Archives April 2015

Plum Island Resident Complains About $4,200 Repair Bill For Frozen Pipes

Oil lickign from pipe
A Plum Island, MA resident is perturbed over what he feels to be an excessive bill for the repair work done on his home’s sewage system, and is taking his plight to city hall.

The Daily News of Newburyport reports that Mark Friery was given a bill of $4,198 for two hours of work on his sewage pipes. The repair company, ServiceMaster, was contracted by Newburyport’s insurance carrier, MIIA Property and Casualty Group, Inc., for a series of sewage repair jobs which were the result of recent winter storms.

Friery, a restaurant owner, warned City Councilor Bruce Vogel in a letter that the city should be concerned about the bill, which he believes isn’t an anomaly. ServiceMaster, after all, will eventually submit the bill to MIIA, not to him.

“Someone somewhere should be concerned about the $4,198.25 bill presented to the city through its insurance carrier by ServiceMaster,” Friery wrote. “ServiceMaster was at my home for less than two hours. While I am happy that they addressed my problem, in what world do they justify getting paid $4,198.25 for this — over $2,000 per hour.”

Friery isn’t the only local resident to deal with sewage problems. After a particularly harsh winter, many residents on Plum Island saw frozen pipes and sewage backups in their homes and businesses. About 170 residents had to leave their homes because of backup problems or their inability to use water while repairs were being done.

Local officials contracted companies like ServiceMaster to repair the damage but did not anticipate the steep costs.

In Friery’s case, he was forced to contact ServiceMaster after the sewage pipe under his house froze. Specifically, sewage material was clogged up by a faulty frozen valve pit. As a result, parts of his home overflowed with sewage waste.

The damage to his sewage system was the result of both the recent winter storms to hit Massachusetts and the outdated pipe system itself. Piping experts recommend that pipes older than 40 years should be evaluated or even replaced.

Though he was pleased with the repair work overall, he was taken aback by the bill. He felt it was too much, especially considering the repair crew was only in his house for two hours.

“While this outrageous bill doesn’t directly come out of my pocket, it impacts us all as taxpayers,” he wrote. “It may increase the city’s insurance rate.”

Blue Bell Expands Recall to Include All Products Amid Listeria Scares

Motion Blur Stretcher Gurney Patient Hospital Emergency
Blue Bell Ice Cream announced last week that the company has extended an existing recall to include all of its products. The company issued a recall earlier this month after a health risk was discovered in half-gallon units of the company’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream that were manufactured on March 17 and 27, according to USA Today.

The company expanded the recall to include all products made at their Brenham, TX and Broken Arrow, OK facilities, which includes products like ice cream, sherbet, frozen yogurt, and frozen snacks. The expanded recall was announced after Blue Bell’s investigations found positive evidence of listeria in different products and locations.

According to ABC News, three people have died from consuming Blue Bell products that were contaminated with listeria.

Listeria is a bacteria that poses the most risk to children, elderly people, and pregnant women. It is generally contracted by humans through the consumption of food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. The bacteria live in animals’ digestive tracts and can contaminate foods in a number of different ways.

Blue Bell’s announcement of the expanded recall came just after Sabra Dipping Company announced a recall for their hummus due to listeria contamination. USA Today reported on April 9 that the recall included 30,000 cases of Sabra’s Classic Flavor hummus.

The contamination was discovered after routine inspections. As of April 9, there had been no reported cases of illness, and Sabra has been working with the Food and Drug Administration.

Cases like these can fall under the area of law referred to as product liability, which has the second-highest median damage awards of any type of personal injury case at $300,000. In cases of food contamination, it’s generally a matter of unsafe or unsanitary manufacturing practices.

Unconventional Web Design Helped Spring Become a Successful Mobile ‘Cyber Mall’ App Within Eight Months

A woman is in the jewelry store
It’s a simple mobile app with a simple name — Spring — but it’s something that that marketing experts are calling the first successful “cyber mall,” and it might just change the way consumers think about mobile shopping.

The company started eight months ago, when brothers David and Alan Tisch launched the app in August 2014 on the iOS platform. Spring only had 22 employees in tow, according to a report by Business Insider, and was only working with a modest number of well-known brands in the fashion industry to create one single catalog that includes all the brands.

