Friday, February 24, 2006

OSHA Prepared to Sentence At Least 17,000 Workers to Death

In an exceedingly poorly written article in today's Washington Post, we learn (through reading through the lines) that OSHA intends to propose that US workers can be exposed to 5 micrograms of hexavalent chromium per cubic foot of air. This is five times the level proposed by OSHA itself in 2004, and 20 times the level proposed by public health advocates.

The clues:

OSHA has not said what the new limit will be. But sources close to the agency have been told to expect a standard that would allow five times more exposure than it had initially proposed -- a shift that would be a victory for the industry, saving it billions of dollars in upgrades and plant closures.

The decades-old "permissible exposure level" is 52 micrograms per cubic meter of air. On the basis of the few large studies done in recent years, advocates sought a new level of 0.25 micrograms. In 2004, OSHA released a proposed limit of 1 microgram.

According to OSHA, the 1 microgram limit would result in two to nine excess deaths in every 1,000 exposed workers over a 45-year lifetime of work. That is more than the one-death-per-1,000 standard the agency aims for but is reasonable, it said, in light of the high costs and technological challenges involved.

OSHA calculated that a less stringent limit of 5 micrograms per cubic meter would result in 10 to 45 excess deaths per 1,000 workers.

There is no safe level of exposure to a carcinogen. Yet, astoundingly, OSHA is prepared to set the level of exposure to hexavalent chromium at a level which will cause 10 to 45 deaths per 1,000 workers exposed to it. 380,000 US workers are exposed to this metal annually. Based on OSHA's calculations, this means that 3,800 to 17,100 workers will DIE as a result of OSHA's decision to permit high exposures to this dangerous, carcinogenic metal.

And that is based on the research OSHA possessed. This article reveals that industry scientists buried research showing a 5 times greater lung cancer risk from exposure:

[T]he industry conducted a pivotal study that found a fivefold increase in lung cancer deaths from moderate exposures to chromium but never published the results or gave them to OSHA. Company-sponsored scientists later reworked the data in a way that made the risk disappear.

Factoring in the real data, a five times greater risk of lung cancer, OSHA will be sentencing tens of thousands more American workers to occupational, preventable death.

The article:

WaPo: Chromium Evidence Buried, Report Says
Authors Fault Industry Researchers

Scientists working for the chromium industry withheld data about the metal's health risks while the industry campaigned to block strict new limits on the cancer-causing chemical, according to a scientific journal report published yesterday.

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