Breathing Easier in Hotel Rooms

We’ve all heard those disgusting stories about the dust mites and mold lurking in those seemingly beautiful hotel rooms. But there’s new technology that’s attempting to clean up even what you can’t see, and to make you feel better. For the GLRC, Joyce Kryszak has more on the allergy-friendly rooms that scientists are putting to the test:

Transcript

We’ve all heard those disgusting stories about the dust mites and mold lurking in those seemingly
beautiful hotel rooms. But there’s new technology that’s attempting to clean up even what you
can’t see, and to make you feel better. For the GLRC, Joyce Kryszak has more on the
allergy-friendly rooms that scientists are putting to the test:


They’re in there all right. And we’re not talking about the hotel guests. There are millions of bed
bugs, mold spores and other nasty things you wouldn’t want to sleep with. And no amount of
housecleaning, even in the nicest hotels, is going to chase them all out. So what’s a weary
traveler to do? Call in the professionals:


“We clean and sanitize the air-handling system, clean and sanitize all the soft surfaces. We
apply a shield to every surface in the room. We shock the room with ozone. We encase the
mattresses and pillows with mattress and pillow encasements. We install a purification system. And we filter chlorine from the water in the shower,” said Tom Pickles.


Tom Pickles is director of operations for Pure Solutions. The company is one of those taking
part in this new, experimental research. They have an arsenal of what they call seven different
interventions. The company uses a process that combines chemistry and technology, to
prevent or greatly reduce air born pollutants. Pickles says it’s definitely needed especially in
hotel rooms, where people aren’t the only ones enjoying the fine linens:


“The conditions inside your mattress and inside your pillow are very hospitable to a dust mite,”
said Pickles. “Their favorite food in the world is dead skin cells. You lay in your bed, you toss
and you turn and you’re constantly shedding dead skin cells. As you do that the dust mites will come
up from the bowels of your mattress, eat your dead skin cells and then go back down into your
mattress.”


Okay, that’s gross. But don’t pack for home just yet. Some hotels, such as this Marriot in
Buffalo, are offering what indoor air experts are calling “allergy-friendly rooms.” The idea is to
first literally shield everything in the room from microscopic mold and bacteria. Robert Baier
heads a research center at the University at Buffalo. He says the room is misted with a
chemical barrier:


“And so you create a vapor of a silicone. It goes to the surface and it makes it like an easy-
release surface, just like if you would have an easy-release label that you were going to stick
onto an envelope,” said Baier.


But what about the dust mites? Where do they go? Well, the experts agree some still might be
hanging out. But mattresses and pillows are covered with tightly woven microfiber wraps that at
least keep you from inhaling what they leave behind. What does break through all these
barriers is then filtered away.


The advanced technology filters are used in air conditioning units and under the bed, constantly
processing and pulling out air contaminants. Baier says that makes breathing a whole lot easier.


“We’ve got living cells, called macrophages, which are like zambonis that are cleaning the ice at
the ice rink, and they’re cruising around the base of the lung all the time, dealing with cleaning up
these particles,” said Baier.


He says on a bad day, or in a room with poor air quality, that can mean lungs get over-taxed,
and that means people get sick easier. But scientists at UB want to make sure these new
technologies are actually doing what they advertise.


Baier demonstrates the hand-held device used to sample the air. The readings indicate that the
particle count does drop, about 75% once you leave the hallway and enter the purified room.
But he says more scientific tests will be done on the actual air particles. If tests bear out the
claims, it will be good news for the hotel industry. But Baier says scientists hope to find out if
the process could be used in hospitals and other places where air quality is critical:


“We’re very much concerned about eliminating infection, which as you know has become a big,
big problem as we’re getting into antibiotic resistant micro-organisms,” said Baier. “We think
that’s because of the hiding places that these organisms are finding in things like air conditioning
units, in coils and filters.”


For now, industry officials are glad to be making hotel stays a bit more pleasant for travelers in
several states around the country. The cost to convert and maintain each room is roughly 2,500
dollars. But right now, some hotels are offering the rooms for no extra charge, just to get
people comfortable with the idea of being able to breathe a little easier.


For the GLRC, I’m Joyce Kryszak.

