Let’s Not Forget Bhopal, India Lessons! Whatever, Union or No Union, an OSHA Update is Needed – 07/14/2014

“The Renosol workers have long had a theory about what is making them ill: A chemical called toluene diisocyanate, or TDI, which is used to make the foam in many car seats. According to decades of academic literature, isocyonates such as TDI, also used in paints, nail polish, and insulation, are among the leading causes of workplace-induced asthma. The company also uses an isocyanate called methylene diphenyl diisocyanate, or MDI.”

“When exposed to these chemicals, either through inhalation or touch, workers can become sensitized. “It’s like an allergic reaction,” explained James Lockey, M.D., an occupational health specialist at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. After sensitization, exposure to even trace amounts of TDI and MDI “can spur a decline in health, including serious asthma attacks,” he said, which can be disabling, even life threatening.”

“Medical professionals generally agree that one-time exposure to a large quantity of isocyanates or repeated exposure to lower levels of the chemicals can lead to sensitization and sometimes, permanent asthma. But leading experts—including top occupational health doctors and even the head of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration—say that federal health and safety laws regulating these chemicals are insufficient.”

““OSHA’s workplace exposure limits for many chemicals,” including isocyanates, “are out of date and not adequately protective,” David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for Occupational Safety and Health, told NBC News. “The result is that many workers in U.S. workplaces are not adequately protected from chemical exposures.”
Under current OSHA standards, employers are not required to screen workers for illness, and can expose sensitized employees to low levels of isocyanates without violating any rules.”

“While some plants take steps to protect workers from TDI exposure and regularly screen them for health issues, employers are largely left to regulate themselves. But as parts suppliers such as Renosol become a larger part of the auto industry—currently they provide three of every four auto manufacturing jobs—workers are more vulnerable, say prominent occupational health doctors as well as government officials. Parts plants often operate under unyielding pressure from auto companies to produce at high volume and low cost, economists say. And because these plants are much less likely to be unionized than assembly plants run by major auto companies, experts say workers are left without a watchdog.”

“the Lear Corporation, the Michigan-based auto parts giant that owns the Renosol plant, said, “In response to recent employee concerns about chemical exposure (specifically TDI) at Lear’s Selma, Alabama, plant, the company has taken these employee concerns very seriously.” Lear said the company “completed exhaustive testing and evaluation,” and that based on “internal investigation, two separate independent environmental evaluations, as well as a thorough OSHA evaluation,” Lear “concluded that the environment in the Selma plant is safe for our employees.””
““In the case of our Selma plant, we are in the midst of an emotional union organizing campaign,” Lear added. “During such campaigns, there are often unsubstantiated allegations made.”

“NBC contacted Carrie Redlich, M.P.H., M.D., program director of Yale’s Occupational and Environmental Medicine Program, for comment on the Renosol workers’ claims. Redlich is among the nation’s leading experts on isocyanates and her clinic at Yale regularly treats workers who have had contact with the chemicals.”

“Redlich and a colleague, Adam Wiznewski, Ph.D., senior research scientist at Yale, offered to test any interested Renosol worker for isocyanate antibodies. The tests, which Wiznewski said he has run thousands of times, measure antibodies in a person’s blood to see if they’ve been exposed to TDI, and can help establish a connection between TDI exposure and related respiratory conditions.
NBC told several workers about the offer, and they contacted a number of their coworkers. Redlich’s Yale clinic sent nine blood sample kits to Selma, and workers brought the kits to local doctors and labs, who then mailed the samples to Yale.”

“So far, the lab has tested six Renosol workers’ blood, and reports that four showed evidence of exposure to TDI. One more showed a low level of exposure consistent with very low level contact or exposure years earlier.
“This is a high frequency of exposure, and it’s cause for concern,” said Adam Wiznewski, Ph.D., senior research scientist at Yale. He said that the workers may not be representative of the rest of the Renosol’s 90-person hourly workforce, but that exposure in even four workers indicates a problem. “The company definitely needs to be looking at its industrial hygiene, and they probably need to look into personal protective equipment for workers, and medical surveillance of health issues.”

“In answer to NBC’s questions about the tests, a Lear spokesperson said, “We’re concerned about why they’d come forward and make an allegation to you. We’re a major global operator; we don’t run shoddy operations.” The Lear spokesperson added that the company maintains a clear process for workers to make complaints. He said no Renosol worker has come forward with a TDI-related grievance, with the exception of one failed workers’ compensation claim several years ago.”

“Though TDI tests cannot be the basis for a diagnosis of isocyanate asthma, Redlich and Wiznewski say that in symptomatic patients, they can be a vital piece of a diagnostic puzzle if combined with medical examination, analysis of symptoms and review of a worker’s occupational history.”

Methyl isocyanate was the causative agent in the Bhopal Disaster that killed thousands of people. Isocyanates are potentially dangerous irritants to the eyes and respiratory tract, despite their relatively low acute toxicities. LD50‘s are typically several hundred milligrams per kilogram. Polyurethanes have variablecuring times, and the presence of free isocyanates in foams vary accordingly.

“All major producers of MDI and TDI are members of the International Isocyanate Institute, whose aim is the promotion of the safe handling of MDI and TDI.”

“Isocyanates are associated with increased risk of non-small cell lung cancer in particular squamous cell.”

“Methyl isocyanate (MIC) is extremely toxic. The threshold limit value set by the American Conference on Government Industrial Hygienists is 0.02 ppm. MIC is toxic by inhalation, ingestion and contact in quantities as low as 0.4 ppm. Exposure symptoms includes coughing, chest pain, dyspneaasthma, irritation of the eyes,nose and throat, as well as skin damage. Higher levels of exposure, over 21 ppm, can result in pulmonary or lung edemaemphysema and hemorrhages, bronchial pneumonia and death. Although the odor of methyl isocyanate cannot be detected at 5 ppm by most people, its potent lachrymal properties provide an excellent warning of its presence (at a concentration of 2–4 parts per million (ppm) subject’s eyes are irritated, while at 21 ppm, subjects could not tolerate the presence of methyl isocyanate in air).

“Proper care must be taken to store methyl isocyanate because of its ease of exothermically polymerizing (see Reactions) and its similar sensitivity to water. Only stainless steel or glass containers may be safely used; the MIC must be stored at temperatures below 40 °C (104 °F) and preferably at 4 °C (39 °F).”

“The toxic effect of the compound was apparent in the Bhopal disaster, when around 42,000 kilograms (93,000 lb) of methyl isocyanate and other gases were released from the underground reservoirs of theUnion Carbide India Limited (UCIL) factory, over a populated area on December 3, 1984, immediately killing thousands and leading to the deaths of tens of thousands in subsequent weeks and months.”

“In 1970 UCIL built a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, which gained worldwide attention as a result of theBhopal disaster. On December 3, 1984, a release of methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas immediately killed about three thousand people and lead to the death of more than fifteen thousand in subsequent weeks and months. The death rate is currently about 2 or 3 people per week.”



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