3

Dept. of Labor tries to ease toxin rules

Drums of industrial waste

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: Second only to the long tradition of peaceful transfers of political power in this country is the tradition of presidential administrations of both parties trying to sneak in last minute rule changes on their way out.

And so the stories are starting to leak as the clock winds down on the Bush White House, where political appointees at the Department of Labor have been trying to make it harder to regulate workplace exposure to some hazardous materials.

From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Sam Eaton reports.


Sam Eaton: The Washington Post obtained a copy of an unpublished proposal that would force regulators to reexamine the methods they use when determining on the job risks. Businesses have long complained that the government overestimates worker exposures to chemicals and toxins.

The Department of Labor didn't comment, but one of the agency's former Bush appointees, Diana Furchtgott-Roth, says the proposal is long overdue.

Diana Furchtgott-Roth: It's good science versus junk science.

Roth says existing rules run on the flawed assumption that exposures to workplace toxins are accrued over a lifetime.

Furchtgott-Roth: These days workers frequently don't work in the same job for 40 hours a week for a 45-year career.

But critics call that a cheap trick to get businesses off the hook. Penn law professor Adam Finkel says even if today's workers are more likely to change jobs, they don't necessarily reduce their toxic exposure levels.

Adam Finkel: If somebody is a brake mechanic and they work for five different brake shops over a 45 year period, they're getting the same exposures for that time.

And George Washington University epidemiologist David Michaels says many of those exposures are at unsafe levels to begin with. He says under the Bush administration, proposals for limiting exposure to cancer causing silica dust and beryllium have languished on the shelf and he says the administration's new rule would ensure they stay there.

David Michaels: The next administration will essentially either have to roll this back or accept it, which would mean that any new rule would take a year or two longer to get out.

In Los Angeles, I'm Sam Eaton for Marketplace.

About the author

Sam Eaton is an independent radio and television journalist. His reporting on complex environmental issues from climate change to population growth has taken him all over the United States and the world.
Log in to post3 Comments

I've been a safety and health professional for over 25 years. I'm tired of political manipulation of health and safety in this country. It's time for reasonable people to establish reasonable regulations; that would protect employees yet not kill America's industries with regulations that make them unable to compete on the world market. It's time for manufacturers to stop changing chemical formulas to avoid regulation by using a slightly different compound that has no PEL established. It is also time to stop pretending we can research all toxicology issues without animal or human subjects research. We can't have it both ways. Unfortunately, just like the political stalemate we call government, extremists on both sides of safety and health issues are the ones who seem to be fighting over the steering wheel of this out of control vehicle.

I am environmental health professional, and I've worked for osha for 11 years.

Two reasons why this is a bad idea.

1. The chemical rules we currently enforce are mainly based on 1967 toxicology data.
2. 90% of employers aren't following these outdated rules currently.

Should we lower the bar even farther? Pretty soon even the most egregious offenders will be able to poison you all day long, and you'll have W to thank for it.

I am environmental health professional, and I've worked for osha for 11 years.

Two reasons why this is a bad idea.

1. The chemical rules we currently enforce are mainly based on 1967 toxicology data.
2. 90% of employers aren't following these outdated rules currently.

Should we lower the bar even farther? Pretty soon even the most egregious offenders will be able to poison you all day long, and you'll have W to thank for it.

With Generous Support From...