Q&A: Toxic Smells At Work

  • October 13, 2011 1:11 pm

THE QUESTION

Hi Alexandra,

Last Thursday there was a very strong smell of burning plastic [at work]. The school sent out the AC specialists who thought it was the belt, or burnt out motor. They turned the AC off for hours and the smell [was] persistant. I had to go home because the smell made me nauseated, gave me a headache and irritated my throat and lungs.

It wasn’t just me but all the students who were here that day.

One specialist thought it was the monitors heating up. But when on Friday someone suggested it was the HUGE curtains we have hanging (pvc looking and OLD), he asked me if I wanted to smell it.

When I did I vomited all over the place.

So, we took down the curtains after they brought a can to measure the air toxicity level in the room.

Do you by any chance have any suggestions about what to do now? Send the curtains for testing? Should I get a lung test? Any ideas on who might know?

I know you must be very busy, but if you have the time I would really appreciate any advice.

Thank you,

S.

THE ANSWER

Dear S.,

Sounds horrid.

Is the smell gone? What did the air toxicity test show? If the curtains remain down and were the problem, they should be gotten rid of–why bother testing them. Ventilation is important — open windows if you can. Does the school have any (industrial) air purifiers? Or fans?

I’d say get rid of the curtains entirely and if the smell is gone then you’re good. I’m not a doctor but I don’t think a lung test is needed if the smell was a one time thing and you’re no longer feeling sick.

There are environmental experts who come in and test air and that is what I’d suggest but it sounds like [the school] already did those tests. If the smell remains, push to get the results of the test and ask them to remove the curtains.

Best,

Alexandra

CSA Overload: How To Use Every Last Morsel (aka Glenny Makes Cocktails, Vinegar, Gin, And Syrup)

  • July 16, 2011 8:59 am

I was out of town on Tuesday and offered my CSA share to my lovely editorial assistant Glenny. The catch: she had to trek to get it in one zillion degree weather (subway plus a walk). I love it when people who adore produce do it justice when I’m unable to (even though I get jealous! I missed the first week of the fruit share! argh! I’ve never had blueberries from this CSA before!). When I sniffed around and asked Glenny what she made with the goods, one of her answers floored me. She made cocktails with the thai basil! It has never, ever occurred to me in ten years of being a member of this CSA (check out the farm here) to make a cocktail with my herbs. I guess my age is showing. All I do is shove it all together and try to get it on the table before my five-year-old is too hungry. But how good does this sound? Also — props to her for using everything. I know from experience that I sometimes let the herbs go to waste. All too often I use a few sprigs and then toss them in the compost when they start to look worse for wear. So much so that I tend to put them on the CSA swap table at pick up and take something else I know I will use. No longer. I’m totally inspired by Glenny’s recipes below. Cheers!

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This past week I was gifted a wonderful surprise: Alexandra’s CSA share!  As she was out of town, I was the lucky girl who collected her family’s allotment of fresh produce.  What a treat!  Summer squash, heirloom cucumbers, lots of lettuce, and (swoon!) blueberries, apricots, and red currants.  I’ve been eating very well for the past few days, and have plenty more feasts on the horizon.  While most of the vegetables are staying fresh in my refrigerator, the two huge bunches of thai basil were already starting to wilt on my (sweltering) walk from the pick-up location.  Not wanting to waste a scrap, I decided quickly that the basil would have to be put to use immediately.  Some was used for infusing vinegar, infusing gin, and making simple syrup, but I was still overwhelmed with the amount I had left.  Lucky for me, my boyfriend is a bit of a cocktail ace and was excited to play around with new ingredients.  Here are two delicious, refreshing, and seasonal cocktails for those humid summer evenings when you find yourself with just too much thai basil.

A BOOZY, BASILY BLUEBERRY COCKTAIL

3 to 5 thai basil leaves

1/3 cup blueberries

Muddle in base of a cocktail shaker.

Add:

2 oz dry gin

1 oz fresh lime juice

1 oz honey (or agave nectar)

Fill shaker to the top with ice and shake for 20 seconds.  Strain into ice-filled cocktail glasses.  Garnish with a basil leaf and some whole blueberries.


CUCUMBER BASIL MARTINI

3 to 5 cucumber slices, peeled

3 to 5 basil leaves

Muddle in base of a cocktail shaker.

Add:

2 oz dry gin (or vodka)

3/4 oz Dolin Blanc (vermouth blanc)

Fill shaker to the top with ice and shake for 20 seconds.  Don’t strain the mixture, just pour into cocktail glasses.  Garnish with a cucumber round.

THAI BASIL VINEGAR

Mix 1 quart white wine vinegar with 2 cups chopped basil in a large jam jar.  Let stand in a cool, dark place for 2 weeks.  Strain basil leaves and use for salad dressings and marinades.

THAI BASIL GIN

Mix 2 cups dry gin with 1 cup chopped basil in a medium jam jar.  Let stand in a cool, dark place for 2 to 3 months, depending on how strong you’d like the flavor to be.  Strain the basil and use gin for cocktails, or simply drink on ice.

THAI BASIL SIMPLE SYRUP

Combine 1 cup water, 1 cup sugar, and 1 cup chopped basil in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil and stir until sugar is dissolved.  Remove from heat and let stand for 15 to 20 minutes.  Strain basil and use syrup to flavor baked goods, lemonade, or as a base for a sorbet.