Posts Tagged ‘chemical exposure’

Annals of Compensability: Mountain Dew, Mountain Don’t

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

Henri Cyr was a part-time mechanic for McDermott’s, a Vermont company that transports milk from dairies to processing plants. A co-worker offered Cyr a bottle of Mountain Dew. As he was not thirsty at the time, he put the bottle in the workplace fridge. About a week later the fridge was cleaned out, so Cyr took the bottle home.
Some time later, Cyr came home after a workday, drank a couple of beers and then, feeling thirsty, he opened the bottle of Mountain Dew and took a deep swallow. Alas, the bottle contained toxic cleaning fluid. Cyr felt a severe burning sensation in his mouth, throat and stomach. He was rushed to the hospital, where blood work and urinalysis revealed that his blood alcohol level was .16, well above the legal limit for driving.
So here is the question for workers comp aficionados: is Cyr’s (severe) injury compensable under workers comp?
The initial claim was denied by the Vermont Department of Labor because Cyr was intoxicated and intoxication is an “absolute bar” to benefits – even though, we might add, the intoxication did not in any way contribute to the injury.
Now the Vermont Supreme Court has ruled that Cyr may indeed have a compensable claim. They have remanded the case back for consideration as to whether the injury arose out of “the course and scope of employment.” The majority wrote:

Here, we find that claimant’s injury arose out of his employment when he accepted the bottle containing the caustic chemicals. That act put the mechanism of injury in motion. This is not to suggest that his injury was inevitable once he received the bottle or that no superseding, intervening factor–such as intoxication–could have prevented his injury or altered its mechanism. However, no one suggests he was intoxicated at that time. …His injury would not have occurred had not his employment created the dangerous condition.

In his dissent, Justice Reiber returns to the language of the statute that precludes compensability for any injury “caused by or during intoxication [emphasis added]” He believes that compromising this absolute language in the statute runs contrary to legislative intent.
Whether he was technically drunk or sober, poor Henri Cyr was the victim of horrifying circumstances when he took a swig from the bottle mislabled “Mountain Dew.” He would have been better off if he had resorted to the beverage transported by his employer, wholesome milk.
The lingering mystery in this sad tale is how the toxic chemicals got into the Mountain Dew bottle: who did it and why? Such questions may be beyond the technical issue of compensability, but surely they are the questions most in need of answers.

