Breathing asbestos fibers kills workers. It’s as simple as that. Not everyone who breathes asbestos gets an asbestos related disease but enough do that it is a real risk. So you don’t want to work with asbestos without taking precautions and you can’t take precautions if you don’t know you are working with asbestos. Asbestos started being used in brakes in the early years of the auto industry, where it replaced leather and metal brake shoes that frequently went out of adjustment. When autos moved from two-wheel brakes to four wheel brakes in the 1920s the market became huge. In the 1930s we learned that asbestos could scar the lungs and lead to a serious, often fatal disease called asbestosis. About the same time lung cancer started to be reported in asbestos workers and by 1960 we knew about an even deadlier asbestos cancer of the lining of the lungs and abdomen called mesothelioma. A diagnosis of mesothelioma is essentially a death sentence.
Fortunately many uses of asbestos have been banned in the US and most workers don’t think about it any more. Especially garage and auto workers who repair brakes. They believe asbestos bakes have been banned. Unfortunately, asbestos is still used in brakes, especially replacement brakes. The US does not ban asbestos on imported brake shoes and these cheaper alternatives are frequently used. The Baltimore Sun reported last spring there had been almost a doubling in asbestos-containing imported brakes in the last decade, many used by small garages and backyard mechanics. The newspaper also found internal OSHA memos saying US domestic auto makers sometimes used asbestos brake pads and linings. So it was a good move when OSHA, the US government’s agency that regulates safety in the workplace, started to require warnings to auto mechanics that brakes might contain asbestos. It took six years to get OSHA to put those warnings on brake pads and shoes, but it was the right thing to do. As the Sun now reports, it only took three weeks to get top OSHA officials to try to remove them again.
John Henshaw, a former head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, called Aug. 15 for the agency to make changes to its warnings, according to documents obtained by The Sun.
But Ira Wainless, an OSHA scientist who wrote the advisory bulletin about asbestos in brakes, refused, according to agency documents. Wainless cited dozens of studies, including work at his own agency, to show that his presentation of the medical risk to mechanics was solid.
Last week, David Ippolito, an official with OSHA’s Directorate of Science, Technology and Medicine, told Wainless that he would be suspended without pay for 10 days if the changes weren’t made, according to documents.
Wainless refused again, and the advisory bulletin remains online. (Baltimore Sun)
Yes, that’s right. The former OSHA administrator got his cronies to do the bidding of the auto industry. He no longer works for Bush. Just the car makers. Or did I get that reversed? Doesn’t matter. Henshaw did with the help of twonotorious consulting firms, ChemRisk and Exponent, the creatures of one Dr. Dennis Paustenbach. The two regulatory chop shops collected $23 million from the Big Three automakers (Ford, GM, Daimler-Chrysler) to do their lobbying. You remember Dr. Paustenbach, I hope. He has appeared here before (oh, and here, too). That was about the chromium cancer cover-up. He is nothing if not versatile.
I guess my earlier posts and the exposes in The Wall Street Journal and elsewhere haven’t put Paustenbach out of business. So it’s not on my conscience. And I guess killing workers isn’t on his conscience either. You have to have a conscience for that.