Monday, June 20, 2005

Whistleblower Condemns OSHA's Response to Beryllium Exposures

OSHA whistleblower Adam Finkel has sent a letter to the ranking member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce highly critical of OSHA's refusal to release exposure information on the agency's inspectors who have been sensitized to the highly toxic metal beryllium. Last March, OSHA revealed that ten out of 271 employees tested had been sensitized. Sensitization can lead to beryllium disease, an incurable and potentially fatal lung disease.

Finkel argues that in order to determine what level of beryllium caused the sensitization, it must be known how much beryllium the inspectors were exposed to. OSHA is refusing to release exposure data, arguing that "the data available is limited to sampling and inspection history, not exposure in the traditional industrial hygiene sense."
"Ridiculous," is what several other prominent industrial hygienists and physicians called OSHA's argument that its sampling data is not "exposure in the traditional industrial hygiene sense," according to Finkel's letter.

The information OSHA declines to release offers a "fantastic scientific opportunity to define the lower levels of exposures and their relationship to beryllium sensitization," according to Peter Lurie, MD, MPH, deputy director of Public Citizen's health research group. Lurie believes, "The data are at a level of detail that exceeds what we usually have in occupational health studies."

Brush Wellman, a major supplier of beryllium, agrees with OSHA, apparently fearing that the information will reveal that beryllium sensitization can be caused by lower levels of exposure than is currently believed.

OSHA also continues to refuse to offer testing to OSHA retirees, which Finkel calls "callous in the extreme."

Finkel was removed from his position as OSHA Regional Administrator in Denver after complaining publicly that OSHA had reversed its promise to test inspectors for beryllium sensitization. He filed a whistleblower complaint and later reached a settlement with OSHA. Finkel currently teaches at Princeton. Although he remains on OSHA's payroll, he does not speak for the agency.

Occupational Hazards has provided the complete text of Finkel's letter is available here. The text for Snare's March 24 is available here.

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