene, used in degreasing solutions; and gasoline derivatives such as benzene. These chemicals collect in the soil and naturally transform into gases. If a structure has basement cracks and poor ventilation, these gases can intrude into the structure, and slowly but surely cause a variety of illnesses.
Hunting the villains. The DEP's intrusive vapors guidance document requires that when one of the above volatile chemicals is suspected to lie within 100 feet of a structure, the responsible party must pay for tests and analysis. This entails core sampling the area's soil, the layer of soil gas below the building, and even the air within the building itself. "For a 5,000 square-foot shop, this process can run into the tens of thousands of dollars," says Boenning.
With this kind of potential expense, who precisely is the responsible party? "This is the point where people begin to roll up their shirtsleeves and get ready for a fight," says Boenning. Technically, the company that discharged the volatile organic chemical into the ground is liable. However, the new purchaser of a plant where the discharge once occurred may also be held responsible. This totally over rides the "innocent party" status awarded to unknowing buyers in most brownfield legislation.
Fanning the gas. Once the presence of a hazardous intrusive vapor is determined the solution is technically simple and relatively low cost. Trenches are jackhammered in the basement or slab floor and slotted pipe is laid about one foot below the concrete. Solid pipes are connected to the slotted ones and are laid to the nearest window. The gas seeps into the slotted pipe and is drawn away by a small fan. The slotted pipes are re-covered and all cracks are patched.
Increasingly, builders are installing such systems along with basic vapor barriers as they pour basements. As part of the original building, it provides an inexpensive and attractive protection, desired by both residential and commercial buyers.
An analysis too far? Even during its short tenure, the DEP's guidance document has caused a furor. Many state that the required parts-per-billion screening levels of these volatile chemicals are unrealistic.
"If you have slight background traces of these chemicals, such as a lawn mower in your garage, or a fresh load of dry cleaning in the closet, you may be above the DEP limits," says Boenning. In addition, the laboratory technicians have complained that the amounts of these gasses they must search out are too minuscule to measure.
Before this current document, Boenning always felt that he could take individual cases to the DEP and work out a solution. But with the new law, no one is sure how much slack may and should be cut. No one denies that these gases in some amount are lethal, and worth any price to eradicate from our dwellings. But how low must we go?
It has been said that the worst terrorism we Americans face is the slow poisoning of our earth and our air. Certainly more people have suffered from this fouling than all military terrorist attacks in our nation. But the good news is that ours is the polluting hand and ours is the will that can end it.
- Bart Jackson
Biotech Funding: Turning Stones
Harvey Homan, president and CEO of medical device company Urovalve, says that the best way for an early stage medical device company to obtain funding is to "turn over every stone possible."
Urovalve's product, a remote-activated intra-urethral catheter for men who suffer urinary retention, was developed by an engineer working in his basement after he broke his back in 1986. By 2003, when Homan joined the company, it had a lab prototype, and exactly two years later the company had completed its first in-man clinical study. Urovalve www.urovalve.com) is housed in the NJIT Economic Development Enterprise Center in Newark.
Homan speaks at the Life Science Business Development Forum of the New Jersey Technology Council's Life Sciences Network on Wednesday, June 28, at 2 p.m. at University Heights in Newark. The forum's purpose is to bring together New Jersey life science companies and interested corporate development and licensing professionals, researchers, and investors. Register at www.njtc.org or call 856-787-9700 for more information.
Holman is now busy following his own funding advice. He has taken the company through the present with initial funding of about $1 million from private investors and a National Institutes of Health grant. Recently Urovalve received an Incubator Seed Fund Grant from the New Jersey Commission on Science and Technology, and the company is in the final stages of due diligence for a Techniuum loan for early-stage technology businesses from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority. Urovalve has also received a commitment for a grant from the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation to fund a clinical study.
One funding strategy Homan uses is presentations about Urovalve at select meetings with investors, like the recent Biotechnology Industry Organization's Venture Forum. He then follows up through contacts and networking in order to "identify investors who are interested in early-stage medical device companies."
Homan 20 years of experience in large pharmaceuticals to Urovalve. He worked at Sterling Pharmaceuticals for 13 years, and spent seven years at Boots company in England. When he left Boots in 2000 and returned to the United States, he decided he wanted to work in early-stage companies and was hired as CEO for Linguagen, a Cranbury-based company that discovers and develops flavor modifiers and sweeteners for pharmaceuticals, foods, and beverages. Homan's academic credentials include a B.A. in biology from the University of Buffalo, an M.A. in biology from Hofstra University, an MBA in marketing from the Stern School at NYU, and a Ph.D. in pharmacology from the University of Georgia.
