April 18, 2011

Impact: InvestigateWest Reports Spur Action, Two Worker Safety Laws Pass

Two worker safety laws (SB 5594 & SB 5149) were passed in the state of Washington because of InvestigateWest’s reporting on the hazards of chemotherapy exposure.

The investigative piece shared the story of Sue Crump, a retired pharmacist who had contracted “secondhand chemo” when working with the drug earlier in her career. Thousands of nurses, pharmacists and technicians like her had contracted the disease because the Occupation Safety and Health Administration failed to regulate the exposure these professionals encountered.

InvestigateWest found multiple studies dating back to the 1970s documenting ongoing contamination and exposures, which showed how nurses and physicians were linked to certain cancers. However, OSHA continued to neglect regulating chemo, which the agency itself deems is hazardous.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Jordan Barab said that although the agency is concerned about the levels of exposure, it does not have adequate resources to regulate it.

“Although this is an important safety and health issue, OSHA has not considered a standard to specifically address hazardous drugs in the healthcare setting,” Barab said in a letter to InvestigateWest.

Another InvestigateWest report has caught legislators' attention: the dangerous effects parking lot sealants can have on homeowners.

The article showed how high levels of the sealant are appearing in dust in homes.  The coal tar sealant has been linked to cancer and is used in every state to protect asphalt and pavements from water damage.

A U.S. Geological Survey revealed that the sealant can wear off and make its way into homes through residents’ shoes, causing scientists to become concerned about its potential health effects.

“This is the kind of thing where, when you give a presentation, people’s eyes get big — even scientists,” said Barbara Mahler, a USGS hydrologist.

The concern is targeted toward children, who are more vulnerable to the substances found in the sealant. This is because children play near floors that retain the toxins. Additionally, children have a higher metabolic rate, their organs are developing and they incur a larger dose per pound of body weight.

Previous studies showed how the coal tar harmed insects and tadpoles and caused tumors in fish. In the previous study, the substance came off of driveways and parking lots and got into the aquatic environment.

This month a bill that would ban toxic sealants was passed in Congress and now awaits the governor’s signature.