CPSC to Require Removal of Organohalogens from Consumer Products

September 25, 2017

CPSC to Require Removal of Organohalogens from Consumer Products
In response to a petition filed by leading consumer, healthcare, firefighter and science groups, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) took three critical steps toward protecting consumers and firefighters from the hazards posed by a class of flame retardant chemicals, known as organohalogens. The CPSC granted the petition filed by Earthjustice and Consumer Federation of America on behalf of 10 groups and individuals, and directed the Commission’s staff to begin the rulemaking process to ban the sale of four categories of consumer products if they contain any organohalogen flame retardant. The CPSC voted to issue a strongly worded guidance warning the public of the hazards posed by this class of flame retardants in children’s products, mattresses, electronic casings, and furniture. Additionally, the CPSC voted to convene a Chronic Hazard Advisory Panel (CHAP) to provide scientific expertise to the CPSC's staff as it proceeds to develop the rules called for by the CPSC.

The decision by the CPSC demonstrates the immense power of a broad coalition of health, safety, consumer and civil servants to protect our families,” said Earthjustice co-counsel Eve Gartner. “We commend today’s decision that will eventually rid our homes of this toxic class of chemicals that is damaging our children’s brains and robbing them of their full potential.”

“The CPSC sent an unequivocal message today that it will protect children, firefighters and all consumers from the known and well documented hazards posed by organohalogen flame retardants in consumer products,” stated Rachel Weintraub, legislative director and general counsel at Consumer Federation of America and co-counsel on the petition. “We applaud the steps taken today.”

“This is a huge win for children's ability to learn and thrive to their full potential," said Maureen Swanson, Healthy Children Project Director for Learning Disabilities Association of America. "There is now scientific consensus that even very low levels of halogenated flame retardants can harm the developing brain. We applaud the CPSC for taking action to protect current and future generations from these neurotoxic chemicals."

This entire class of chemicals has been associated with serious human health problems, including cancer, reduced sperm count, increased time to pregnancy, decreased IQ in children, impaired memory, learning deficits, hyperactivity, hormone disruption, and lowered immunity.

Numerous eminent scientists have documented the harms posed by this class of chemicals, noting that when organohalogen flame retardants are added to products, they leach out and result in human exposure. Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, testified at a public hearing last week: “We know that all chemicals in this class will escape into the environment and into people.” Because these chemicals migrate continuously out from everyday household products into the air and dust, more than 97% of U.S. residents have measurable quantities of toxic organohalogen flame retardants in their blood. This is a major public health concern because all well-studied organohalogens have been associated with serious adverse human health effects. Children are especially at-risk because they come into greater contact with household dust than adults, and studies show that children, whose developing brains and reproductive organs are most vulnerable, have three to five times higher blood levels of these chemicals than their parents.

Firefighter organizations are deeply concerned about the use of this class of chemicals as well. When consumer products containing these chemicals burn, the fire and smoke become more toxic. The International Association of Fire Fighters has determined that there is a link between exposure to the fumes created when toxins burn and the disproportionately high levels of cancer among firefighters.

The CPSC’s vote to grant the petition will start a rulemaking process at the CPSC. However, because the rulemaking process will take time, the Commission issued guidance to manufacturers, urging them not to use these chemicals in the production of children’s products, mattresses, furniture, and the casings of electronics. The CPSC also announced that it will convene a scientific panel to provide guidance to assist the Commission staff regarding the hazards posed by organohalogen flame retardants.

Petitioners, represented by the nonprofit law firm Earthjustice and Consumer Federation of America include: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Women’s Association, Consumers Union, Green Science Policy Institute, International Association of Fire Fighters, Kids in Danger, Dr. Philip J. Landrigan, League of United Latin American Citizens, Learning Disabilities Association of America, National Hispanic Medical Association, and Worksafe.

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Update on Ongoing Investigation into Midland Resource Recovery
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board released a “Factual Investigative Update” into two fatal explosions that occurred at the Midland Resource Recovery facility in Philippi, WV.

The CSB’s update maps out several details regarding two explosions that occurred in 2017 killing a total of three workers. The document includes information on the facility’s operation, the details surrounding the incident as well as the agency’s investigative path forward.

Court Orders Bay City Landscaper to Stop Operations Following MIOSHA Order
On September 18, 2017, a Bay County Circuit Court Judge issued a judgment against Sunset Tree Service & Landscaping, LLC, of Bay City (Sunset) in a lawsuit filed by Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs Director Shelly Edgerton. The suit was filed by Director Edgerton to seek enforcement of a Cease Operations Order she authorized against the company earlier this spring.

On May 1, 2017, the Department issued a press release announcing it had directed the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) to execute a Cease Operations Order against Sunset for continuing to operate without abating hazards previously cited in June of 2016. The release announced MIOSHA has also issued 12 new citations totaling $222,000 in proposed penalties as a result of two MIOSHA inspections conducted with Sunset from January 11, 2017 to March 15, 2017. MIOSHA issued six failure-to-abate citations for the violations listed above and six willful serious citations—the most serious classification.

Shortly following the announcement of the execution of the Cease Operations Order, MIOSHA received several contacts from concerned citizens indicating that the company was continuing to operate despite the Director’s Order. On May 30, 2017, following efforts by MIOSHA to confirm the allegations, the Department Director filed a Complaint with the Bay County Circuit Court for Sunset’s failure to obey the Cease Operations Order.

Judge Joseph K. Sheeran issued judgment in the Director’s favor, ordering Sunset to cease the following operations until it has complied with abatement requirements as prescribed by MIOSHA:

  • Cease operation of the Bandit Chipper
  • Cease from engaging in work operations requiring implementation of traffic control devices
  • Cease from employing workers that have not received training in the hazards of tree trimming operations, personal protective equipment, and available safeguards

Sunset Tree Service & Landscaping employs six workers and is an ornamental shrub and tree service. The business requires the extensive use of personal protective equipment, hand tools, and various powered equipment used in the removal and processing of trees.

Sunset has an extensive history of safety violations. Between 2011 and 2016, 14 inspections were conducted at the company, resulting in 48 citations with total initial penalties of $150,000. It has also been cited nine times for failure-to-abate. MIOSHA executed a Cease Operations Order against the company in May 2016, which was later lifted after it abated the violations.

“Sunset’s disregard of MIOSHA regulations continues to jeopardize the safety of its most valuable asset—its employees,” said Edgerton. “While MIOSHA strives to work collaboratively with the employer community, such a pattern of non-compliance requires that we take the necessary enforcement actions.”

Once Sunset has complied with abatement requirements as prescribed by MIOSHA, MIOSHA will notify Sunset and Director Edgerton that the company is able to resume full operations.

Final Report for 2016 Refinery Fire that Seriously Injured Four Workers Released
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board released a safety bulletin on the November 22, 2016 fire that severely burned four workers at the ExxonMobil refinery in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

The fire occurred during maintenance activities when operators inadvertently removed bolts that secured a piece of pressure-containing equipment to a plug valve. When the operators attempted to open the plug valve, the valve came apart and released flammable hydrocarbons, which formed a vapor cloud that quickly ignited.

Chairperson Vanessa Allen Sutherland said, “Our investigation found that these accepted practices were conducted without appropriate safety hazard analysis, needlessly injuring these workers. It is important to remember that good safety practices are good maintenance practices and good business practices.”

The CSB released a detailed animation showing the events that led to the 2016 fire.

A key safety lesson discussed in the bulletin is the “hierarchy of controls.” This is a method of evaluating safeguards to provide effective risk reduction. Within the hierarchy of controls, an engineering control, such as improved valve design, is more effective than a lower level administrative control, such as a sign warning workers that the gearbox support bracket connects to pressure-containing components.

The CSB reports concludes that updating all of the older valves to the safer valve design, as was done to approximately 97% of the valves in the unit, would have ultimately prevented the incident

Investigator Mark Wingard said, “Our investigation also revealed a culture at the refinery that was accepting of operators performing maintenance on malfunctioning plug valve gearboxes without written procedures or adequate training, which in this instance, resulted in a hazardous event.”

The CSB is issuing Key Lessons to address the shortcomings revealed by the investigation:

  1. Evaluate human factors—interactions among humans and other elements of a system—associated with operational difficulties that exist at a facility in relation to machinery and other equipment, especially when the equipment is part of a process covered by the OSHA’s Process Safety Management (PSM) standard. Apply the hierarchy of controls to mitigate the identified hazards.
  2. Establish detailed and accurate procedures for workers performing potentially hazardous work, including job tasks such as removing an inoperable gearbox.
  3. Provide training to ensure workers can perform all anticipated job tasks safely. This training should include a focus on processes and equipment to improve hazard awareness and help prevent chemical incidents.

The CSB is an independent, non-regulatory federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. The agency's board members are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. CSB investigations examine all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure or inadequacies in regulations, industry standards, and safety management systems.