Cavalcade of Risk and other news briefs

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

The first Cavalcade of Risk of the new decade has been posted by Louise of Colorado Health Insurance Insider – check it out. And while you’re visiting the Cavalcade, why not check out the rest of the entries on the C.H.I.I. blog? We don’t live in Colorado, but if we did, we’d definitely be doing business with Jay and Louise Norris.
The importance of the right doctor – Roberto Ceniceros of Comp Time posts about a new John Hopkins study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine that shows that 3.7% of doctors accounted for 72% of claim costs in a study of claims data from Louisiana Workers’ Comp Corporation from 1998 to 2002. He notes that one of the researchers commented, “…it makes sense to analyze how practice patterns drive costs before instituting sweeping reform.”
Sandy Blunt and the goings on in North Dakota – Good for Peter Rousmaniere and Joe Paduda for shedding light on the travesty of a prosecution related to Sandy Blunt, former CEO of North Dakota’s Workforce Safety and Insurance. I met Sandy Blunt at a conference in DC a number of years ago and had been following the turn-around he was effecting in North Dakota’s system. He struck me as progressive, innovative, and very sharp – it seemed a real coup for North Dakota to have his services. Then came a series of surprising charges resulting in his ouster. In following the case, it appears that most of these charges were minor, trumped up administrative issues, such as spending a few hundred dollars on lunches and gift certificates to motivate staff – practices that were not uncommon in other state departments. Other more serious charges were dismissed or shown to be erroneous. Blunt has appealed his conviction to the state’s Supreme Court and we hope he will prevail.
Insurance Fraud – Emily Holbrook of Risk Monitor posts about a spike in insurance fraud as indicated by a recent report from the Coalition of Insurance Fraud: “Overall, the economy in 2009 appears to have had a significant impact on the incidence of fraud. On average, fraud bureaus reported the number of referrals received and cases opened increased in all 15 categories of fraud included in the survey.” Unsurprisingly, the biggest number of fraud cases occurred in the category of bogus health insurance.
Popcorn flavorings vs public and worker health – Celeste Monforton of The Pump Handle provides an update on a public health issue of concern to workers and consumers alike: butter flavorings in popcorn. After a public outcry about diacetyl flavorings, which were causing worker and consumer health problems, the industry began substituting a product labeled as “no diacetyl.” Preliminary reports from NIOSH indicate that these chemical changes do not translate into less health risk to exposed workers and consumers.
EEOC reportWorkplace Prof Blog posts about Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforcement statistics, which were recently issued for fiscal year 2009. A sampling from the EEOC press release: “The FY 2009 data show that private sector job bias charges (which include those filed against state and local governments) alleging discrimination based on disability, religion and/or national origin hit record highs. The number of charges alleging age-based discrimination reached the second-highest level ever. Continuing a decade-long trend, the most frequently filed charges with the EEOC in FY 2009 were charges alleging discrimination based on race (36%), retaliation (36%), and sex-based discrimination (30%). Multiple types of discrimination may be alleged in a single charge filing.”
Work violenceDoes the economy play a role in workplace violence? That’s a question posed by the Christian Science Monitor in the light of a recent shooting rampage by a disgruntled worker of manufacturer ABB Group in St. Louis that left three dead and several wounded. One factor that the article did not reference is the stress that many people feel post holidays. This story brought to mind a post-holiday workplace shooting rampage in Massachusetts a number of years ago involving another disgruntled employee.

New Health Wonk Review; other news notes

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

If you find the task of following breaking news developments on the health care reform front a trifle daunting, we have a solution: let the health policy blogosphere’s best braniacs dish up and dissect the news for you in bite size portions in the bi-weekly compendium of the best of heath care policy posts. Check out the fresh edition of Health Wonk Review: Crunch Time For Health Reform hosted by Ken Terry at BNET Healthcare Blog.
And in other news:
MHSAThe Pump Handle tells us that Joe Main has been nominated for Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health and posts some info on his background.
Taking the industry economic pulse – With another quarter in the year under our belt, several industry watchers have taken the pulse of the industry’s health. In Business Insurance, Roberto Ceniceros reports that a tough climate is shaping up for workers comp. Among the many problems he notes, he reports that sources have told him that “…rising bankruptcies have insurers concerned that defunct businesses may not pay all their premiums and leave their insurer stuck with claims that should have been paid by the company.” Risk and Insurance features an article on a report from Fitch Ratings which discusses the challenges that the workers compensation market is facing in 2009. According to the report, underwriting performance is expected to worsen in 2009 as rate reductions persist. And we’ve recently noted grim news in the industry at large: first quarter of 2009 was the worst on record for property casualty insurers since quarterly results were first compiled in 1986.
Training – Eric at The Safety Blog reports that OSHA is targeting fraudulent trainers in construction and general industries and is working to strengthen their trainer authorization program. They will be conducting more surprise visits to independent training centers to check for compliance with program requirements. Trainers are authorized to teach and to do outreach training only after completion of a one-week course in an OSHA Training Institute Education Center. Learn more about training certifcation: OSHA Outreach Training Program.
H1N1Lloyd’s warns that pandemics continue to pose a threat to companies – Many feel the flu publicity and warnings earlier in the year were overstated because up until now, the manifestations of the flu have been very mild. According to WHO, there have been 429 fatalities out of 95,412 cases. Yet Lloyd’s points out that it has been having a devastating economic impact on some businesses and notes that, “Up to now flu cases have been relatively mild; however, Lloyd’s warned that “health officials worry that swine flu could mutate during the southern hemisphere winter and return in a more virulent form in the northern hemisphere this winter.” Keep up to date on any developments at Flu.gov.
Waste treatment fatalities – More on last week’s three fatalities at Regal Recycling: Old Story in Waste Removal: A Worker Collapses, Then Rescuers Do: “Dr. Hendrickson and two co-researchers found that in 42 incidences of workers’ dying of hydrogen sulfide toxicity between 1993 and 1997, more than one-fifth involved multiple deaths, including co-workers killed while trying to rescue a colleague. In all, 52 workers died over that period. The deaths have mounted despite strict standards governing work in confined spaces set by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.”
And in another waste treatment plant, a worker recently died of burns suffered in an explosion that occurred while he was cleaning a tanker at CES Environmental Services in Houston. The death was the third at a regional CES operation since December, unleashing criticism from area residents, activists and city officials, who are looking to shut down the plant.
Useful Twitter feeds
@govsites – A searchable directory of any nation’s Government sites on Twitter
@NIOSH – The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
@usdol – Jobs, employment, workforce, safety, labor, government 2.0 issues & regulations news and information from the US Department of Labor
@Disabilitygov – Official U.S. Government Web site for People with Disabilities
@CCOHS – Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS)
@FluGov – One-stop access to U.S. Government H1N1, avian and pandemic flu information
@VHAVeterans – Veterans Health Administration in the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs
@usfire – Official Twitter account of the U.S. Fire Administration – Working for a Fire-Safe America

