July 27, 2011 Liz Borkowski, MPH 1Comment

Though the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Daichi nuclear plant has faded from the headlines, cleanup work continues amid high radiation levels. TIME’s Krista Mahr reports that Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has just released a document that includes an April estimate that 1600 workers will be exposed to high levels of radiation while working to stabilize the plant. Japan’s government raised the exposure limit from 100 millisieverts per year to 250 after this disaster occurred; the just-released document expresses concern that if too many workers reach this limit working at Fukushima, they may be barred from working at other nuclear plants.

The Guardian’s Justin McCurry delves into the working conditions at Fukushima, where a recent hot spell only added to the discomfort of working while wearing protective suits, gloves, and masks. Shifts can only last 90 minutes at a time, although the work days can be long. After being criticized over working conditions, plant operator Tepco reported increasing the number of rest areas and water coolers and supplying workers with cooling gear. In addition to heat and radiation, stress is also a concern. McCurry writes:

Moves to improve conditions came after Takeshi Tanigawa, a medical advisor to Tepco, had warned that nuclear power plant workers faced an increased risk of accidents due to sleep deprivation and fatigue.

“Their level of stress is unimaginable,” Tanigawa, a professor of public health at Ehime University, said, adding that, without counseling, some were at risk of developing post-traumatic stress syndrome.

… Last week, Tepco acknowledged that the risk of radiation exposure and concern among relatives had added created “multiple” sources of stress for workers.

The firm said it had introduced regular health checks and that medical staff would be sent to the site to offer counselling for between two and four days a month.

In other news:

Occupational Safety and Health Administration: As record heat sweeps the country, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis reminds employers of their responsibility to protect outdoor workers. OSHA’s website includes educational materials on preventing heat illness, and it has partnered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration so that agency’s website will include worker safety reminders when extreme heat alerts are issued.

CNN: In a lawsuit against the National Football League, 75 former players say the league spent decades concealing what it knew about the harmful effects of concussions.

Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report: Military veterans who served between September 2001 and March 2010 were four times more likely than nonveterans to have severe hearing impairment.

Charleston Gazette: A three-scientist panel studying the potential health effects of the chemical C8, which is used in the manufacturing of Teflon, has found that workers at a West Virginia DuPont plant who were exposed to the chemical were more likely to die from kidney diseases, including kidney cancer. (I’ve written before about this panel and some of its findings.)

New York Times: Undertakers have been making improvements to ventilation and protective equipment to reduce their exposure to formaldehyde, but few are willing to stop using the carcinogen altogether.

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