The concept behind Spring was based on previous shopping apps like Seamless and Grubhub, which work as third-party middlemen in between consumers and manufacturers. Rather than purchasing items and reselling them, like traditional retail stores do, these shopping apps merely take consumers’ orders and deliver them to the manufacturers.

The major difference between Spring and other shopping apps, however, is that its design is more consumer-friendly and mobile-friendly. The layout resembles a Pinterest board or Instagram feed, as BI noted, and focuses on informal “lifestyle photos” instead of staged “product shots.” Consumers upload payment information (or simply connect with their Apple account, since Spring is already integrated with Apple Pay), and they can purchase items with a simple swipe.

By cutting out the fluff that other mobile shopping apps still use, Spring was able to increase its products (it now works with over 700 different brands, according to Fortune) without becoming too overwhelming for consumers. Considering that 75% of consumers admit to making judgments about a company’s credibility and quality just based on the business’s website design, Spring was able to appeal to consumers in a way that other “cyber malls” have not.

Spring recently closed out its second round of funding, bringing the company’s total funding to $30 million, and the app just launched on Android devices. Experts estimate that the company, which is now supported by a team of 48 employees, is worth about $90 million.

Sewer Water Beer Gets the Go Ahead in Portland

Glass of light beer on a dark pub.
New craft beers and keeping things weird are the norm in Portland, OR, but a new venture is combining both and taking weirdness to a whole new level. After months of waiting, a group of homebrewers has finally gotten the go-ahead to brew beer made from wastewater.

That’s right — the group is actually planning to brew beer made from treated wastewater, and has gotten approval to serve it to the public from both the Oregon Health Authority and, as of last week, the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission.

Craft beer is a trend in America that’s simply not going away — according to the Brewer’s Association, 2014 was the first year in which craft beer earned a double-digit market volume share of 11%. Now, the craft beer market in the United States is worth about $14.3 billion.

According to Oregon Public Broadcasting, Hillsboro-based wastewater treatment company Clean Water Services has an advanced treatment process that can turn wastewater into drinkable water. The company seeks to prove the purity of its water by turning it into beer.

A homebrewing group, the Oregon Brew Crew, would use the water in its brewing process. The beer would not be sold in a brewery, but served at special events.

Though skepticism about the safety of the beer is obvious — it doesn’t seem safe to drink what was one wastewater — the Oregon Health Authority concluded that “the high quality of the treated water, additional microbial reduction in the brewing process, and a low health risk overall” contribute to the beer’s safety.

Clean Water Services spokesman Mark Jockers says that the water purification company wants to help people reevaluate what they think about wastewater and to play a role in expanding the use of recycled water in Oregon.

Turning the wastewater into craft beer isn’t a bad way to go about it; craft beer is a big business in Oregon. The Oregonian reports that one in five brewers on the Brewer’s Association Top 50 Craft Brewers of 2014 list is based in Oregon.

Furthermore, the state leads the country in the number of dollars spent on craft beer, and brewers in Oregon produced more than 1.64 million barrels of beer last year, which is about a 17% increase from the year before.

It might be weird, but if there’s anywhere to emphasize the importance of recycling water and using a specially-brewed beer to do it, Portland is it.

How Tomorrow’s Forklifts Will Be More Intelligent and Efficient Than Ever Before

As technologies continue to advance, it’s becoming increasingly likely that even the forklift — a vehicle responsible for manual material movement at warehouses everywhere — will soon become integrated into the “Internet of Things.”

According to a March 16 Forbes article, forklifts have been excluded from “smart” technologies for as long as they’ve been in use. These machines rely entirely on an operator’s control and input, and aren’t connected to any networks.

As part of the “Internet of Things” — a term used to describe the eventual network connectivity and intelligence virtually every object will have in the future — the “smart” forklift will be equipped with diagnostics that send out signals when it needs servicing, speed controls, anti-slip technology, collision detection and much more.

Smart forklifts, which are already in use today, are also able to raise and lower their forks much faster than would safely be possible if a human were operating the vehicle, and the forklift can even detect the height of the pallet being picked.