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Building an Ark for the World’s Plants

  • Prairie plants are being lost to development.(Courtesy of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory)

You’ve heard about the ark Noah built to save the world’s animals. Now comes news of another kind of ark – one designed to help save the world’s plants. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sandy Hausman has that story:

Transcript

You’ve heard about the ark Noah built to save the world’s animals. Now
comes news of another kind of ark – one designed to help save the
world’s plants. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sandy Hausman
has that story:


(Sound of walking through the prairie up then under)


You might say Pati Vitt is looking for the right stock to fill the ark.
She’s dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, her long brown hair in braids, a field
notebook in hand, and a pencil tied to her pants. For nine months of each
year, she wanders along railroad tracks, through old cemeteries and
nature preserves, filling shopping bags with the seeds of prairie plants.


Vitt is a conservation scientist with the Chicago Botanic Garden. She has
studied these plants since she was a child. She knows their Latin names.
She dreams about them at night. She even knows the intimate details of
their reproductive lives:


“One does it having teeny little flowers and taking small little bees, and
another one does it by having huge flowers and lots of nectar and they
have really big bees or maybe a moth that pollinates them.”


And, she says, prairie plants are hearty. Native to the Upper Midwest,
they can handle icy winters and long, hot droughts, but they can’t fight
plows or bulldozers. Farmers and developers have destroyed almost all
the land where prairie plants once grew. Today, one-tenth of one percent
of the original prairie remains.


“That means that what we’re looking at right here is one-tenth of one
percent of the population that this plant once enjoyed. I’m sorry. Even
though there’s a lot in this prairie, this plant should be endangered,
because there are so few acres of its habitat left and everyday we’re
coming and we’re taking more and more of it. The prairie habitat is more
endangered than tropical rainforest.”


That worries Vitt, not only because she thinks the prairie plants are
beautiful, but because they may have value to people. For example, she
says about half of our modern medicines came – originally – from plants
or the fungus found in the soil beneath them.

“If you think about penicillin… penicillin came from mold. We might be
standing on a treasure trove of antibiotics, which we need, but if we let
the plants go, we let the soil fungi go, we let the potential antibiotics go.”


(Sound of seeds dropping into a jar)


So Vitt is collecting prairie seeds from about 1,500 plants and shipping
them to the English countryside.


(Sound of birds)


Just south of London, the British government has built what it hopes will
be the largest seed bank in the world devoted to wild plants. The
building looks like a series of greenhouses made from concrete, stone,
glass and steel. In the basement, fire and bombproof vaults hold billions of
seeds from 24,000 species:


“That’s the exciting bit. We thought big.”


Michael Way is a scientist at the Millennium Seed Bank. He says it’s
needed now because a lot of wild plants are in danger of
disappearing because of global warming and the pace of human
development. Way believes a third of the world’s plant species could be
gone by 2050.


“You hope that the worst is not going to happen. Of course, from time to
time the worst does happen. If a plant population is destroyed, if a
decision is taken to build houses or factories or roads on a particular area
which was home to some quite special plants, seed banking is one tool
you can use to protect that genetic diversity that might be unique to that
site.”


Each day, seeds arrive from Africa, Australia, Europe, the Middle East
and the Americas. They sit in colorful plastic crates — waiting to be
cleaned, dried and frozen. Way says these seeds could survive for a
century or more.


“Seeds are tough – small but tough, and the whole point of seeds is to be
dormant and allow themselves to be transported around, so unless we do
something really stupid, they will remain viable.”


Back in the U.S., Pati Vitt says seed banks like the one near London
could mean the survival of humanity, since people can’t live without
plants.


“I think fundamentally we all understand that we are a part of nature, but
in our daily lives we get so cut off from it that we forget.”


She sees the Earth as a garden, and she wants people to act like
gardeners. Setting up seed banks is an important first step.


“We will have the tools that we need to bring things back if necessary.”


For the GLRC, I’m Sandy Hausman.

