by Richard Denison, PhD, cross-posted from EDFBlog

Note: We accidentally posted the contents of an earlier Richard Denison post (available here) under this title. We’ve updated the post, and apologize for the error. – TPH Editors

Please help me welcome to the true mainstream of scientific and medical thought the seemingly radical yet commonsense notion that chemical exposures are a significant contributor to cancer, many types of which are rising in incidence even as overall rates decline.

This morning, the President’s Cancer Panel released its 2010 report [available here].  The report is remarkable not so much for its core finding that chemical exposures are a major factor in human cancer, but rather because of its source – an authoritative and bipartisan body — and because of the strong linkages it makes to our failed chemicals policies.

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As I noted in “Perplexed by OSHA’s reg agenda,” I’ve made a habit of commenting on the content of the Dept of Labor’s semi-annual regulatory agenda  [see links below].  I’ll be the first to admit that our system for protecting workers from well-known hazards with new regulations is onerous and anything but nimble.  It needs an overhaul.   The obstacles, roadblacks and challenges plague OSHA, but these administrative and burden-of-proof hurdles DO NOT apply to MSHA.   Here are just two examples of what I mean:

  1. MSHA merely has to demonstrate that its decision is not arbitrary and capricious; a much lower burden of proof than the “substantial evidence” test required of OSHA.  [see a recent US Court of Appeals ruling on MSHA's diesel particulate matter health standard explaining the "arbitrary and capricious" bar.]
  2. MSHA, unlike OSHA, is at every one of the worksites under its authority several times a year and can assemble all kinds of data to determine feasibility of controls.  MSHA has access to more data than it would ever need to demonstrate exposure, risk and feasibility.

These two factors alone set the stage for MSHA to propose and finalize standards to protect our nation’s mine workers over several months, not years.

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by Rena Steinzor, cross-posted from CPR Blog

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson was in a tough position on coal ash.  If you are African American and low-income, you have a 30 percent greater chance of living near a big pit of this toxic brew than a white American, so Jackson correctly decided that such an important environmental justice issue should be at the forefront of the Obama Administration’s agenda. But Jackson was also taking on Big Coal, a special interest historically near and dear to swing voters in Ohio and Illinois.  Nevertheless, this sturdy “eco-warrior,” as she was recently dubbed by Rolling Stone, marched forward, right into the basement of the White House and the chilling influence of Cass Sunstein and the economists at the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA).
 
Jackson’s tough, but as yet secret, regulatory proposal arrived in crisp fall weather, only to be greeted by a tsunami of industry lobbyists, who visited and revisited OIRA.  By the time the spring flowers were out, Jackson was forced to take a pass on getting hard-hitting regulation on a speedy path to implementation.  After the long scuffle with OIRA, she instead announced that EPA was considering two strikingly different alternatives, thereby postponing any definitive action for at least six months and, far more likely, a year or more.  Then, to add insult to injury, she stepped in between angry activists and OIRA, trying in vain to slap lipstick on a not particularly cute pig.

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Beginning in December 2006, I’ve written five blog post commenting on the content of the Department of Labor’s (DOL) regulatory agenda for worker health and safety rulemakings.  Most of my posts [see links below] have criticized the Labor Secretary and senior OSHA and MSHA staff for failing to offer a bold vision for progressive worker protections.  Now that the Obama & Solis team have been on board for more than a year, I’m not willing to cut them any slack for being newbies.  Regrettably, as with the Bush/Chao agendas, my posts today will question rather than compliment the OSHA team (and any bigger fish up the food chain) who are responsible for this plan.

I’ll start with the good news from OSHA’s reg agenda.   In the month of July, OSHA projects it will issue two final rules, one on cranes and derricks in construction and another to revise the OSHA 300 log with a column to record musculoskeletal disorders.  The first is a rule that has been in the works for 7 years and long overdue (here, here, here, here, here, here, here.)  The second will simply reinstate a change in injury recordkeeping requirements that should have taken affect in early 2001, but was axed by OSHA officials under direction from the Bush/Chao Administration.

