Too tight on toxins?

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The Bush admin is on its way out and strict workplace toxicity regulations may be going with it. Political appointees at the Department of Labor, in response to long-standing business concerns that the “government overestimates the risk posed by exposure to chemicals,” covertly proposed new regulations that would make it “tougher to regulate workers’ on-the-job exposure to chemicals and toxins," yesterday’s Washington Post unveiled.

One of the arguments proffered by proponents of the new regs is that the department’s current assumption of a 45-year working life overstates the risk of exposure to workplace toxins. Because, you know, who hangs around a job for 45 years anymore?

But here’s the rub: in some industries, it takes far less than 45 years of exposure to a toxin to develop a debilitating disease. For example, a recent Center report on the health risks of manganese fumes highlighted the stories of welders like Jeffrey Tamraz and Charles Ruth III, both of whom developed parkinsonism, a Parkinson’s-like disease. Each was under 50 when he was diagnosed. Presumably neither started work at age five.

Meanwhile, the Center obtained court documents showing $12.5 million paid by welding companies to 25 organizations and 35 researchers, “virtually all of whom have published papers dismissing connections between welding fumes and workers’ ailments.”

And still missing from this particular debate is the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s “official verdict on manganese and welding — an exhaustive state-of-the-science report that will lay the pathway for government regulators.” The report is more than four years overdue.

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