Urovalve is currently working on some design refinements to address needs identified in the clinical study. The company is aiming to complete the regulatory process and get 510k device approval in time to launch by the end of 2007.
Urovalve believes that its product is unique, and a vast improvement over current devices. On its website, it states that "simple, low-cost valves have been developed that can be activated remotely by a user to self-regulate flow. Proprietary catheters have been developed to retain a valve in place, without exposure to the external environment, and introducers and extractors have been developed to enable easy and rapid placement without the need for surgery.
"A valved-catheter has been developed that will free users from reliance on a Foley catheter and bag, frequent intermittent catheterization, or surgery followed by need for a condom catheter. These low-technology devices limit activities, impose dependence on others, damage the self-image of users, and cause a high incidence of serious urinary tract infections. Catheter-associated UTIs affect approximately 840,000 U. S. patients annually and cost approximately $1,300 to test and treat each catheter-associated UTI.
"At the other end of the spectrum are very expensive, high technology devices, such as the nerve stimulator or the artificial sphincter that require irreversible, extensive surgery. No devices currently available or known to be in development combine the utility, ease of use, and cost benefits of the valved-catheter that has been developed and patented by Urovalve."
The device that Urovalve is developing could have wide application, and could, therefore, be an important part of a larger company's product portfolio. The goal, says Homan, is to develop into an attractive acquisition for Bard or another large medical device company active in the urology field. "We anticipate a fairly short period of staying independent," he says, "less than five years."
- Michele Alperin
New Life For Old Business Card
Sometimes it takes just one client - or one more client - to get a business going or to kick it into high gear. It used to be said, way back in the 20th century, that a prospective client would have to see your business' name five times before it registered. Now, with ads everywhere, but human consciousness dulled by semi-permanent attachments such as iPod earbuds and cellphone Bluetooths, the number is multiplied.
Lisa West and her sister, Nora Anderson, have come up with one more way to get the word out. As low tech as it is common sense, their ad venue is designed to fill those dead air moments passed in line at a store cash register or a receptionist's desk or in a restaurant lobby waiting for a table.
The pair launched their home-based business, Select Business Advertising www.selectbusinessad.com), last month. It involves charging small businesses and professionals to place a business card in a rack with 32 others. The racks are then placed in busy spots like stores and restaurants. Locations so far include Cox's Market at 180 Nassau Street, Orpha's Coffee House in the Village Shopper in Skillman, and Maximum Fitness on Stryker Lane in Hillsborough.
Busy finding clients, the pair have found that, so far, "everyone has been very gracious," says West. "Smaller businesses have respect for getting a business off the ground," she says. "They've given us ideas."
Businesses they have visited have also expressed that "they want another advertising venue, they need another way to advertise," she adds.
Clients pay $29 a month with a one-year commitment, and are encouraged to pay for the whole year upfront. But if this is too much for a start-up to handle, West says that her company will offer monthly billing. A business owner herself, she knows that sometimes "it's hard to give up a chunk of money upfront."
In addition to offering entrepreneurs and professionals a place in which to prominently display their business cards, Select Business is ready with advice on how to reel business in. West and her partner are showing their clients how to "soup up" a business card and make it a mini-coupon. The cards will not merely provide contact information, but will also serve as promotions, bringing clients or customers in by offering them something extra - maybe a free consultation, or 10 percent off on a product, or a two-for-one deal.
A native of northern New Jersey who now lives in Princeton Walk, West earned a psychology degree from Maharishi University in Fairfield, Iowa, in 1982. She began a career in social work, but found that she did not enjoy the problems that come with that field. "I wanted the health side of it," she says. Trained as a dancer, she taught dance and "got into the whole health club scene." She found that she enjoyed the work, and felt fit and healthy herself.
With moral support from her husband, Mark Edwards, a former financial analyst with Merrill Lynch who is now in business for himself, advising individuals, West founded PTS Fitness in Montgomery and ran it for four and a half years. That was enough. "I gave up," she says. "It's really a lot for one person." Passionate about horseback riding, she thought that the life of an entrepreneur would afford her lots of time in the saddle. "But I had no time at all," she says.
She sold the business, and she and her husband, who gave up his corporate work at about the same time that she gave up her health club, spent two years on their horse farm near Freehold "figuring out what to do."
At first the respite was delightful, but then stress set in. "There was no money coming in," West says. Then one of her sisters - not the sister with whom she is starting the business - became very ill. "It was an over-riding thing," she says of the illness.