Putrescible Waste

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

There are certain aspects of civilized life that few of us want to experience directly. Once our garbage has disappeared from the curbside, we are unlikely to give it any further thought. We have little curiousity about the desolate environments where this garbage is taken. But some folks work in these places, such as the ironically-named Regal Recycling Company on Douglas Ave, Jamaica, Queens. New York Times writer Robert McFadden describes the location as “an ugly street of waste plants, garbage scows and sheds enclosed by chain-link and topped by fluttering American flags.”
A manhole-size, 18 foot deep well at Regal was the sight of a terrible accident earlier this week. S. Dahan Piping and Heating Corporation was hired to clean the manhole. They apparently were not alerted to the hazard of poisonous gases in the well. First, Harel Dahan, son of the owner, climbed into the well’s three foot diameter opening and disappeared. His father – we can only imagine his desperate concern for his son – followed him down and did not return. Finally, a Regal employee named Rene Rivas entered the well to help out.
All three workers were quickly killed by the high level of hydrogen sulfide in the confined air of the well. Hydrogen sulfide is a highly toxic and flammable gas. Being heavier than air, it tends to accumulate at the bottom of poorly ventilated spaces. Although very pungent at first, it quickly deadens the sense of smell, so potential victims may be unaware of its presence until it is too late. Exposure to 50 parts per million can be lethal within 10 minutes. The level in the well measured an astounding 200 parts per million.
A Firefighter from the rescue squad named Robert Lagnese recovered the bodies. He wore protective clothing and an enclosed breathing apparatus.
Hydrogen sulfide is a by-product of decomposing organic matter. (Here is a five page MSDS sheet for anyone interested.) At this point, no one is sure how the gas accumulated in the well. When trucks enter the facility, they empty their contents into two categories of waste: “putrescible” and “non-putrescible.” It is the former that generates the poisonous gas.
When Shlomo Dahan arrived at Regal, he expected to find a routine job of pumping out a well. He was not aware of any immanent danger. It’s clear that Regal employee Rene Rivas was also unaware of – and untrained in – the danger. Regal handles tons of “putrescible” waste, but apparently had no awareness of the accompanying dangers.
We are left with a chain of doomed, heroic actions: Harel Dahan’s collapse in the well, followed by the rescue attempts of his father and of Rivas. It should never have happened. But let’s face it. We all want the debris of our civilized lives to be removed from our sight as quickly as possible. No one wants to look at – or smell – garbage. What happens to it after it’s removed is someone else’s business.

