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Dept. of Labor tries to ease toxin rules

Sam Eaton Jul 23, 2008

Dept. of Labor tries to ease toxin rules

Sam Eaton Jul 23, 2008


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Sam Eaton: The Washington Post obtained a copy of an unpublished proposal that would force regulators to reexamine the methods they use when determining on the job risks.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.

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