Related Links

Organic Farmers Look for New Recruits

  • A neighbor feeds Sir Herman, a calf at Beaver Creek Ranch. Herman is a Scottish Highland bull. Highland cattle are raised in the Midwest for their lean meat. (MPR Photo/Cynthia Johnson)

Organic food has become so popular, it’s hard to keep up with demand. For organic farmers, that booming market is a mixed blessing. When they can’t supply as much as the customers want, it puts pressure on the farmers. Some farmers are trying creative ways to fill the demand. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Stephanie Hemphill reports:

Transcript

Organic food has become so popular, it’s hard to keep up with demand. For organic farmers, that booming market is a mixed blessing. When they can’t supply as much as the customers want, it puts pressure on the farmers. Some farmers are trying creative ways to fill the demand. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Stephanie Hemphill reports:


About a year ago, chef Kirk Bratrud and his family built a small restaurant near the harbor in Superior, Wisconsin. It’s called The Boathouse, and it features fresh-caught fish, local vegetables, and — Scottish Highland beef.


“It’s a very lean but tender piece of meat, it has a slightly peppery flavor, something approaching elk but more like beef.”


Bratrud says his customers love Scottish Highland beef.


“Our problem with beef however is that we wish more of it was available.”


He has to take it off the menu when he runs out. It’s hard to find, and the only way he can get it at all is because three farmers in the area raise it. One of them is Doug Anderson, owner of Beaver Creek Ranch. He says Highlands offer plenty of advantages to a farmer.


“There is no waste in the animal, as the fat is on the back of the animal rather than a heavy marbling. And our animals are not grained at all. We don’t even have a feedlot. When we’re ready to take an animal to processing, it will just be picked out of the herd, put in a trailer, and go for processing.”


The animals graze in pastures. They don’t need the antibiotics that are routinely fed to animals in feedlots. Anderson has nearly 50 Highlands. The herd is growing, but it takes time to raise cattle. About 20 steers are ready for market each year.


When he started selling to The Boathouse in Superior, he realized there was a bigger market out there than he could supply. He’s recruiting his neighbors to help out. Three nearby farmers have bought brood cows and bulls. Anderson says when their animals are ready to butcher, he’ll put them in touch with The Boathouse and his other markets.


Three miles away, another organic farm has a different specialty – aged cheese made from sheep milk. Mary and David Falk milk about 100 sheep, and make about four dozen cheeses a week. The aging cave is a concrete silo, built into a hillside.


(sound of door opening)


Inside, it’s dark and cool. Nearly a thousand cheeses are resting on cedar planks. Mary Falk enjoys the different molds growing on the rinds of the cheese.


“We’ve got a gold mold, there’s a mauve colored mold, there’s a blue mold, there’s a soft green. So each one of those little molds adds a a hint of flavor and complexity to the cheese.”


The Falks used to sell their Love Tree cheeses to restaurants in New York and San Francisco. But after September 11th, the orders dropped off suddenly, and the Falks found new customers at a local farmer’s market. Now, they don’t have enough cheese to satisfy their local retail customers AND supply restaurants and cheese shops.


To boost her production, Mary Falk tried buying sheep milk from other farmers, but it didn’t taste the same as milk from the flock on her Love Tree Farm. So she tried to recruit farmers to buy some of her sheep and sell her the milk. A couple of neighbors tried it, but quit after awhile.


Her latest idea is what she calls the Love Tree Farm extended label program.


“What Love Tree is known for is our grass-based milk. And if somebody is making a high quality cheese on their farm, we are willing to put that into our market for them. We would put the Lovetree label on their cheese, like “Love Tree introducing Johnny Smith.”


Falk says it would give customers a chance to learn about new cheeses from a name they trust, and it would give new farmers access to an established market.


It takes time and ingenuity to match producers and consumers. But more and more people want organic food. Farmers who’ve been successful are trying to recruit other farmers to join them in the organic producers movement… an effort that can be profitable and easier on the environment.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Stephanie Hemphill.

Related Links

Natural Cork Makers Unite

For hundreds of years, wine-makers have used natural cork – made
from tree bark – to seal their bottles. But natural corks are… well,
natural.
And sometimes they harbor a mold that can cause wine to go bad. Some
wine-makers are switching to synthetic corks – made of plastic – as a
solution. But right now, they only make up about one-percent of the
market. Nevertheless, natural cork manufacturers are taking action.
The
Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Wendy Nelson reports: