|By: Kirk James Murphy, M.D. Friday June 4, 2010 2:32 pm|
OSHA’s director claims the workers trying to clean up BP’s oilpocalypse don’t need breathing protection.
David Michaels, assistant secretary for the Department of Labor’s OSHA, said in an interview Thursday that based on test results so far, cleanup workers are receiving “minimal” exposure to airborne toxins. OSHA will require that BP provide certain protective clothing, but not respirators.
Hey, at least OSHA’s consistent.
While the 9/11 fires were still burning, medical occupational health and safety experts writing on their discipline’s most influential discussion list correctly foresaw the rescue and clean up workers there were at great risk of permanent respiratory damage.
The occupational and environmental medicine experts’ prediction of massive pulmonary injuries to unprotected 9/11 rescue and clean-up workers (as well as to local residents) was correct.
The results of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request added fuel this summer to the simmering debate over whether OSHA, during a national emergency, should enforce its personal protective equipment (PPE) standard or merely take a consultative approach.
The FOIA request, filed by the New York Occupational Safety and Health Committee (NYCOSH), explored OSHA decision-making during clean-up in the wake of the 9/11 attack at the World Trade Center. Even after the initial crisis had passed, OSHA did not enforce its PPE standard. More recently, OSHA was also questioned for failure to enforce PPE regulations in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
With regard to the Ground Zero clean-up, the FOIA request uncovered a trail of email and other documents showing that the New York City Department of Health (NYCDOH), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the New York City Fire Department (NYCFD) all asked for OSHA enforcement during October 2001 when the immediate crisis had passed and extensive clean-up efforts were underway. Despite requests, OSHA did not enforce its regulations. It is estimated that as many as 60,000 workers and volunteers assisted in the clean-up.
Though no one knows what portion failed to use proper PPE, anecdotal reports suggest that unsafe exposure was commonplace. Already, as many as 60 percent of all Ground Zero workers have shown some signs of respiratory illness and some have died due to their exposure.
I can’t find it in my heart to say David Roberts is completely responsible for his toxic decision, though I am deeply saddened and disappointed by how rapidly those “leading” various Federal regulatory agencies find they are merely servants of the industries and megacorps that effectively control the Executive Branch.
I do have some grief for what Dr. Roberts and other once esteemed scientists find they are forced to do when they serve the White House. In our era of corporatist Presidents, the price of serving the Oval Office is obviously to lie away any inconvenient scientific facts. We saw when NOAA’s director Jane Lubchenco tried to lie away the fact of vast toxic plumes swirling beneath the Gulf’s surface.
Though I don’t personally know Dr. Roberts, I was delighted when he joined us here at FDL Book Salon to discuss Doubt Is Their Product. In that powerful, extensively researched book he described how the most toxic industries use the prospect of a scintilla of purported doubt about the precise extent of known deadly chemicals and other risks to block effective prevention of well-defined risks.
I wish Dr. Robers had re-read his book before his blithe assurance that – even after workers laboring to clean up BP’s deadly mess demonstrated known patterns of pulmonary injury from the chemicals they were known to have encountered – no workers need respiratory protection.
Now that’s he done what will be most pleasing to the White House and BP / Halliburton / Transocean (and their respective shareholders), perhaps David Roberts will breathe easy tonight. Yet I fear his decision ensures many of those who labor to clean-up BP’s mess face a future of breathing with ever greater difficulty: until the day their avoidable respiratory diseases finally take their lives.
Sleep well, Dr. Roberts.