Occupational Health News Roundup

Becoming a mayor or a journalist might not seem like a particularly life-threatening career choice, but in parts of Mexico wracked by drug violence these have become dangerous jobs. Tim Johnson of McClatchy Newspapers reports:

As if Mexicans needed more evidence that criminal groups are trying to hijack the political life of the nation, it came with a ferocious triple-whammy punch in the past 24 hours.

Assailants shot and seriously wounded the mayor-elect of a town in the border state of Chihuahua Friday afternoon, less than a day after commandos in Nuevo Leon state executed a sitting mayor, making him the 10th municipal chief slain so far this year.

… Attacks on mayors are quickening, a sign that drug cartels are seeking to intimidate politicians and neutralize them when they interfere with criminal activity.

John Burnett of NPR reports that, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, more than 30 Mexican reporters have been killed or have disappeared over the past four years. President Felipe Calderon has announced measures designed to safeguard journalists covering cartel violence, but some journalists who fear for their lives have already fled to the US. Journalist Jorge Luis Aguirre, editor of the website LaPolaka.com that covers Juarez, has just been granted political asylum here.

In other news:

Mother Jones: National Guard troops suffering from health problems after exposure to hexavalent chromium at the Qarmat Ali water plant in Iraq have sued KBR, which was responsible for the facility. But KBR seems to have a clause in its contract with the Army that could shield the contractor from legal liability.

ProPublica: After a 2005 blast at its Texas City refinery killed 15 workers, BP entered a plea agreement and was placed on probation. The Justice Department has decided not to revoke that probation, and is instead giving BP more time to correct safety problems.

Charleston Gazette: Most coal-producing nations use water or limestone-dust barriers (in addition to other methods) to help prevent large coal-dust explosions, but the US Mine Safety and Health Administration doesn’t require their use. Former MSHA chief Davitt McAteer suggests the push to require them should be resumed in light of the explosion that killed 29 miners in April at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine.

California Department of Public Health: Three workers have died while installing solar panels on rooftops in California. The state’s Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) program is making fact sheets (in English and Spanish) available to inform workers and the industry about hazards associated with solar-panel installation.

NIEHS: The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences is giving $36 million to 20 organizations developing health and safety training for workers exposed to hazards during disaster response and cleanup.