Thursday, August 24, 2006

Bush's Nomination For Regulatory Chief Is A Deadly Dud

Disaster in Iraq, war in the Middle East, Iranian nukes, anniversaries of 9/11 and Katrina, and on and on.

Meanwhile, back at home, virtually unnoticed, the Bush administration continues its deadly attacks on worker health.

Celeste Monforton, a senior research associate with the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy at George Washington University School of Public Health (and occasional Confined Space guest blogger), explains in the Louisville Courier Journal why President Bush's recent nomination of Susan Dudley to head the Office of Management and Budget's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA may end up killing workers.

As we've written before (here and here), Dudley currently directs the Mercatus Center's Regulatory Studies Program. According to Frank O'Donnell of Clean Air Watch, Dudley is "a true anti-regulatory zealot"-- exactly the type of person who would be a disaster as head of the agency that oversees the administration's regulatory policies.

Monforton focuses on Dudley's opinions on the deadly lung disease, silicosis and shows thatthat Dudley is simply
following the script first popularized many decades ago by the tobacco industry: When faced with regulation to protect the public health, always raise doubt and manufacture uncertainty about the scientific evidence.
She falsely claims that scientists don't really know how silica dust causes the disease:

This is not true. The cause of lung damage is exposure to respirable crystalline silica. Despite the authors' assertions, physicians, toxicologists and other experts have known for nearly a century that microscopic particles of SiO{-2} (silicon dioxide, or quartz), when inhaled, can penetrate deep into the lung's alveoli. The body's natural defense mechanisms attack the tiny silica particle, thereby creating scar tissue -- and with too much exposure and too much scar tissue, silicosis develops.

When materials containing SiO{-2}, such as cement, bricks or rock are drilled, sawed or otherwise disrupted and create dust, or when crystalline silica sand is used for abrasive blasting or in foundry processes, workers are at risk of breathing respirable particles containing quartz. This is all well-known, indisputable science.

She also claims that we don't know which types of silica are dangerous that the the evidence comes from limited sources.

Not true. The American Thoracic Society's 1997 official statement on the health effects of exposure to respirable crystalline silica includes more than 140 references, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health's health hazard review lists nearly 500 scientific papers and documents to support its findings. Claims of scientific uncertainty by two law professors do not make it so.

Dudley also asserts in her article that epidemiological studies of silica-exposed workers may not be relevant because the studied workers "were exposed to silica of particular types, which may or may not be representative of silica found elsewhere."

Again, this tactic follows the uncertainty script, and, again, it is not true: SiO{-2} is SiO{-2}.
What would Dudley's appointment mean for workers, especially coal miners?
If confirmed to the White House post, is this how Dudley would interpret scientific evidence, even such settled science as the cause of silicosis or coal workers' pneumoconiosis?

Following her logic, might she declare that the coal mine dust from the Upper Harlan seam and the Pocahontas seam are substantially different? If so, would she require MSHA to develop "coal-seam specific" regulations before miners could be protected from the deadly dust?

Sounds ludicrous, but stranger things have happened when ill-qualified idealogues are appointed to decision-making posts for the sole purpose of delaying or stopping all regulations.
Dudley's nomination is yet another confirmation of the importance of taking back Congress this November. The Senate has to confirm the nomination of high-level Bush appointments like Dudley, and there is a critical need for Congress to get back into the oversight business -- to hold hearings that will reveal the damage this administration is causing to American workers. And the only way that will happen is if the Democrats take back at least one House of Congress.

So get out there and campaign. People's lungs and lives may depend on it.

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