Sustained Outrage

C8 exposure linked to osteoarthritis

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The folks at West Virginia University’s C8 Health Project just keep churning out important new papers about the potential impacts of the toxic chemical DuPont for years used to make its prized Teflon products.

Just this week, Drs. Kim Innes and Alan Ductman, along with others, had a paper in the respected scientific publication the American Journal of Epidemiology.

The paper reports, apparently for the first time, a significant association between exposure to C8 and the development of osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease and the most common form of arthritis.

Interestingly, the relationship between chemical exposure and the disease was significantly stronger among younger people and non-obese adults. Also interesting is the fact that the researchers found a negative association between PFOS exposure and osteoarthritis.

The study is based on the C8 Health Project’s work looking at the data from roughly 70,000 residents of the Mid-Ohio Valley who gave blood samples and medical histories to the project, funded by money from a legal settlement between the residents and DuPont.

Researchers concluded:

… We found a significant, positive, linear association between PFOA and reported diagnosis of osteoarthritis and a signficant negative association between PFOS and osteoarthritis. If replicated in prospective studies, these findings could have substantial public health implications and may inform future studies regarding possible mechanisms underlying the development and progression of this important and common chronic disorder.

This study comes on the heels of another major study of C8/PFOA, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives and reported on here by the great Marla Cone:

… Scientists with three federal agencies who studied mice exposed in the womb to a chemical used to make Teflon found delayed breast development and impaired lactation. The effects were found in the mice at the concentrations detected in the water supply of an Ohio town near a DuPont Co. plant that uses the chemical, known as PFOA. Water supplies are not routinely monitored for it.

“If human exposures in distinct populations are approximating those provided in this study, concern over human breast health and lactational competency are justified,” said the authors, led by Suzanne Fenton, a mammary gland expert at the National Toxicology Program.

That study was published as part of a major editorial in which scientists urged federal officials to add new tests for industrial chemicals and pesticides to find out which ones could disrupt breath development. That editorial said:

Given the magnitude of potential public health impacts on breast feeding and breast cancer, it is critical to strengthen testing methods and give more weight to them in policy decisions. Good decisions about pollution limits, pesticide approvals, and chemicals in consumer products and food rely on a full and accurate understanding of risks associated with exposure.

The files on Benjamin Hill’s death

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Late last week I obtained a large file of documents concerning the death of Benjamin Hill, whose mysterious death at the Industrial Home for Youth prompted a West Virginia Supreme Court inquiry into the state Division of Juvenile Services.

In my story today, I write about how the documents suggest that Hill may have died of an overdose of an antidepressant he was prescribed.

Below is a look at the documents mentioned in the story. Click on the notes in the left-hand column to read about the notations. You can scroll to the bottom and click on a much larger (and therefore legible) pdf file of the documents.

CSB to release DuPont report next week

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Finally ending their infighting and delays, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board has voted to release its investigation of the January 2010 incidents — including one fatal phosgene leak — at DuPont Co.’s Belle, W.Va.

CSB spokeswoman Hillary Cohen confirmed to me via email message that board members voted 5-0 last week to release the report, without a public meeting but with a public comment period.

The report is set to be released during a press conference in Charleston July 7.

Stay tuned …

UPDATED:

Board officials have not yet made records about this vote available to the public, and haven’t given them to me as I requested … but I obtained them from another source and I’m posting them here.  As you can see, there’s still a lot of conflict among board members on this issue.

Secret meetings, June 17, 2011

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There are two meetings in today’s issue of The State Register that violate the public notice requirements of West Virginia’s open meetings law.

The agencies involved? The state Department of Administration’s Design-Build Board and the Bridgemont Community and Technical College Board of Directors.

As we’ve reminded folks before, the West Virginia Open Governmental Proceedings Act requires agencies to send meeting notices to the Secretary of State in time for notices to appear in the State Register five days prior to a scheduled meeting. Every week, we list the agencies that didn’t comply, thanks to the Secretary of State’s office, which kindly marks those agencies with an asterisk in the list of meetings published each Friday in the Register.

Fireman battle a fire at AL Solutions after an explosion rocked the plant Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010 in New Cumberland, W.Va. Three workers were killed and one person was injured. (AP Photo/The Review, Michael D. McElwain)

There was a little something in the U.S. Department of Labor press release about its citations issued to AL Solutions in New Cumberland, W.Va., that jumped out at me. It was this:

The violations place this company in OSHA’s Severe Violators Enforcement Program. Initiated in June 2010, SVEP is intended to focus OSHA enforcement resources on recalcitrant employers that endanger workers by committing willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations in one or more of the following circumstances: a fatality or catastrophe; industry operations or processes that expose workers to severe occupational hazards; employee exposure to hazards related to the potential releases of highly hazardous chemicals; and all egregious enforcement actions.

Sounds good, right?

It is … unless you read more about this OSHA program, in a Pump Handle blog post by my friend Dr. Celeste Monforton.

