March 18, 2009 The Pump Handle 2Comment

The National Air and Space Museum, part of the Smithsonian Institution here in DC, has asbestos in its wall seams – a situation unlikely to pose harm to visitors, but a potential risk to workers who might be cutting or drilling into walls. Seventeen years ago, managers were informed about the presence of asbestos, and a consultant’s report advised that workers be alerted to its presence. But, report James V. Grimaldi and Jacqueline Trescott in the Washington Post, that rarely happened.

A year ago, the museum finally held an “asbestos awareness” safety briefing for workers, and lighting specialist Richard Pullman, a 27-year employee of the museum, was shocked. Pullman had been experiencing shortness of breath, and this disclosure prompted him to see a lung doctor, who diagnosed him with asbestosis. Pullman has now filed federal workplace safety complaints, although the Smithsonian insist that there is nothing harmful in the museum’s air.

How could the museum have failed for so long to notify its employees of the presence of asbestos?

“There were many staff changes and organizational changes,” Smithsonian spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas said, “and the information from the . . . report was not passed along over the years.”

It’s not unusual for information to get lost during staff turnovers and reorganizations, but information that has an important bearing on workers’ health ought to be a priority for getting passed along.

In other news:

Houston Chronicle: U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal has accepted a plea deal for the 2005 BP Texas City refinery explosion that killed 15 workers and seriously injured many more. The company will pay a $50 million fine, which victims say is too small.

Associated Press: The Army has announced that 18 soldier deaths in February are suspected to be suicides; two have been confirmed as suicides, and the others are under investigation.

BBC: Following an IARC finding that night-shift work is a probably carcinogen, the Danish government has begun compensating women who develop breast cancer after long periods of working night shifts.

NIOSH: The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is conducting evaluations of downdraft-vented nail tables, which can reduce nail salon workers’ exposure to dust and chemicals.

Charleston Gazette’s Sustained Outrage blog: Congressmen Henry Waxman and Bart Stupak will be holding a hearing April 23rd into the Bayer CropScience plant explosion that killed two West Virginia workers in August.

2 thoughts on “Occupational Health News Roundup

  1. I’d like to see some research as to whether people who work night shifts for just a few years (and not their entire careers) have elevated cancer risks, too. It might be feasible for people to work nights for 5-10 years, and then switch to a daytime schedule.

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