Now, the reg agenda items that have me perplexed.  We’ve heard the Secretary Solis and Asst. Secretary Michaels talk about green jobs, and we know that construction workers are a large part of that workforce.  But, construction workers continue to get short-shrift at OSHA when it comes to mandatory H&S protections.

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Last week Labor Secretary Solis released in the Federal Register on April 26, 2010, her Spring 2010 regulatory agenda for the Department, including her rulemaking priorities for MSHA and OSHA.  As required by the Regulatory Flexibility Act it was published on time in April, in contrast to her Fall 2009 agenda which was six weeks late. 

This document is described by the Secretary as a:

“…listing of all the regulations it expects to have under active consideration for promulgation, proposal, or review during the coming 1-year period.  The focus of all departmental regulatory activity will be on the development of effective rules that advance the Department’s goals and that are understandable and usable to the employers and employees in all affected workplaces.”

As my mentor Dr. Eula Bingham used to say to her staff (during her tenure as OSHA chief the Carter Administration): the only rulemaking activies that truly count for worker health and safety are publishing proposed and final rules.   Efforts that distract, divert, or delay the regulation writers’ duties should be avoided.  Currently, OSHA has about 100 full-time (FTEs)  individuals assigned to its H&S standards office, and MSHA has about 17 FTEs.

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by Ken Ward Jr., cross-posted from CoalTattoo

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials just finished their phone-in press conference to announce their action regarding regulation of toxic ash from coal-fired power plants.

In its press release, EPA describes its action this way:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today is proposing the first-ever national rules to ensure the safe disposal and management of coal ash from coal-fired power plants.

And it quotes EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson saying:

The time has come for common-sense national protections to ensure the safe disposal of coal ash. We’re proposing strong steps to address the serious risk of groundwater contamination and threats to drinking water and we’re also putting in place stronger safeguards against structural failures of coal ash impoundments. The health and the environment of all communities must be protected.

But after listening to the press conference, and as I read the 563-page document EPA just posted on its Web site,  I have a hard time understanding how this is more than the Obama administration punting on making a decision here.

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A month after the March 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, a small team of public health experts prepared a report identifying the potential health hazards and making strong recommendations for protective action for the cleanup workers.   The team included Eula Bingham, PhD (former OSHA chief), Matt Gillen (now at NIOSH), Mark Catlin (now at SIEU), Don Elisburg, and Jane Seegal.  The team had been assembled at the invitation of the Alaska Commissioner of Labor after concerns were expressed

“about whether the cleanup workers’ health and safety have been adequately protected.  Among other things, workers have been observed with oil-soaked clothing and with oil on their faces and hands.”

The report describes the physical, chemical and work organization hazards encountered by the 4,000 cleanup workers, from toxins in the oil and dispersing agents, long work hours in remote areas, to slippery surfaces and dangerous animals.  Many of the same hazards will be faced by emergency response and cleanup workers in the Gulf Coast tackling the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster.

The team’s 1989 report continued:

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By DemFromCT, cross-posted from Daily Kos

The Fatal Strain: On the Trail of Avian Flu and the Coming Pandemic
Alan Sipress
Viking Adult
Hardcover, 400 pages, $27.95 list
Kindle Edition $13.49
November, 2009

Money quote: CDC and WHO epidemiologist Tim Uyeki is in Indonesia, collecting flu specimens from a very sick bird flu patient who is deeply suspicious of westerners and his own country’s doctors (he’s already fled from a local hospital because family members died there.) So suspicious, in fact, the family will not permit blood samples or protective gear other than a respirator and gloves.

Uyeki squatted beside him and leaned right in. The doctor’s eyes were just inches from those of his patient. Uyeki lifted the swab. Then, he carefully inserted it through the open mouth and down Dowes [Ginting]‘s throat.