For example:

It depends on whether you agree with OSHA’s narrow definition of a “severe violator.” I don’t, because OSHA doesn’t go far enough.

For example, would you consider an employer a “severe violator” if one of his employees died on the job because the company violated OSHA’s fall protection standard, and this same firm had another worker die on-the-job from a fatal fall three years prior? That’s what I’d call a recalcitrant employer, a bad actor, and a severe violator, but not under OSHA’s definition.

Dr. Monforton even went to the trouble of putting together her own flow chart and coming up with examples of things that wouldn’t qualify for this OSHA program:

On my flowchart, I offer just a few examples of situations that I’d consider for the “severe violator” category. As currently written, none of these meet the SVEP test:

— Has the employer had more than 1 fatal accident at the site in the last 7 years?

— Has the employer had more than 1 fatal accident at all of their sites in the last 5 years?

— Has the employer had multiple fatalites in any given year (all sites) over the last 5 years?

— Is the employer in debt collection and avoiding paying previously assessed monetary penalties?

What’s all this got to do with Al Solutions, and the December explosion and fire that killed three workers? Well, obviously, this facility was having some serious problems operating in a safe manner. Check out what we said in our print story:

The willful citation issued by OSHA stemmed from the plant’s water-based sprinkler system. “The application of water to burning combustible metals can result in hydrogen production and explosion,” the citation said. OSHA recommended the use of a sand/salt fire suppression system instead.

Under OSHA rules, a willful violation is one committed with intentional knowing or voluntary disregard for the law’s requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health. The willful violation in this case carried a proposed fine of $70,000.

OSHA officials declined to make anyone with direct knowledge of the case available for a telephone interview Tuesday. But in an emailed statement, Prentice Cline, director of the agency’s Charleston area office, said the sprinkler system played a major role in the accident.

“When the water from the sprinkler system made contact with the metal fire, it created hydrogen in sufficient quantity to result in an explosion and spreading of the existing fire throughout the production area,” Cline said in the statement, which was forwarded though an OSHA public affairs official.

But guess what … prior to the December incident, OSHA had not inspected the facility (formerly owned by a company called Jamegy) since July 2006 — the last time a worker died at there.

And before that? OSHA hadn’t been at the plant since January 1996, and that was a a follow-up inspection from the most previous one  in August 1995 — which again was the last time a worker was killed at the plant.

Sounds a lot like what I found when I looked at how often OSHA inspected the DuPont plant in Belle, W.Va., prior to the January 2010 death of a worker there.

I asked OSHA about the inspection frequency at AL Solutions, and spokeswoman Leni Uddyback-Fortson sent me this statement:

We have no other history of inspections with AL Solutions or Jamegy other than what you have stated. OSHA did not have any legal reason to do additional inspections of those employers. There were no formal complaints or referrals that allowed us to go in, and there were no programmed inspections so they apparently did not make it onto any programmed inspection lists through targeting.

Business lobbyists like to make out like OSHA is a big, bad agency that shuts them down for all sorts of silly things. The Obama administration and its friends in the labor movement often try to spin it that this administration is doing a great job protecting workers.

But as the AFL-CIO noted in its most recent Death on the Job report, at its current rate, it would take OSHA more than 80 years to inspect every job site in West Virginia. Maybe they shouldn’t be inspecting every job site … but you have to wonder what would have happened if an OSHA inspector had visited AL Solutions sometime between July 2006 and December 2010 … would they have spotted this faulty spinkler? Would three workers still be alive?

This is what OSHA has to say about such things:

This facility and their other facility in Missouri will now be targeted because they qualify under the new SVEP program. However, clearly it is and has been the duty of this employer and every other employer covered by the OSH Act to comply with the applicable regulations and industry safety practices.

IG: OSHA doesn’t know if enforcement plan works

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OSHA chief David Michaels

The Republican leadership in the House Education and Workforce Committee held an interesting hearing today called, “Is OSHA Undermining State Efforts to Promote Workplace Safety?

I didn’t get to watch the hearing, but I gathered from the leadership’s statements that their goal was to argue that those troublesome federal bureaucrats were again getting in the way of those wonderful state officials in making their local workplaces safer.

Read what Committee Chairman Tim Walberg, R-Mich., had to say:

Certain jobs pose unique hazards and require different safety standards, demonstrating once again the need for federal policies that provide certainty and flexibility to our workplaces. The needs and priorities of businesses in my home state of Michigan may be very different than those in Washington, Tennessee, and Vermont. Jobs creators and workers in rural communities may face different challenges than their neighbors located in the nation’s cities. Rules and regulations handed down by Washington must reflect this important reality.

Unfortunately, as is far too often the case with federal law, this catchy phrase has led to great confusion and frustration. As a report by the Department of Labor’s Inspector General illustrates, defining an effective plan has proven a difficult task for OSHA. In fact, the IG report found OSHA has not even evaluated its own enforcement program, which raises the question of how it could possibly measure the efficacy of state efforts.

