Friday, March 31, 2006

EPA To Investigate Hexavalent Chromium Industry For Suppressing Evidence

I've written a few times about how OSHA caved into industry, issuing a standard to protect workers against cancer-causing hexavalent chromium that set a limit 5 times above what OSHA had originally proposed, and 20 times higher than advocated by Public Citizen, the group that sued OSHA for the standard.

The standard was issued just a week after an article was published in the scientific journal Environmental Health by George Washington University professor David Michaels revealing that the industry had covered up findings from a study they had conducted showing that hexavalent chromium causes cancer at extremely low levels. The industry never published the results, nor did they submit them to OSHA, even though the agency had requested all information when working on the standard.

Industry may have won the battle over the standard, but may be losing the war. has revealed that the Environmental Protection Agency, tipped off by the Michaels article, may be investigating the industry under the Toxic Substances Control Act, which requires companies to report new substantial risk information about chemicals to the government in a timely manner. Last year, EPA sued DuPont for failing to report to the agency that perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA,had been found in water and had serious health effects.

A formal EPA investigation could target Elementis Chromium, the Corpus Christi, Tex.-based unit of parent Elementis, a specialty chemicals company listed on the London Stock Exchange with annual sales of $767 million. It is unclear whether other companies that use chromium in manufacturing processes, such as Owens Corning, 3M Engelhard and Textron, were privy to the findings of the study and might also face suit.


Michaels notes that three trade groups--the Society of the Plastics Industry, the Surface Finishing Industry Council and the Specialty Steel Institute--all sent letters to OSHA in the final day of the post-hearing comment period that display knowledge of the concealed industry-sponsored chromium study, "and not a single one of the trade associations [or their member companies] notified EPA or OSHA."

Forbes is also the only media publication that has revealed another problem with the standard.

In its final rule in late February, OSHA set a "permissible exposure limit" to airborne particles of hexavalent chromium of 5 micrograms of the toxic dust per cubic meter of air--one-tenth the level that had been permitted for 63 years. One little-noticed exception was won by the aerospace industry, thanks to effective lobbying by the Aerospace Industry Association, whose members include Lockheed Martin. Workers who paint aircraft or large aircraft parts can work around 25 micrograms of the toxic dust per cubic meter of air.
And leave it to Forbes, one of the premier business outlets to ask the question: "Time for an Erin Brockovich sequel? "

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