Suffering for Art

Monday, June 8th, 2009

Alan Rosenbaum is a revered professor of art at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). He shows students how to work with clay – at least, he used to, until he was disabled by silicosis. Rosenbaum was exposed to silica dust in the clay mixing room and ceramic studios of the university. The state Workers Compensation Commission last year found that the professor’s silicosis was caused by his exposure to hazardous dust and awarded him permanent disability benefits totaling $211,800.
Silica is a common mineral found in clay, sand and rock. The dust in the VCU’s Fine Arts Building came from the powder that students and staff mixed with water to make clay, as well as from scraping kilns clean of bits of clay and glaze after firing. There are intake vents directly above the five mixing machines, designed to take in dusty air and run it through a filter before releasing it outside the building. However,the vents failed to function properly, because for five years university staff members taped plastic bags over them, apparently to keep the dust from spreading elsewhere in the building. (There were complaints from woodworking and other shops that the dust migrated from the intake vents into work areas.) By blocking the vents, all the dust was contained in the ceramics area.
In addition to the vents being blocked, janitors swept the floors daily, causing the dust to fill the air for thirty minutes or more.
The Hazards of Sand
Ironically, VCU art classes included instruction on the hazards of silica in clay. (Here is a fascinating, if somwhat bizarre MSDS sheet on sand. It might make you think twice about heading for the beach…) It is hardly surprising to learn that students and teachers ignored the warnings.
Air-quality tests conducted by VCU staff after Rosenbaum’s diagnosis found dust levels were 98 percent below hazardous levels — but VCU did the testing after removing plastic bags that blocked the ventilation vents. In addition to activating the vents, janitorial staff began using sweeping compound to capture fine particles before they were released in the air. In other words, mitigation of the risk was readily available, but such measures were not implemented until Professor Rosenbaum became ill.
As in Julie Ferguson’s post last week on laboratory hazards, this situation in the art studio of a major university reminds us that education is not without risk. A little learning can quickly become dangerous. The budding artist working with clay and the mason cutting a cinderblock face essentially the same hazard. Dust is dust. If we are not careful, dust can speed our return to the dust from which we all come. That’s one lesson that Professor Rosenbaum is unlikely to forget.

Death in the lab: why aren’t university labs safer?

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

Earlier this year, 23 year-old research assistant Sheri Sangji suffered an excruciating death after having been engulfed in flames in a UCLA science laboratory. A drop of t-butyl lithium, a substance that ignites on contact with air, spilled on her clothing causing an instant conflagration. Sheri suffered second and third degree burns over 40% of her body. Beryl Lieff Benderly writes about Sheri’s death in Slate, raising the question of what makes academic laboratories such dangerous places to work? Benderly notes that the safety failures that led to this fatality were unfortunately not an anomaly in private academic laboratories:

The death of a healthy young woman from a chemical spill at a UCLA lab is deeply shocking. But the presence of flagrant safety violations at a major research university is no surprise. After reading about the Sangji incident and others like it, a columnist for the peer-reviewed journal Chemical Health and Safety wrote that he’d come to the “disheartening conclusion that most academic laboratories are unsafe venues for work or study.” Though no one keeps comprehensive national statistics on laboratory safety incidents, James Kaufman, president of the Laboratory Safety Institute in Natick, Mass., estimates that accidents and injuries occur hundreds of times more frequently in academic labs than in industrial ones.

