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Today, Maine’s legislature held a hearing on the Toxic Chemicals in the Workplace Act, a proposal to require employers to identify harmful chemicals in the workplace and replace them with safer alternatives. It’s the perfect example of state action on behalf of worker safety and exactly the kind of measure that might no longer be possible under two congressional proposals aimed at overhauling the federal Toxic Substances Control Act.

When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first vaccine to protect against cancers caused by certain strains of the human papillomavirus, or HPV, public health advocates cheered its life-saving potential. Unfortunately, the new vaccine quickly became embroiled in a debate over whether immunizing young girls against HPV, a sexually transmitted disease, would lead to risky sexual behavior.

If you’re in the market for a paint remover and head to your local hardware store, most of the products you’re likely to find will contain methylene chloride. These products carry hazard warnings that say “Danger!” and “Poison” along with cautionary statements about the chemical’s nervous system effects and the possibility that exposure can cause blindness, birth defects, cancer and respiratory harm. But there’s little – if anything – to suggest such products are so hazardous that they were responsible for at least 14 deaths in the United States between 2000 and 2011. These products are banned in the EU. Are there alternatives and why are they still for sale in the U.S.?

A new analysis of data from the world’s largest and longest-running study of women’s health finds that rotating night shift work is associated with higher mortality rates. The new findings add to a growing awareness that long-term night shift work comes with serious occupational health risks.

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.