The Board does not issue citations or fines but makes safety recommendations to companies, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA. Please visit our website, http://www.csb.gov/.

Federal Agencies in Montana and Dakotas Align on Safety Practices
OSHA, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS)-Northern Division, and the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE)-Northern Region have signed a two-year alliance to promote safe practices in Montana and North and South Dakota’s forestry, logging, firefighting, and natural resource industries.

The alliance will serve as a platform to share information, resources, and industry best working practices among Forest Service and OSHA officials.

“This alliance will enhance the safety of natural resource field operations, as well as wildfire firefighting operations,” said OSHA’s Area Director Eric Brooks, in Bismarck, North Dakota.

The USFS and the Northern Region’s Local Lodges of the NFFE formalized a Memorandum of Understanding in August in which all parties agreed to cooperate and work collaboratively to support the alliance.

To ask questions, obtain compliance assistance, file a complaint, or report on imminent dangers to workers, the public should call OSHA’s toll-free hotline at 800-321-OSHA (6742) or the agency’s Bismarck Area Office at 701-250-4521. 

Gulf Spill Oil Dispersants Associated with Health Symptoms in Cleanup Workers
In May 2010, cleanup workers in Venice, Louisiana, pressure washed oil booms to remove oil, debris, and dispersants. Workers who were likely exposed to dispersants while cleaning up the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill experienced a range of health symptoms including cough and wheeze, and skin and eye irritation, according to scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The study appeared online September 15 in Environmental Health Perspectives and is the first research to examine dispersant-related health symptoms in humans.

Oil dispersants are a blend of chemical compounds used to break down oil slicks into smaller drops of oil, making them easily degraded by natural processes or diluted by large volumes of water. The study estimated the likelihood of exposure to dispersants, based on the types of jobs the workers did and where. Individuals who handled dispersants, worked near where dispersants were being applied, or had contact with dispersant equipment reported the symptoms they experienced during oil spill cleanup as part of the Gulf Long-term Follow-up (GuLF) STUDY.

The research team found that workers exposed to dispersants were more likely to experience certain symptoms—cough, wheeze, tightness in the chest, and burning in the eyes, nose, throat, or lungs—than those who were not exposed to dispersants.

Dale Sandler, Ph.D., the lead GuLF STUDY researcher at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of NIH, said the findings only apply to workers involved in the cleanup effort and not the general public.

"The health effects that we see in the workers don’t necessarily apply to the community at large, although many of the workers live in affected areas," Sandler said.

After the oil spill, two chemical dispersants, Corexit EC9500A or Corexit EC9527A, were used in some areas where oil was present. Sandler said since it was the first time oil dispersants had been used on such a large scale, it was important to examine the possible health effects. Most of the previous research on dispersants focused on how well the compounds dispersed oil and the potential environmental impacts. Several small animal studies that tested the chemicals in dispersants suggested some of the compounds were toxic.

One of the challenges the researchers faced was distinguishing whether the effects they saw were associated with the dispersants or petroleum products from the spill. Sandler said the scientists were able to consider both exposures and isolate the effects associated with the dispersants.

The researchers also considered the association between having been exposed to the dispersants during cleanup work and having current symptoms at the time the workers joined the study. Many of those who reported symptoms while they were involved in the oil spill response and cleanup, no longer had them one to three years later when the telephone interviews were conducted. Sandler explained that these findings were consistent with a short-term effect of dispersants on health symptoms. She noted, however, that a small percentage of oil spill workers were still having these symptoms.

"While symptoms are not disease, many people who worked on the oil spill underwent a stressful experience," said NIEHS Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D. "Some of them are continuing to not feel well, and we don’t know what factors are contributing to it. The ongoing GuLF STUDY research is important for shedding light on the potential health impacts associated with an oil spill."

GuLF STUDY participants completed telephone interviews during enrollment, a subsequent home visit that included medical assessments and collecting biological samples, and one follow-up telephone interview. A new follow-up interview is scheduled to start fall 2017. The data used in this study came from enrollment interviews with 31,609 English or Spanish-speaking persons who were involved in oil spill response or cleanup.

In addition to Sandler, others involved in this work include Craig McGowan, currently a research fellow at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; NIEHS staff scientist Richard Kwok, Ph.D.; Lawrence Engel, Ph.D., NIEHS associate scientist, and associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and consultants Patricia Stewart, Ph.D., and Mark Stenzel, who led the exposure assessment efforts for the GuLF STUDY. 