In the wake of this accident, Cal/OSHA imposed a $31,875 penalty, citing safety lapses and lack of training. Benderly notes that had Sheri been a student rather than a paid technician, her death would not have been investigated by OSHA because the occupational health and safety laws that protect workers in hazardous jobs apply only to employees, not to students. The contrast between the culture, attitudes and practices of private laboratories and academia can be dramatic. Benderly describes an all-too-frequent academic machismo that can be disdainful of practices that would enhance safety, viewing them as bureaucratic and potentially stifling to academic freedom. In fairness, similar arguments and protestations have been raised by various private industry segments in response to OSHA standards, but the difference is in accountability. With most federal grants, “… applicants are routinely asked to document the steps they will take to safeguard the people and vertebrate animals they’ll be studying, but they needn’t provide any information on how they’ll protect the experimenters themselves.”
In another article for ScienceCareers, Benderly uses this incident as a springboard to discuss the issue of safety in academic laboratories in greater depth. In Taken for Granted: The Burning Question of Laboratory Safety, after examining various reports of the accident, she points to two areas that require attention, both in the UCLA lab, and frequently in other academic settings. These will be no surprise to safety professionals anywhere: better training and the need for a safety commitment that starts with the senior-most level of an organization. “The impetus to make safety a priority in academic labs must come from those able to enforce consequences.”
She is right. There are rock star academics whose research can bring huge grants and critical acclaim to a university. Safety is generally not a criteria that is evaluated as a part of their record, but it certainly should be. Benderly makes a compelling case that federal funding sources and university officials need to add safety as a criteria of evaluation to foster a culture of safety that will protect researchers as well as the research subjects.

The human cost of bringing poultry to the table

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

Last week, North Carolina’s Occupational Safety and Health division levied 49 citations and $178,000 in fines for workplace hazards on the House of Raeford Farms, one of nation’s largest poultry processors. This action was taken in response to serious, repeat safety violations, many involving hazardous chemicals that pose a threat to the safety of both the plant workers and the community. These violations are startling given the company’s past record:

“In 2003, House of Raeford worker Bruce Glover died after a leak sent chlorine gas seeping into the company’s Rose Hill plant. The next year, a major ammonia leak at that plant forced a large-scale evacuation and sent 17 workers to the hospital with respiratory problems and burning throats. N.C. OSHA cited the company for chemical violations after each of those accidents – and each time agreed to slash the proposed penalties.
After the 2004 ammonia leak, regulators found that the company didn’t do enough to prevent and detect such accidents and had not installed an alarm system to speed evacuations.”

After these incidents and before the most recent inspections, the House of Raeford had been fined $117,000 but was able to whittle those fines down to $26,500. Unfortunately, negotiating OSHA fines down has become common practice in recent years, a practice that does little to discourage irresponsible companies from engaging in repeat violations.
That the inspections and fines were levied at all is due in no small part to the investigative series that the Charlotte Observer ran on the poultry industry and their continued reporting on the issues of safety violations, child labor, and illegal immigrant exploitation in the poultry industry, beginning with the The Cruelest Cuts, an extensive 6 part series. The series focused on the difficult and unsafe conditions facing the the 28,000 poultry workers in the region – conditions that seem more in tune with the turn-of-the century slaughterhouses depicted in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle than in our modern, high tech 21st century world. An editorial accompanying the series states:

“Our team of reporters and editors spent 22 months interviewing more than 200 poultry workers throughout the Southeast and analyzing industry documents. Their investigation soon led them to focus on one of the largest Carolinas-based poultry producers, House of Raeford. Its eight plants have been cited for more serious safety violations than all but two other poultry companies in recent years — and more than some companies several times their size.
Our journalists found evidence that House of Raeford has failed to report serious injuries, including broken bones and carpal tunnel syndrome. They discovered that plant officials often dismissed workers’ requests for medical care that would cost the company money.
They also found that House of Raeford has undergone a work force transformation. In the early 1990s, its workers were largely African Americans. Today, between 80 percent and 90 percent of workers at some of its plants are Latinos. Most have no legal standing in this country; most are poor.
They are our newest subclass.”

It’s difficult reading on the eve of the day when most of us prepare to enjoy a turkey feast tomorrow, but if not now, it’s worth a bookmark for reading at a later time. We commend the Charlotte Observer for their reporting. When corporate social responsibility fails and when public policy enforcers are weak, it’s important that someone take up the banner for worker and public safety.

