Thursday, January 13, 2005

Hexavalent Chromium: In this wasteland of discouragement….a little bright spot

Workers of America were apparently not listening to NPR’s All Things Considered the other night when Mark Friedman, Director of Labor Law for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, announced that "There is no reason why workers should have a voice in negotiating health and safety policy."

Reporting from our nation’s capital, Confined Space cub reporter, Celeste Monforton:

The public comment period on OSHA’s proposed health standard on hexavalent chromium closed on January 3, 2005. Hexavalent chromium is a known human carcinogen and was designated as such by the National Toxicology Program in 1980. (If not for a lawsuit brought by Public Citizen and the Paper, Allied-Industrial Chemical & Energy Workers International Union (PACE), and the favorable judicial decision in December 2002 ordering OSHA to “proceed expeditiously” with a rulemaking, there would not have been a proposed rule available for public comment.)

The docket on OSHA’s hexavalent chromium proposal is filled with thousands of pages of documents submitted by trade associations, law firms, the public. The usual suspects are well represented (e.g., U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers) and joined by well-paid lobbyists (e.g., Color Pigment Manufacturers Association, Chrome Coalition, Edison Electric Institute, The Society of the Plastics Industry) who strongly oppose the rule.

In this morass of objections to OSHA’s proposed standard on hexavalent chromium standard, this is a bright spot. Nearly 200 workers took the time to send their own comments to OSHA. These are not people who are paid to supply comments to OSHA, but men and women who may be exposed to this toxin at work. Their letters urge Secretary of Labor Chao to include provisions in the rule to protect workers who are exposed to portland cement (which can contain hexavalent chromium.)
Exposure to hexavalent chromium in portland cement causes serious contact dermatitis, according to the Laborers Union. In many cases, constant exposure leads to an allergic reaction and forces the end of their careers.