Right about there was where I did a bit of a double-take. What? OSHA has not evaluated its own enforcement program? That’s right. Read what the latest Inspector General’s report says:

OSHA has not evaluated the impact of its own enforcement program in order to arrive at a minimum criterion to evaluate state programs.

Continue reading…

Just in time for West Virginia Day celebrations on Monday, the West Virginia northern flying squirrel is going back on the federal endangered species list.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is set to announce the action in a notice to be published in tomorrow’s Federal Register. Here’s a copy of the notice.

Agency officials took the action in response to a federal judge’s ruling in March that they had improperly removed the squirrel from the protected list.

Bethany Cotton, a lawyer with the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the organizations that sued over the listing, said:

Threatened by logging, development and climate change, the West Virginia flying squirrel needs the protections of the Endangered Species Act to survive and recover. From now on, the Fish and Wildlife Service must follow its own science-based recovery plans before taking protections away from endangered species.

Continue reading…

OSHA cites AL Solutions in fatal explosion

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Fireman battle a fire at AL Solutions after an explosion rocked the plant Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010 in New Cumberland, West Virginia. Three workers were killed and one person was injured, police and company officials said Thursday. (AP Photo/The Review, Michael D. McElwain)

Here’s a statement just issued by the U.S.  Occupational Safety and Health Administration:

NEW CUMBERLAND, W.Va. — The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited AL Solutions Inc. for exposing workers to workplace safety and health hazards following an explosion and fire at the company’s New Cumberland facility that caused the deaths of three workers.

OSHA began an investigation in response to the incident that occurred Dec. 9, 2010. As a result, the company received citations for one willful, 16 serious and one other-than-serious violation.

“This tragedy could have been prevented,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Dr. David Michaels. “It is imperative that employers take steps to eliminate hazards and provide a safe working environment.”

The willful violation is the company’s use of an unsafe water sprinkler system with flammable metals, which created an explosion hazard. A willful violation is one committed with intentional knowing or voluntary disregard for the law’s requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.

Serious violations include the company’s failure to provide a properly designed gas detection system for hydrogen, provide over-pressure protection, safely store flammable metals, provide safe egress, provide appropriate personal protective equipment, ensure the safe use of forklifts and provide hazard communication training. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

The other-than-serious violation is the company’s failure to maintain required record keeping by not completing OSHA Form 301, the Injury and Illness Incident Report.

AL Solutions, which operates plants in New Cumberland and Washington, Mo., manufactures titanium and zirconium alloy compacts used in the aluminum manufacturing industry. Penalties total $154,000.

The violations place this company in OSHA’s Severe Violators Enforcement Program. Initiated in June 2010, SVEP is intended to focus OSHA enforcement resources on recalcitrant employers that endanger workers by committing willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations in one or more of the following circumstances: a fatality or catastrophe; industry operations or processes that expose workers to severe occupational hazards; employee exposure to hazards related to the potential releases of highly hazardous chemicals; and all egregious enforcement actions. For more information about the program, click here.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations to comply, ask for an informal conference with OSHA’s area director or contest the citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. The investigation was conducted by OSHA’s Charleston Area Office; telephone 304-347-5937. To report workplace incidents, fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, call the agency’s toll-free hotline at 800-321-OSHA (6742).

I’ve posted a copy of the OSHA citations here.

Drilling wastewater spills in Doddridge County

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This just in from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection:

On June 9, the Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Oil and Gas issued three notices of violation and an order to cease operations to Hall Drilling, LLC, based in Ellenboro, W.Va., for an incident in which a storage tank overflowed into England’s Run in Doddridge County.

This incident occurred at a centralized storage tank maintained by Hall Drilling for the purpose of temporarily storing wastewater and oil from well sites. The company was cited for causing the storage tank to overflow; failing to have appropriate containment and or diversionary structures to prevent discharged oil or other pollutants from reaching the waters of the state; and for allowing pollutants to flow into waters of the state.

While the agency first believed the spill to be primarily produced water, further investigation has led inspectors to believe that the discharge was primarily, if not totally, crude oil.

As a result of these violations, the agency ordered the company to cease operations at the Swiger 1 well pad and the storage tank facility.

The company contained the discharge downstream and nearby water intakes were properly notified through the agency’s spill notification system.

Secret meetings, June 10, 2011

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This week’s issue of the State Register contains no meetings that violated the public notice provisions of West Virginia’s open meetings law.

As we’ve reminded folks before, the West Virginia Open Governmental Proceedings Act requires agencies to send meeting notices to the Secretary of State in time for notices to appear in the State Register five days prior to a scheduled meeting. Every week, we list the agencies that didn’t comply, thanks to the Secretary of State’s office, which kindly marks those agencies with an asterisk in the list of meetings published each Friday in the Register.