News Roundup: trouble in FL; medical apartheid; exclusive remedy in NJ; regulators caving, and more

Monday, April 14th, 2008

Trouble brewing in Florida – Joe Paduda of Managed Care Matters is looking at a proposed regulation in Florida for hospital reimbursement and he is not liking what he sees. He says its a situation that is likely to “scare the pants off you.”
Medical apartheid – Richard Eskow of Sentinel Effect posts about recent studies by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health, which show extreme disparities in medical care for whites and black. Of the studies, the South Florida Times states: “… elderly black and Hispanic patients often received substandard care for common but serious conditions like heart attacks, congestive heart failure and pneumonia. Researchers say their data suggests that the nation’s healthcare system is racially and ethnically segregated, not just for the elderly, but across the board.”
Troubling questions about regulators and public health interests – are regulators who are charged with protecting the health and safety of American workers and the general public succumbing to political and corporate pressure? Liz Borkowski of The Pump Handle blogs about a CBS investigation into why why the Centers for Disease Control slashed its Beryllium Study. In raising the question of whether officials ceded to political and corporate pressure in downscaling a health study of residents living near Brush Wellman’s largest beryllium-manufacturing plant, CBS questions whether the CDC “put politics before public health concerns.”
Recent reporting in the Las Vegas Sun investigates OSHA’s practice of reversing its findings and cutting fines for employers involved in construction fatalities. Reporters found nine instances where penalties for safety violations related to these fatalities had been scaled back after OSHA officials met privately with contractors. This reporting is the second part of a two-part series on construction deaths in Nevada. The first segment entitled Pace is the New Peril looks at a recent building boom that has claimed the lives of nine workers in sixteen months.
Exclusive remedy prevails in NJa suit for damages against a NJ employer was dismissed by the state’s superior court in the case of a driver who was struck by a vehicle while unloading supplies from his truck. The employee had sued claiming gross negligence on the part of his employer as well as the company where the delivery occurred, stating that he had not been provided cones or flares and had alerted his employer about the safety problems that existed at this particular delivery spot. In so deciding, judges said there was not enough evidence in the case to show the companies “deliberately intended to harm (Dadura) or knew that the consequences of its inaction were substantially certain to result in harm.” In most states, there is a very high bar for piercing exclusive remedy – employer negligence would have to reach a level of being intentional or certain.
Combustible Dust bill – Last week, a House Education and Labor Committee passed a bill that would require OSHA to issue an interim final standard regulating combustible industrial dust within 90 days and a finalized standard within 18 months. This progress represents only one hurdle however – the bill still must gain House and Senate approval in the face of significant opposition.
Soldiers suffering high rate of mental health problemsThe New York Times reports that army leaders are concerned about the mental health of soldiers who face multiple deployments to Iraq. More than 197,000 have deployed more than once, and more than 53,000 have deployed three or more times. According to an Army survey of combat troops sent to Iraq for the third or fourth time, more than one in four show signs of anxiety, depression or acute stress. This means that American employers should expect a high rate of PTSD for citizen soldier veterans when they return to the workplace.

News roundup: popcorn lung, medical tourism, health care matters, and more

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007

Popcorn lung – We’ve previously taken OSHA to task for being slow off the mark in protecting workers who are at risk for severe respiratory illnesses related to exposure to microwave popcorn butter flavorings containing diacetyl. Now, while the agency continues to “seek evidence”, legislators have passed a diacetyl bill requiring the agency to issue an interim final standard to minimize worker exposure to diacetyl in popcorn and flavor manufacturing plants. In response, OSHA has scheduled public hearings and issued a Safety and Health Information Bulletin on Respiratory Disease Among Employees in Microwave Popcorn Processing Plants and Hazard Communication Guidance for diacetyl. But OSHA is still balking at issuing an emergency standard for diacetyl, falling back on its preferred voluntary compliance philosophy.
Medical tourism – David Williams of MedTripInfo.com has just released a white paper on medical tourism in conjunction with MedPharma Partners LLC, a health care and life sciences consulting firm: Medical Tourism: Implications for Participants in the US Health Care System (PDF). We’ve talked about the issue of medical tourism before – this is an issue to keep on your radar screen. David’s paper is worth a read. Among the predictions:

