Thursday, March 24, 2005

Ten OSHA Staff Test Positive For Beryllium Sensitization

Ten OSHA employees out of 271 tested have confirmed postive results for beryllium sensitization according to an internal memo sent to OSHA staff by Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Jonathan Snare. In January, Chicago Tribune reporter Sam Roe revealed that three OSHA employees had tested postive. Beryllium is an extremely toxic metal that carries a high risk of causing chronic beryllium disease, a fast-progressing and potentially fatal lung disease.

Snare opens the memo stating that "OSHA is committed to protecting the health and safety of its employees." You would hardly suspect from these statements that OSHA in April of 2002, former OSHA Assistant Secretary John Henshaw had pulled the plug on a 2000 plan to test OSHA inspectors for exposure to beryllium. OSHA Regional Administrator Adam Finkel disclosed OSHA's reversal to the press and in return for his service, was removed from his position as Regional Administrator. Finkel then filed a whistleblower complaint against OSHA. After several articles in the national press, Henshaw announced last April -- four and a half years after the original screening was to go into effect -- that OSHA would offer testing for beryllium disease to inspectors who may be been exposed to the toxic dust in the course of inspections.

Although his fears have been vidicated, Finkel is still concerned. It's not clear whether those that tested positive had high exposures or low exposures to beryllium. If those tested happen to have had low exposures, it would mean that those with higher exposures are at even more risk.

Furthermore, Finkel notes that Snare's memo said nothing about screening retirees, staff that left OSHA or state plan inspectors.

But fear not. Snare concludes the memo stating that "We value the health of all OSHA employees." We're sure he means former employees, retired employees and state plan employees as well. I mean, have they ever given us a reason to doubt their sincerity?

UPDATE: OSHA Press Release here.