Alliance to Foster Growth of Workplace Safety and Health Occupations Formed
The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) and Oakland University recently formed a new alliance establishing the MIOSHA Training Institute (MTI) to Bachelor of Science in Environmental Health and Safety Degree Program. The MIOSHA program is part of the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA).

“This alliance is the first of its kind for MIOSHA, providing individuals in the occupational safety and health profession with a unique opportunity for professional growth,” said MIOSHA Director Bart Pickelman. “MIOSHA is pleased to work collaboratively with Oakland University to help ensure higher education and training for workplace safety and health occupations.”

The new program is available to those who have a valid MIOSHA Training Institute (MTI) Level 2 Safety and Health Management Systems (SHMS) certificate. These individuals will be granted 11 Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) credits through a course competency by examination process to satisfy part of the minimum course requirements toward the EHS Bachelor of Science degree.

The alliance formalizes a working relationship between MIOSHA and Oakland University to raise awareness of MIOSHA initiatives; promote the MIOSHA Training Institute (MTI) to EHS Degree Completion Program; and utilize Oakland’s input on MTI training. Together, the participants will also provide members and others with information, guidance and access to training resources that help ensure worker protections.

The MTI is a premier workplace safety and health training assessment-based certificate program. The MTI offers continuing education credits and maintenance points, and the opportunity to achieve certificates based on the most up-to-date industry standards.

Certificate programs are available for General Industry Safety and Health as well as Construction Safety and Health. An Occupational Health certificate is also available. Classes are taught entirely by MIOSHA Consultation Education and Training (CET) consultants and are consistent throughout the state.

The alliance was signed by MIOSHA Director Bart Pickelman and CET Division Director Nella Davis-Ray; Oakland University Senior Vice President and Provost James P. Lentini, and OU’s School of Health Sciences Dean Kevin Arthur Ball.

“We are confident that this alliance with MIOSHA will enhance the ever-changing field and technological advancements of environmental health and safety,” said Ball. “We look forward to offering those employed in the field an opportunity to work toward degree completion while learning the latest practices and procedures.”

There are many benefits to participating in an alliance with MIOSHA. Through this program, organizations will:

  • Build trusting, cooperative relationships
  • Network with others committed to workplace safety and health
  • Exchange information about best practices
  • Leverage resources to maximize worker safety and health protection

Oakland University's School of Health Sciences provides students high-quality, science-based health education and academic preparation within an exceptional environment of collaborative, academic and clinical learning

Pharmaceutical Development Site Recertified for Superb Workplace Safety and Health Programs
Eli Lilly and Company’s Lilly Technology Center in Indianapolis achieved recertification as a STAR participant in the Indiana Voluntary Protection Program (VPP). A participant of the program for over 16 years, this Lilly worksite remains committed to proactive restriction and elimination of workplace safety and health hazards for their workers.

Eli Lilly and Company is a global pharmaceutical company, homebased in the heart of Indianapolis. The Lilly Technology Center employs more than 4,800 workers. Worldwide, Eli Lilly employs nearly 40,000 and has facilities in throughout the world. The technology center been a long-term participant of VPP, originally certified in February 2001.

“Our agency is proud to recognize this globally successful and valuable company for their hard work to protect their people,” said Indiana Department of Labor Commissioner Rick J. Ruble. “The Lilly Technology Center has consistently demonstrated how they consider workplace safety and health a high priority.”

“Safety is a top priority at Lilly, and we strive to make medicine in a safe environment for our employees, our surrounding communities and the people who take our medicines,” said Maria Crowe, president of Global Manufacturing Operations for Eli Lilly and Company. “Participating in the VPP and achieving our STAR recertification underscores our commitment to safety.”

The worksite’s three-year average Total Case Incidence Rate (TCIR) was 28% below the national industry average for the period of 2014 through 2016. Additionally, the Lilly Technology Center’s Days Away/Restricted/Transferred Case Incidence (DART) rate for the same time period was 67% below the national industry average.

NIOSH Research Rounds: Study Characterizes Injuries and Exposures among EMS Workers
NIOSH studies indicate that the rate of injury among Emergency Medical Service (EMS) workers is higher than in the general workforce. To describe these injuries in more detail, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Office of Emergency Medical Services within the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration collaborated to survey EMS workers treated for occupational injuries, including exposures to harmful substances. A NIOSH fact sheet highlights results from the four-year study and provides recommendations for prevention.

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