  • US health insurers will start to provide coverage for medical tourism in 2008. Mini-med plans and small employers -not big health plans and blue chip companies– will lead the way.
  • State governments will begin to embrace medical tourism by 2010.
  • Opposition to medical tourism by US physicians will be relatively modest.
  • Medical tourism won’t have a major, direct impact on US health care costs, but the secondary impact will be substantial.

40 years and counting – Congratulations to the folks at Business Insurance on their 40 Year Anniversary. We’ve long thought that the publication has some of the best reporters and editors in the industry – kudos to all. They’ve put together some interesting restropsective features from their 40-year history, some available online to nonsubscribers: 40 Years of Business Insurance.
Debunking viral health care spam – Joe Paduda of Managed Care Matters does a great job debunking a viral e-mail from an anonymous concerned Canadian warning the U.S. about universal health care coverage. Moral of the story: never believe unsolicited emails and know your source.
McCain on Health care – Bob Laszewski of Health Care Policy and Marketplace Review offers an analysis of Senator John McCain’s Health Care Reform Plan. This follows last week’s analysis of the Clinton health care plan.
Immigration crackdown effects on the slaughterhouse – Thanks to Workplace Prof Blog for pointing us to a New York Times article we’d missed on how the immigration crackdown is affecting the work force in the slaughterhouse industry. Work in meat-packing industries is right up there in terms of grueling and dangerous jobs, and many plants are finding it difficult to replace undocumented workers who were displaced during recent immigrant raids.
Foot powerErgonomics in the News discusses a foot mouse / slipper mouse as an alternative when repetitive strain injuries preclude the use of a traditional mouse.

15 TX workers linked to vermiculite exposure; echoes of Libby, Montana

Monday, August 20th, 2007

Last week, the Dallas News reported that fifteen former workers and residents exposed to vermiculite from a West Dallas mineral processing plant are exhibiting signs of asbestos-related illnesses such as asbestosis and cancer, a development one physician termed as “alarming.” More than 400 employees, family members and nearby residents of the vermiculite plant have been tested, and of the 252 analyzed so far, about 6 percent are showing signs of asbestos related illness. The sample group represents only a portion of the total workers and nearby residents who may have been exposed from 1953 to 1992. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has issued an exposure evaluation fact sheet for Texas Vermiculite’s site in Dallas.
The Libby Montana connection: W.R. Grace trial set for September; Libby, Montana documentary to air
The Texas Vermiculite plant was operated by W.R. Grace & Co., and was one of a number around the nation that processed vermiculite from the company’s mine in Libby, Montana. For those who may not be familiar with the infamous events surrounding Libby, Montana, I would recommend a High Plains documentary film of the same name – “Libby, Montana – that will be airing on P.O.V. on August 28th at 10 PM. (Check your local PBS for times). The film tells the very troubling story of massive public health crisis affecting hundreds of ex-miners, their families, and the townspeople who have been stricken by asbestos-related illnesses. The exposure has been associated with more than 200 deaths to date. At least 1200 former workers and town residents have been stricken with asbestos-related illnesses. Many in the town are charging the EPA with foot-dragging in the emergency clean-up.
The documentary will provide background both for the TX exposure and for the W.R. Grace criminal trial scheduled to begin this September. In February 2005, W.R. Grace and seven of its executives were indicted in the Libby asbestos deaths.
Additional information on Libby, Montana
– Jordan Barab’s extensive coverage of Libby at Confined Space
The Seattle Post Intelligencer’s Special Report series: Uncivil Action – A town left to die
– Trailer for Libby, Montana: