Judge Orders OSHA to Release Toxic Info
Washington Post
The Associated Press
Monday, July 2, 2007; 5:25 PM

WASHINGTON -- A federal judge has ordered the Labor Department to share with the public the results of years of toxic substance sampling in American workplaces. Federal officials said Monday they were reviewing the decision. The decision, by U.S. District Judge Mary L. Cooper, came in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by former Labor Department official Adam Finkel, who now is a whistleblower.

Finkel was a chief regulator and regional administrator for the Labor Department's Occupational Health and Safety Administration from 1995-2003. He sued the Labor Department in 2005 after they refused to tell him the results of beryllium tests on OSHA inspectors.

Beryllium is a lightweight metal that is used in aerospace components, semiconductor chips, jet engine blades, transistors, nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons. It often is mixed with other metals to form an alloy.

Scientists have learned that exposure to low levels of beryllium dust, fumes, metal, metal oxides, ceramics or salts even over a short period of time can result in chronic beryllium disease, lung cancer or skin disease.

The Labor Department argued that releasing the information would invade its inspectors' privacy, put at risk trade secrets of the companies involved and make it harder to inspect companies in the future.

"The Court finds the public interest in disclosing information that will increase understanding about beryllium sensitization and OSHA's response, thereto, is significant," Cooper wrote in her decision.

Finkel also asked for the entire OSHA database on toxic exposures, including how much was found, the company where it was found and the code number for the inspector who found it. The database includes more than 2 million analyses conducted during roughly 75,000 OSHA inspections of workplaces since 1979.

"Ordinary citizens paid to collect these data, and I look forward to analyzing this public database to help OSHA find its way back to its original mission," said Finkel. He is now a professor of environmental and occupational health at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey School of Public Health, and a visiting professor at Princeton University.

The Labor Department said it was still reviewing the decision, since officials were just notified of the judge's ruling on Monday.

On the Net:

U.S. District Judge Mary Cooper's decision on Finkel v. Department of Labor: http://www.peer.org/docs/dol/07_02_07_finkel_foia_ruling.pdf

Department of Labor: http://www.dol.gov

OSHA: http://www.osha.gov

Original Text