Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Washington Post on OSHA Inspectors' Beryllium Exposure

The Washington Post's regulatory columnist, Cindy Skrzycki, writes today about the discovery that at least three OSHA inspectors may have tested positive for blood abnormalities that indicate they could be susceptible to chronic beryllium disease, as well as the saga of OSHA whistleblower Adam Finkel who single-handedly forced the agency to conduct the testing. Nothing too new since I wrote about the case earlier this month except that Skrzycki did score an interview with acting OSHA Director Jonathan Snare, who shockingly disclosed to Skrzycki that
it would be premature to comment on whether anyone tested positive because the agency has not completed the testing of 301 inspectors.
Skrzycki also discusses OSHA's half-hearted effort to revise the beryllium standard:
Instead of lowering the beryllium standard, OSHA has issued periodic hazard information bulletins saying the standard may not be adequate.

Public Citizen and a labor union petitioned the agency in 2001, asking that the federal standard be lowered to 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter of air and that surveillance of workers be required. In late 2002, OSHA issued a "request for information," which is a preliminary step to rulemaking.

Snare said last week that the agency does not yet have a proposal but is querying the small-business community on the likely effects of changing the standard.
Well, isn't that comforting, especially since, as Skrzycki reports:
The beryllium industry and some of its users maintain that working with the substance is safe when proper precautions are taken. Brush Wellman Inc., a large producer, has supported extensive research on the effects of beryllium and does not think there is a definitive link to cancer or that it should be listed as a carcinogen.

It also thinks that inspectors don't need a special testing program and that the test being used is inappropriate for screening. "Brush Wellman has had employees diagnosed with sub-clinical chronic beryllium disease who run marathons and climb mountains," the company said in an e-mail.
Does that mean if I contract sub-clinical chronic beryllium disease I'll be able to run marathons and climb mountains?