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Occupational Health News Roundup

Petrochemical companies spend millions to undermine the science on benzene; in-depth series sheds light on the horrific working conditions in Mexico’s agricultural sector; National Labor Relations Board rules in favor of worker organizing; and federal officials grilled on response to West fertilizer explosion.

In the span of just a couple years, five of Heather Buren’s colleagues at the San Francisco Fire Department were diagnosed with breast cancer. At first, Buren thought the diagnoses were part of the unfortunate toll that comes with age. Still, something felt amiss — “it just felt so disproportionate to me,” she said.

Next time someone asks you what exactly public health does, repeat this number: 4.3 million. That’s the number of women — mothers, sisters, wives, aunts, grandmothers, daughters and friends — who might have otherwise gone without timely breast and cervical cancer screenings if it weren’t for public health and its commitment to prevention.

When a widely used chemical is identified as an environmental health hazard and targeted for phase-out and elimination, among the most challenging questions for those involved with making such a chemical are: What to use instead? and Will the replacement be safe? The US Environmental Protection Agency’s report identifying alternatives to the flame retardant hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) illustrates how difficult those questions can be to answer.

Following the deadly April 17, 2013 explosion at the West, Texas fertilizer plant – and a series of other catastrophic incidents involving hazardous materials – President Obama directed federal agencies to improve chemical facility security and safety. Their report makes recommendations but does not mandate any immediate action. Meanwhile, dangerous chemical releases occur at workplaces around the US almost daily.

OSHA’s proposed silica regulation: Let the public hearings begin!

Over the next three weeks, more than 200 individuals are scheduled to testify at OSHA’s public hearing on its proposed silica regulation. Unlike other regulatory agencies, OSHA’s rulemaking hearings are overseen by an administrative law judge. Those who testify can cross-examine and be cross-examined by other witnesses and agency officials.

“For us it’s personal,” said Jeannie Economos, Farmworker Association of Florida Pesticide Safety and Environmental Health Project Coordinator. “It’s a daily issue for us. Every day with a weaker protection standard is another day a worker is exposed to pesticides,” she said. On February 20th the EPA proposed revisions to its Worker Protection Standard for agricultural pesticides. Farm worker advocates are welcoming the proposal – the first update since 1992 – but see both improvements and what some are calling “steps backward.”

In a first-of-its-kind study, a researcher has estimated that the health-related economic savings of removing bisphenol A from our food supply is a whopping $1.74 billion annually. And that’s a conservative estimate.

It’s probably my earliest public health memory — the image of Surgeon General C. Everett Koop and his grandfatherly beard on the television warning my elementary school self about the dangers of smoking. He was the first doctor I knew by name.

Occupational Health News Roundup

Fast-food workers walk off their jobs and demand higher wages; workers from a Niagara Falls Goodyear plant have a bladder cancer rate nearly three times that of the general New York state population; and increased pork-plant production comes with more reports of worker injuries.