In addition to becoming smarter, forklifts are becoming more efficient. According to, changes to the AC operating systems within electric forklift units are making them significantly more efficient, extending the lifespans of forklift batteries and reducing their carbon footprint.

Despite the fact that these smart forklifts are currently in use, they’re far from being a common implementation at warehouses, Forbes reports. The majority of warehouse control systems and architectures still need to be adjusted and re-conceptualized to enable optimum warehouse performance with the use of smart forklifts.

Even so, it might be sooner than you think before you see a smart forklift moving along the aisles of your warehouse.

Report Reveals Bright Future for Maryland Residential Solar Power Market

install solar panels
To say that the solar power industry in the United States is booming is truly an understatement. It’s estimated that a new solar photovoltaic (PV) system is installed every four minutes, a fact highlighted by Maryland’s rapidly expanding residential solar power market.According to the recently released U.S. Solar Market Insight 2014 Year in Review, the Old Line State more than doubled its amount of installed solar capacity in 2014. Also, nearly half — 48% — of Maryland’s electrical capacity came from solar energy.

Just last year, Maryland added an additional 73 megawatts (MW) to its solar electric capacity, bringing the state’s total to a whopping 215 MW. That’s enough affordable and sustainable energy to power almost 25,000 average homes. While the report focused on Maryland’s flourishing residential solar power market, the state also experienced an increase in commercial solar system installations.

Of the 73 MW of solar electric capacity added last year, 40 MW were residential while the remaining 33 MW were commercial. Combined, these installations represent a staggering $221 million investment across the the state of Maryland, which is a 95% increase from the previous year.

“To put the state’s solar growth in some context, the 215 MW of solar PV installed today in Maryland is nearly as much as the entire country had installed by 2005. And frankly, the state is just scratching the surface of its enormous potential,” explained Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). “Looking forward, we expect 2015 to be another good year for new PV installations across the state, with growth topping 100 percent.”

Maryland’s thriving solar power market has also expanded into the higher education sector. Recently, the University of Maryland announced plans to install roughly 7,000 solar panels — enough to power over 218 average U.S. homes for an entire year — on the roof tops of three parking garages by December 2016, according to university officials. This would bring more clean, sustainable energy to the campus.

Lumber Liquidators Suited in Federal Court Over Traces of Formaldehyde

Using a tape measure
The Manhattan Federal Court will hear a class-action lawsuit against Lumber Liquidators, the largest hardwood flooring company in the United States, over an alleged carcinogen present in its laminate flooring.

The New York Post reports that the suit accuses the company of neglecting to warn its customers about a chemical present in its flooring glue, formaldehyde, as well as lying about its compliance with the California Air Resources Board (CARB) standards. CARB standards are used by various states to enforce clean air measures in addition to federal standards.

Paul Said, one of the four plaintiffs in the lawsuit, paid $3,000 for 1,000 square feet of laminate flooring in his home on the upper west side of Manhattan. He claims to have suffered asthma attacks during the installation and has since taken asthma medications and begun using an inhaler. Despite his experience working on construction sites, Said had no previous history of asthma.

“He needs to use asthma medications and an inhaler whenever he is inside his home,” the suit said. “His medical doctor told him that dust from the flooring installation is causing the asthma.”

The other plaintiffs include a resident of Bayonne, New Jersey as well as a couple in North Richland Hills, Texas. The latter, Frank and Melanie Graham, purchased and installed 350 square feet of laminate flooring in December. Since then, Melanie has suffered from severe respiratory problems. Amazingly, the Grahams learned about the alleged cause from a 60 Minutes report in March which revealed, among other things, that only one out of 31 samples of the company’s laminate flooring passed formaldehyde emission standards.

The floors, it should be noted, are imported from China.

Scant amounts of formaldehyde are allowed under CARB and federal law. However, in larger doses the organic compound is considered toxic and carcinogenic. Formaldehyde can also lead to death. Some of the company’s tests indicated 13 times the legal limit according to 60 Minutes.

Flooring companies across the country must fulfill strict standards in order to secure the safety of its customers.

Lumber Liquidators, for its part, is denying the accusations of the suit.

“Lumber Liquidators is committed to providing our customers with safe, high-quality products. We intend to defend ourselves vigorously against the claims asserted in this suit,” a spokesman for the company said.