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'Hot Dot' patches tested on Gulf oil cleanup crews

Friday, August 20, 2010 | 2:35 p.m. CDT

LEXINGTON, Ky. — "Hot dots" have shown up on the arms of football players and Special Forces soldiers. Now workers scrubbing oil from Gulf Coast beaches have tried the round patches that quickly change colors as body temperatures heat up.

The Kentucky maker of the patches says the invention aims to give a person an indication of core body temperature and instant feedback when one is in danger of overheating. The secret is a special ink that the company says changes colors only when the adhesive side of the dot touching the skin heats up, not the exposed side.

For cleanup workers on scorching beaches, it didn't take long for the patches to change from black to orange and yellow — warning signs to find shade and water quickly on days when temperatures could top 100 degrees.

"My gosh it was hot," said Dan Short, one of the inventors of the patch produced by a Lexington company named IonX International. "We said if the dot can stand up to this, it can stand up to anything."

Count BP's oil cleanup crews among those sold on the idea.

After tests were conducted in June on 490 oil recovery workers in Orange Beach, Ala., the oil company said it would order 600,000 of the "hot dots" for its crews. The wholesale price is 34 cents per dot, and the company also sells them in packs of 10 for $9.95 and 500 for $229.95.

IonX is one of several family businesses owned by Short and his wife, CEO Paige Shumate Short. Those businesses make specialized fabrics including golf gloves said to increase circulation and an anti-microbial yarn for carpeting.

The "hot dots" are expected to arrive on the shelves of certain sporting goods stores in coming weeks after testing it on oil workers, athletes, military personnel, and even at a coal mine and a peanut butter plant.

Jerry Lucas, head football coach at Martha Layne Collins High School in Shelbyville, Ky., said he has been giving the dots to his players for almost two weeks and views them as another layer of protection against the ruthless heat.

"Anything we can do to help the safety of the kids is a positive," Lucas said.

However, not everyone is convinced the IonX body temperature alert patch is the answer to a puzzle that has stumped scientists for years — how to easily and accurately measure the temperature inside the body core.

"I'm skeptical," said Susan W. Yeargin, a professor of athletic training at Indiana State University. "There's no such device that can tell you what the core body temperature is from the surface of your body."

Yeargin, a heat safety adviser for the youth sports information group MomsTeam, says she hasn't closely analyzed the IonX patch but has studied forehead thermometers and other products that seek to measure body heat. That study concluded few products give an accurate reading, and those that do are either extremely costly or highly invasive.

However, Yeargin acknowledges the patch could be helpful in spreading awareness about heat-related dangers. She said even false readings would more likely overstate rather than understate a body temperature on a sunny day.

Russ Mumper, executive associate dean for academics at the University of North Carolina's School of Pharmacy, said the product minimizes false positives with a thin coating that blocks the sun's rays. He's a member of the IonX board.

The Shorts got the idea for the patch during a trip to England two years ago when they saw a sunglass strap that changed color based on climate.

Developmental work on the project began slowly, then intensified after the death of a Kentucky high school football player who collapsed at practice and then died from heat stroke in a case garnering national attention.

"It was like a 911 call at our house," Paige Shumate Short said. "I went downstairs and said, 'Dan, can we pull this thing off the shelf and go back to work on it?'"

She said they spent millions of dollars researching and marketing the device. Startup tests were held at summer football camps for the University of Kentucky and Cincinnati Bengals, with the U.S. Special Forces at Fort Bragg, N.C., and at the 2009 Blue Grass State Games.

But it was the BP test — and the oil company's ensuing bulk order — that the family is touting as a sign the patch is ready for wider distribution.

According to BP's trial run in Alabama, there were no incidents of heat stress the day the test was conducted. Dan Short said on similar days without the patch, there would be at least five or six instances of workers overheating.

John Collins, a safety manager working with BP in Alabama, said the swift color change on the dots meant more timeouts for workers — though productivity was up because the breaks were usually shorter.

He said workers also realized that on days without the patch they had been pushing themselves too hard as body temperatures neared dangerous levels.

"Sometimes they're up to that point and not even know about it," Collins said.


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