Ready to enter the world of work again after downsizing to Princeton Walk and boarding her horses, West thought about what needs there were in the marketplace. She recalled that when she was running PTS Fitness she and the small business owners around her were constantly looking for ways to promote their businesses. "We used to put coupons in each others' stores," she says.
The urgent need of small companies to get the word out about their services led her to start thinking about business card displays. "I went on the Internet to see if anyone had made a business card display," she says, "and I did find a company that manufactures these boards." The displays hold 33 business cards and three brochures, and are locked so that random people can't slip their business cards in.
With the boards on order, West enlisted her sister, who also trains dogs as Anderson Canine Training in Skillman (609-240-7191), to join her. Anderson, also a social worker by training, had moved east from Michigan when their sister became ill.
The pair refill their racks every two weeks and report to each client on how many cards were taken. West says that clients can - and in many cases should - change their cards often. This will keep interest fresh and will allow them to rotate promotions or fine-tune the messages on the card.
"Our first goal is to have 20 locations," says West. New to this venture, as many of her clients are to their enterprises, she is not sure how quickly Select Business Advertising will grow. Very different from the fitness business, but with very similar needs, West's new company has to get the word out. Her fortunes are linked with her clients' to an unusual degree. If their mini-coupon business cards bring in business, the word will spread, and her business will thrive.
It's a busy, noisy world. West and Anderson are betting that a little card can cut through the buzz, capture attention, and boost their clients' profile the old-fashioned way. No pop-up ads, no blogs, no wires, just a new way to use the business card, a business tool first used in 17th century England. They worked then, and with luck, they will work in a new iteration now.
- Kathleen McGinn Spring
Beware of Health Insurance Scams
Premiums for individual health insurance policies are enough to send a strapping person in his prime straight into shock. The state has set up a plan that guarantees health insurance to individuals and families not covered by an employer's health plan. But, oh, the premiums.
Plans from Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey which cover a parent and a child, for example, carry monthly premiums ranging from $1,919.59 to $6,073.09. Full, if somewhat confusing, details are available online at www.state.nj.us.dobi.
As a result of the cost of health insurance, the state's division of banking and insurance has issued the following warning:
Small employers and consumers are seeking ways of finding healthcare coverage that is within their budget. Unfortunately, this environment creates a setting for scams in which criminals market various low-cost fraudulent health plans, often claiming that state insurance laws don't apply.
These individuals and their associated companies recruit insurance agents to sell so-called "ERISA plans" or "union plans." Claims may be initially paid by these fraudulent plans, however, in many cases people are left with no valid insurance coverage and thousands of dollars of unpaid medical bills, as the scam operators strip premium dollars and leave these fraudulent enterprises bankrupt. Additionally, there has been a proliferation of non-insurance products that are marketed as alternatives to traditional health insurance. While such plans may look like regular insurance, many come with significantly greater risks and fail to provide any savings in healthcare costs.
The division of banking and insurance warns consumers to watch out for these red flags:
Too good to be true. Coverage is offered at lower rates and with better benefits than can be found from licensed insurers - the offer is "too good to be true."
Limited window to sign up. The agent or company tells you that this is a "one-time deal" or your "last chance" for this special savings."
You are told that the plan is not regulated under state law.
You have purchased coverage and claims are not being paid.
A "union plan" is sold by an agent.
A "union plan" is available but no other traditional union benefits are present.
Evasive agents. The agent or company becomes evasive when you ask about state insurance licenses.
The agent or company insists on cash payments.
Personal information. The agent or company asks for detailed personal information that is not needed to write health insurance.
Insurance that isn't really insurance. A discount program is a program under which a subscriber is able to access medical services or supplies at a discounted rate from participating providers, such as doctors and hospitals. While these products are sometimes marketed to look like insurance, they are not insurance programs. If you are not sure whether the product is insurance, you should ask whether a licensed insurance carrier is offering the product and verify this information with the insurance company.
If you do not have health insurance coverage in addition to a discount program, you can be left with a substantial liability for payment to providers. For example, a 10 percent discount applied to what generally would be $100,000 bill for medical services would still leave a person with a $90,000 liability. While some reputable entities offer discount programs, fraudulent operators are also marketing such services.
Before purchasing a discount program ask for a list of participating providers, contact each provider that you intend to visit, find out what the provider normally charges for the services you are interested in receiving, and make sure the provider offers the promised reduction in fees.
