November 1, 2010 Liz Borkowski, MPH 2Comment

Because electronics contain hazardous materials like lead and cadmium, workers who recycle e-waste need to be protected from harmful exposures. All too often, we hear of children in developing countries breaking down old computers with little or no protection. Here in the US, concerns also exist about the health and safety of prison employees and inmate laborers involved with recycling operations. Myron Levin reported for Fair Warning on October 6 that inmates at some federal facilities were demanding hazardous duty pay from Federal Prison Industries (also known as Unicor), a for-profit, government-owned corporation that employed inmates at recycling factories at eight institutions.

On October 21, Levin described a “blistering” report from the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General:

Capping a more than four-year investigation, the blistering report said recycling workers were repeatedly exposed to high levels of cadmium and lead, both toxic metals, because of a pervasive indifference to safety by senior officials of Federal Prison Industries, a for-profit corporation within the U.S. Bureau of Prisons that aims to teach job skills to inmates.

Last week, Levin followed up with news that US Representative Charlie Wilson of Ohio, whose districts includes the federal prison in Elkton where air tests found levels of cadmium more than 400 times above federal limits, has requested a hearing of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security.

In other news:

Charleston Gazette: Investigators working to determine the cause of the April explosion at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine, which killed 29 miners, will not have the benefit of testimony from Massey Energy’s top safety officer or five other company officials who have invoked their Fifth Amendment rights and declined to testify.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration: Following an explosion at gun powder substitute manufacturer Black Magic LLC that killed two workers, OSHA has issued 54 citations – four of them for egregious willful violations – with penalties totaling $1.2 million.

Washington Post: A study of more than 200 Chinese factory workers, funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and published in the journal Fertility and Sterility, found that the workers exposed to bisphenol A were at an increased risk of having lower sperm counts and poorer sperm quality.

Cincinnati Enquirer: University of Cincinnati researchers are studying the substances that firefighters are exposed to on the job and collecting DNA samples in an attempt to identify genetic changes that trigger cancer development and determine if they’re connected to chemical exposures.

The Oregonian: Oregon’s Occupational Safety and Health Division has warned the state’s licensed hair stylists that extensive tests of the Brazilian Blowout hair treatment and some other hair straighteners/smoothers have found significant formaldehyde levels. (Also see this earlier article about a stylist who became concerned about health effects from Brazilian Blowout and set off a wide response.)

2 thoughts on “Occupational Health News Roundup

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