Do OSHA regulations keep up with the science?

The Pump Handle blog had a post the other day by David Michaels (a professor at George Washington University) questioning government efforts in occupational exposure of beryllum. Chronic Beryllium Disease is an inflammatory lung disease. OSHA regulations are based on old data which has been superceded by new findings. The Department of Energy has already changed its regulations for protective action and lowered the workplace exposure level that triggers protective action by a factor of 10.

This sounds like the history of asbestos regulation. For decades people in industry knew asbestos exposure was dangerous, but even after regulations were instituted, science continued to learn more about the toxic effects of asbestos. The regulations did not always keep up, and we got a legacy of asbestos diseases.

American Council on Science and Health doubts

The American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) released a report claiming asbestos isn’t all that bad this week. Pretty lame. ACSH is well known as a biased think tank beholden to Washington conservatives. In the words of Sourcewatch, the organization “it takes a generally apologetic stance regarding virtually every other health and environmental hazard produced by modern industry.”

More on the World Trade Center area cleanup

Almost 6 years after the terrorist attacks, lower Manhattan has recovered somewhat; Building 7 of the WTC was rebuilt, plans are underway for more buildings, and over 15,000 people have moved into the area in recent years. However, the legacy of asbestos remains. The Deutsche Bank was damaged back in Sept 2001 and has never been demolished, partly because of on-going concern about asbestos removal and other toxic materials. The building’s owner says it can’t be sealed until fire safety rules are agreed on and the building is stabilized, but the EPA has blocked the plan. Meanwhile two firefighters died in a conflagration at Deutsche Bank in August.

Conflict of interest among public health experts?

There’s always a temptation for regulators and policy-makers and their advisors to take money from the very interests they are regulating/overseeing/legislating. It recently came out that the epidemiologist Richard Doll, who famously established the link between smoking and cancer, was a paid consultant to the chemical industry, even when he was conducting a government study on the hazards of Agent Orange. He also worked for Newall, a British asbestos manufacturer.

There is so much money tied up in asbestos that we must always look at the motivations and backgrounds of anyone making statements about the facts.

Vento testifies; asbestos bill reintroduced

The Senate Health Committee’s employment and workplace safety subcommittee held a hearing yesterday and the widow of Bruce Vento testified. Vento was a congressman who died several years ago from mesothelioma. Senator Patty Murray is continuing her crusade to ban asbestos, and reintroduced her bill to ban the material. Murray has tried to get this bill passed before, but it always died. This time, she has committee chair Barbara Boxer as a co-sponsor, and reportedly has the support of majority leader Harry Reid, so prospects look better.