The sensation must have tickled. For at that very moment, Dowes coughed. And when he did, it was right in Uyeki’s face.

Uyeki didn’t blanch. But inside, his stomach dropped. “Oh, this is not good,” Uyeki fretted to himself. Despite the mask, most of his face was exposed. His mind raced. He instantly thought about his unprotected eyes.

Basic Premise: The author follows the emergence of bird flu in Southeast Asia, including near miss outbreaks, the response of the local population and national governments, and WHO’s struggle to conduct surveillance against a backdrop of mistrust and lack of cooperation. All of those problems continue to exist, and the next pandemic may well be more severe than this one.

Author: Alan Sipress is a deputy business editor and former foreign correspondent at The Washington Post. In the past, he’s primarily written about national security and foreign affairs. In 2005, the Post team that he anchored was awarded the Jesse Laventhol Prize for Deadline Writing for coverage of the South Asian tsunami. This is his first book.

Readability/quality: Compelling and unnerving medical detective story. See the money quote about the epidemiologist who gets a cough in the face while sampling a bird flu victim. Full disclosure: I know Tim Uyeki, and that excerpt unnerved me.

The author brings depth to the topic (see interview) beyond just the science aspects (one example is witch doctors, live bird markets and cock fighting and their relationship to disease prevention and treatment.)

Who should read it: Anyone who wants to know what it’s like to to be a medical detective in developing countries (and learn more about how the medical system works there); anyone who wants to know why there’s an emphasis on vaccine production for pandemic planning; anyone interested in the food chain origin of human disease; anyone interested in the politics and culture of Southeast Asia, including Indonesia.

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In just the last several weeks, we’ve seen a series of horrific workplace explosions that have claimed a total of 52 workers’ lives: five at the Kleen Energy Systems plant explosion in Middletown, Connecticut; seven at the Tesoro Refinery explosion in Anacortes, Washington; 29 at the Massey Energy Upper Big Branch Mine in Montcoal, West Virginia; 11 on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, owned by Transocean Ltd and under contract to BP, in the Gulf of Mexico. The general public has probably become slightly more aware of the fact that going to work – especially in the energy industry – can be dangerous, but how long will that awareness last?

As President Obama suggested in his Workers Memorial Day proclamation, these large-scale tragedies garner attention, but far more workplace deaths happen one or two at a time and get little attention from the press or the public. He could also have pointed out that the horror and outrage often fade before policies and practices can be improved to make workplaces safer.

Workers Memorial Day (April 28th each year) offers an annual reminder that we must strengthen our systems for protecting worker health and safety – because workplaces are still killing, injuring, and causing disease in workers. The most powerful reminder of the urgency of this task is the grief of those who have lost loved ones to workplace disasters. Like last year, several of these family members gathered in front of the Department of Labor on the morning of Workers Memorial Day to bring a message to our public officials: Don’t let more workers lose their lives the same way our loved ones did.

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Dear readers,

We’re doing something different with this month’s post.

Robert F. Herrick of the Harvard School of Public Health wrote an excellent article on polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) exposure in schools, which was published in the most recent issue of New Solutions. This article has been made available for free download by the journal’s publisher, Baywood Inc.

The piece has already sparked some dialogue on the testing and regulation of PCB exposure for school maintenance workers, who are pegged with the important task of removing potentially toxic material that may be damaging children’s health. David M. Newman of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety & Health (NYCOSH) wrote a response to Dr. Herrick’s piece, in which he addresses major gaps in policy and practice and the need for a strong labor presence to take the lead in demanding necessary worker protection.

Dr. Herrick responded by outlining some of the research done on PCB exposure among construction workers.

Below you can find the abstract of Dr. Herrick’s piece, as well as the following responses.

We now ask you, readers, to add your two cents. What needs to be done to further address the issues of public PCB exposures, as well as occupational hazards for those pegged with the task of clean up?

Best,

Mara Kardas-Nelson
Editor, New Solutions: The Drawing Board

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