Occupational Health News Roundup

Mitsuru Obe reports in today’s Wall Street Journal that three workers at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant have been exposed to moderately high levels of radiation, due to contact with radiactive water on the ground. Their reported exposures of 170 to 180 millisieverts are less than the new emergency limit of 250 millisieverts, but more than the usual limit of 100 millisieverts for workers’ exposure during recovery efforts.

This follows an earlier report from the New York Times that five workers have died since the quake and 22 more injured, 11 of those in a hydrogen explosion. Those who remain at the facility working to cool the nuclear fuel risk receiving damaging radiation exposures. Alan Zarembo of the Los Angeles Times points out that Fukushima workers could quickly reach their annual exposure limit, which would mean they’d have to be replaced.

In The Guardian, Suzanne Goldenberg contrasts the celebrated image of the “nuclear samurai” – selfless heroes working for the country’s greater good – with the situation of a tobacco farmer who did manual labor at the plant for extra money and was asked to go back to work at the plant as the crisis worsened. His family urged him to stay home with his new baby daughter, but he returned to the plant.

In addition to radiation exposure, plant employees must be experieincing a tremendous amount of stress. Nature News’ Geoff Brumfiel paints a vivid picture of what occurred at the facility in the immediate aftermath of the quake and tsunami, and concludes that “decisions made in the initial 24 hours by the handful of operators in the control room probably averted a much greater nuclear catastrophe than the one that now faces Japan.”

In other news:

The American Prospect: Few chicken farmers today sell birds on the open market – instead, they contract with companies like Tyson’s, which send them chicks, feed, and antibiotics and pays the farmers for the eggs or meat. The result is many farmers who earn too little to support their families and who can be wiped out by a single bad flock or weather event.

Telegraph (UK): An explosion at a coal mine in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province is feared to have killed 52 miners, although not all of the bodies have been recovered.

New York Times: Six days after capturing four New York Times journalists who were covering the conflict between government and rebel forces, the Libyan government has released them into the custody of Turkish diplomats. The journalists’ first-person account of the ordeal details the brutality they faced.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration: OSHA has filed suit against the Houston-based air conditioning company Goodman Manufacturing Co., alleging that it retaliated against an employee who complained to supervisors about the company’s failure to properly record job-related injuries.

Washington Examiner: DC’s Metro transit agency has paid out $22.4 million in workers’ compensation claims this fiscal year as a result of its high injury rate of 6.17 injuries per 200,000 hours of work. This is well above the transit industry standard of 5.0.

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