Occupational Health News Roundup

Last month, BP and the Department of Justice reached a settlement agreement under which BP will pay $50 million for Clean Air Act violations associated with the March 2005 explosion at its Texas City refinery, which killed 15 workers and injured many more. Celeste Monforton noted at the time that this amount is more than twice the $12.6 million BP agreed to pay for violating workplace health and safety standards.

Victims of the Texas City explosion say BP’s fine is too lenient, and they complained that the judge overseeing the settlement had a conflict of interest because he worked until 2006 for the law firm that’s handling BP’s defense in the civil case stemming from the explosion. The judge recused himself last week (see Celeste’s post for more), and the new judge has now delayed formal sentencing. A lawyer representing a group of 12 victims is demanding that BP’s fine be increased to at least $1 billion.

At Bloomberg.com, Laurel Brubaker Calkins and Margaret Cronin Fisk report on allegations that BP violated a Texas law when obtaining a permit for the refinery:

BP Plc violated Texas’s “revolving door” law by hiring a former state environmental engineer to work on the same air-pollution permit he’d supervised as a regulator, lawyers suing the company claim in court papers.

The permit, which governs BP’s Texas City, Texas, refinery, allowed the company to operate the installation without replacing outdated emissions controls, including one that exploded in March 2005, killing 15 workers and injuring hundreds. Texas law requires applications be rejected when the people involved worked on both sides of the permitting process. …

BP has denied any improprieties in its air-permitting process at the refinery, its biggest.

In other news:

New York Times: In India, workers perform hard physical labor with few safeguards to produce manhole covers used in several U.S. cities.

News & Observer (North Carolina): Although Perdue insists it’s made progress on employee health at its Lewiston chicken-processing plant, a new study from Duke University researchers finds that injury rates have stayed steady over 20 years and that the workers suffer neck, hand, and back injuries at roughly twice the rate of local workers in other low-paying jobs.

Reuters: Scientists say that they’re years away from understanding the health effects of nanoparticles, but nanotechnology is already being used in a range of consumer products.

Boston Globe: The Boston Public Health Commission will be visiting area nail salons to stress the importance of ventilation, protective gear, and safer products.

The Gazette (Iowa): Local hospitals are adding ergonomic equipment to help move patients safely; one hospital has seen an 85% reduction in workers compensation claims since they began adopting the equipment in 2003.

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