Friday, February 24, 2006

Chromium Coverup Story: A Bone To Pick...

I reported yesterday about the chromium industry's cover-up of evidence that low levels of hexavalent chromium can cause cancer in workers. Most of my story was based Rick Weiss's Washington Post article. After rereading the story today, I have a small bone to pick with Weiss. This is from his article:
OSHA has not said what the new limit will be. But sources close to the agency have been told to expect a standard that would allow five times more exposure than it had initially proposed -- a shift that would be a victory for the industry, saving it billions of dollars in upgrades and plant closures.
Who says that the lower OSHA limit would "save the industry billions of dollars in upgrades and plant closures?" The chromium industry itself, that's who.

Here we have a case of a journalist swallowing and regurgitating industry propaganda as if it were fact. Maybe it was my head cold, or maybe it was the jet lag, or maybe it was written in such a matter-of-fact tone -- but I totally missed it when I was writing my piece last night.
Should we believe these scare tactics? I think not.

OSHA has never proposed a standard where the regulated industry has not claimed that the sky would fall, bankruptcy would loom, billions of dollars would be wasted and jobs would be lost if OSHA succeeded in issuing its dasterdly standards. I've sat through dozens of OSHA hearings and read the transcripts and propaganda generated by dozens more. And just as assuredly as the sun rises in the East each morning the industry predicts doom and damnation -- not just for their noble industry, but for the entire American way of life, if not western civilization.

So what are the facts?

A 1995 study by the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) studied several OSHA regulations, all of which showed the exact same thing: industry's predicted costs are always overestimated:. The OTA
looked at several OSHA standards that had been in effect for a number of years to determine the accuracy of cost and benefit estimates by OSHA and the regulated industries. The study showed that not only does industry grossly overestimate expected costs, but even OSHA routinely overestimated the costs and underestimated the benefits of standards. OTA found that part of the reason that OSHA overestimates costs is that the agency fails to take into account the fact that American businesses are especially talented at developing new technologies that are much more cost effective and efficient than OSHA had predicted.
In other words, whatever you want to say about the hazardous products or political objectives of American industry, one thing you have to give them is that they're incredibly creative in developing new and innovative technologies. If only they had more confidence in themselves. Maybe therapy would help.