Hurricane Season Looms Again
It doesn't seem possible, but with water at New Jersey beaches still a very chilly 62 degrees, it's hurricane season again. There have already been hours and hours of news coverage of Hurricane Alberto. The fact that the storm was relatively tame, and in fact well below hurricane strength when it hit central Florida, makes no difference. Not after last year. We know the worst a hurricane can do, and, as the Red Cross of Central New Jersey reminds us, New Jersey, the only state surrounded on three sides by water, needs to be ready for the worst.
Here is the Red Cross's plea to all families and businesses in central New Jersey:
There is no way to know how many hurricanes will make landfall this hurricane season or how much damage they may wreak. However, we do know that New Jersey is vulnerable to severe storms that may bring flooding, damage from high winds, and power outages. Last year it was a merely a thunderstorm sitting over Middlesex County that caused flooding in the Jamesburg area and heavy rains caused the Delaware to spill its banks and flood parts of Mercer and Hunterdon counties.
The American Red Cross of Central New Jersey asks that we all use the beginning of hurricane season as a call to action to get prepared for any disaster - especially one that may separate you from your family. If you haven't already, the time to prepare is now. Create a personal disaster plan and build a disaster supplies kit, it won't take much time or cost a lot of money.
"Should Central New Jersey be threatened by a hurricane this season we would prefer that residents are making sure that disabled and elderly residents in their communities are taken care of as opposed to spending hours frantically searching for critical relief supplies in crowded stores," Paul Carden, director of emergency services for American Red Cross of Central New Jersey, said in a prepared statement. "Wouldn't you also find some peace of mind in the fact that you have a family communication plan - a plan detailing where you and your family would go should you need to evacuate your home during any time of disaster and how to locate family members should you be separated?"
Knowing what to do in an emergency situation is your best protection. Details on preparing a disaster plan and disaster kits follow.
Prepare a personal disaster plan.The American Red Cross, the National Weather Service, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency urge each and every family to develop a family disaster plan.
Get your family ready. Meet with your family to create a plan. Discuss the information you have gathered and why it is important to prepare for a disaster. Show and explain to each family member how and when to turn off the water, gas, and electricity at the main switches, and how to use a fire extinguisher. Remember, if the gas is shut-off, only a professional can turn it back on.
Plan a rendezvous. Identify ahead of time where you would go if public officials told you to leave your home. Choose several different places - a friend's home outside of the affected area, a motel, or a shelter.
Ensure communication. Have a battery-powered radio in an easy-to-find place, and make sure that it has fresh batteries. Then listen to local media broadcasts or NOAA Weather Radio for the latest storm conditions.
If you are told to evacuate, do so immediately.
Pack ahead of time. In case you have to evacuate, be sure to bring your disaster supplies kit, including medications, extra clothing, pillows and blankets, and other hygiene and comfort supplies, along with copies of essential papers and documents.
Plan for your pets. Be sure to make advanced safety preparations for your pets. Be aware that pets are not allowed in Red Cross shelters. Contact your local humane society or veterinarian for suggestions.
Designate a contact. Ask an out-of-town friend or family member to act as "family contact" for everyone to call in case of separation. It is often easier to call long distance after a disaster than to make local calls.
Assemble a disaster supplies kit. Gather enough emergency supplies to meet your needs for at least three days. Store these supplies in sturdy, easy to carry, water resistant containers. It's also a good idea to keep a smaller kit in the trunk of your car. Your disaster supplies kit should include:
A three-day supply of water (one gallon per person per day) and ready-to-eat canned goods, such as tuna fish, peanut butter, crackers, canned fruit, juice boxes, etc. Please remember that you want to replace stored water and food every six months.
A battery-powered radio, flashlight and plenty of extra batteries.
A manual can opener
Copies of important documents, including birth certificates, insurance policies, and social security cards. Your original documents should be secured in a locked box or safety deposit box.
Comfortable clothing and footwear.
One blanket or sleeping bag per person.
A first aid kit, including prescription medicines.
Emergency tools, including tools to turn off utilities.
An extra set of car keys.
Special items for infant, elderly, or disabled family members
An extra pair of glasses or contact lenses.
Rehearse. Practice and maintain your plan. Ask questions to make sure your family remembers meeting places, phone numbers and safety rules. Conduct drills.
Unite with your neighbors. Something else to keep in mind is the value of neighbors during a difficult time. Working with neighbors can help save lives. Know your neighbors' special skills and consider how you could help neighbors who have special needs, such as disabled and elderly persons. Make plans for child care in case parents cannot get home - that way, all of the children in your neighborhood can be safe.
Look at your insurance coverage. Speak with your property insurance agent about purchasing flood insurance.
For more information about how individuals and families can prepare for disasters, visit www.njredcross.org. For information in Spanish, visit www.cruzrojaamericana.org.