Wednesday, April 28, 2004

OSHA To Test Staff For Beryllium Disease

Whistleblower Vindicated

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has announced that it will offer testing for beryllium disease to inspectors who may be been exposed to the toxic dust in the course of inspections.

Last Fall, OSHA transferred its Rocky Mountain Regional Administrator Adam Finkel who had been advocating for the testing for several years.
Finkel filed a whistle-blower complaint, alleging he was transferred because he was advocating a safety plan that OSHA higher-ups did not want. The agency denied the claim, and the case was settled.

Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, an advocacy group that backed Finkel, said the whistle-blower had been vindicated.

"It's a shame that somebody had to jeopardize his job in order to push forward a needed safety measure," Ruch said.

Finkel, now a senior adviser at OSHA, said: "I just hope no one turns out to have blood abnormalities or disease who could have learned of this three years ago when the issue was first raised." He emphasized that he was speaking for himself and not the agency.
Finkel argued that OSHA had started to put together a beryllium testing program in 1999, but that current Assistant Secretary John Henshaw pulled the plug in 2002. Finkel alleged that the cost of the program would be so small, that the only thing that the agency must be afraid of tort liability.
Beryllium is used in a variety of industries to help make products ranging from missile components to laptop computers to golf clubs. OSHA estimates that 1,000 inspectors, or three-fourths of its force, have conducted inspections in industries handling the metal.

Agency records show that many of those inspections have taken place in facilities that have had high levels of beryllium dust, up to 30 times the safety standard.

Dr. Lee Newman, a leading beryllium researcher, predicted OSHA likely will find that 2 percent to 6 percent of its exposed inspectors will have beryllium disease or blood abnormalities linked to the illness, the same rate found in similar testing programs.

"I am delighted that OSHA made the right decision to offer testing," Newman said. "It's important that they do this."