Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao announced that the Department of Labor has reached a partial settlement of the legal challenges to the final rule on diesel particulate matter (DPM) levels in underground metal and nonmetal mines.
"I am pleased that all the parties involved -- government, labor and industry -- were able to come together and reach agreement through difficult negotiations," Chao said "Now we have new standards to enforce, ensuring that miners will be working in a safer environment."
The final rule establishes new health standards for underground metal and nonmetal mines that use equipment powered by diesel engines. Among numerous protections, the rule requires operators of these underground mines to train miners about the hazards of being exposed to diesel particulate matter.
The parties in the litigation reached agreement on the following points:
- Provisions, which went into effect on July 5, 2001, cover the use of low sulfur fuel, engine maintenance and training. New diesel engines must meet EPA or MSHA standards.
- Proposed rules will clarify that operators may transfer existing equipment among their own mines without having to buy new equipment. They also will clarify the kinds of defects that, when tagged by an employee, require prompt attention from a mechanic. Finally, it also clarifies when the mechanic must begin to examine the tagged equipment.
- MSHA, with the support of the parties, will conduct sampling at mines beginning in August 2001, when a new sampling device becomes available. A sampling protocol will be developed jointly by all parties with assistance from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
- The interim concentration limit of 400 micrograms is scheduled to go into effect on July 19, 2002 and the final concentration limit of 160 micrograms is scheduled to go into effect on January 19, 2006. MSHA has committed to evaluate the appropriateness of these limits in light of the sampling which is scheduled to begin in August.
An announcement of the effective date of the rules and the new proposals was published in the Federal Register on July 5, 2001.
CHAO CHALLENGES MINING COMMUNITY TO REDUCE ACCIDENTS
Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao challenged the mining community to reduce accident rates, building on recent successes in making mines safer.
Fatal-injury rates in the mining industry dipped in the first quarter of 2001 compared with the same period in 2000, according to new data released by the Department of Labor Mine Safety and Health Administration. Fatal injuries in coal mining declined to 0.021 per 200,000 employee-hours worked compared with 0.033 in the first quarter of 2000. In the metal and nonmetal mining sector, fatal injuries dropped to 0.015 per 200,000 employee hours compared with 0.018 in the first quarter of 2000.
"The first quarter of this year shows that the trend is in the right direction," Chao said. "But I want to challenge all of us to do even more. We can and must reduce mining deaths still further."
Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health Dave D. Lauriski emphasized that recent successes are only a first step.
"I have put forward a challenge to reduce mining industry fatalities by 15 percent each year over the next four years and to reduce the lost-time injury rate by 50 percent by 2005," Lauriski said. "That will require the commitment and help of everyone who works in mining."
In the first quarter of 2001, five coal miners died on the job compared with eight in the same period of 2000. Seven metal and nonmetal miners lost their lives compared with nine in the same period of 2000. Mining fatalities totaled 86 last year; 38 in coal mining and 48 in metal and nonmetal mining.
As of July 2nd, 10 deaths have occurred this year in coal mines compared with 16 as of the same date last year. In metal and nonmetal mining during the same period, there have been 18 fatalities this year compared with 26 as of the same date a year ago.
The rate for nonfatal coal mining injuries involving lost work time through the first quarter of 2001 was 3.93 injuries per 200,000 employee-hours worked, down from 4.35 in the same period of 2000 and 4.76 in all of 2000. The rate for all types of injuries in coal mining was 5.31 per 200,000 employee-hours worked. This compared with 5.72 for the same period of 2000 and 6.36 for all of 2000.
Coal miners worked a total of 48.1 million reported hours through the first quarter of 2001 compared with 48.6 million for the same period of 2000. Average reported employment in coal mines through the first quarter of 2001 was 92,399 compared with 94,477 through the first quarter of 2000. Coal mines reported producing 272 million tons of coal through March of 2001, an increase from 267.5 million tons produced during the same period of 2000.
In metal and nonmetal mining, the rate of lost-time injuries was 2.73 through the first quarter of 2001 compared with 2.62 for the same period of 2000 and 2.77 for all of 2000. The rate of all injuries in metal and nonmetal mining was 4.04 in January-March of 2001 compared with 4.16 for the same period last year and 4.31 for all of 2000.
Metal and nonmetal mine operators reported a total of 95.5 million hours through March of 2001 compared with 99.5 million for the same period of 2000. Average reported employment totaled 198,711 compared with 206,307 in the first quarter of 2000.
Data for 2001 are preliminary and subject to change.
DDT USE IN U.S. LINKED TO PREMATURE BIRTHS IN THE 1960'S
Heavy U.S. use of DDT before 1966 may have produced a previously undetected epidemic of premature births, a new study shows.
The study, which appears in the current issue of the international medical journal Lancet, was carried out by scientists at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The scientists said they found elevated levels of DDT's breakdown product, DDE, in the stored blood of mothers recorded as giving birth to premature or low birth weight infants. Pre-term births are a major contributor to infant mortality.
"DDT levels in the U.S. are now low and likely not causing any harm," said Matthew Longnecker, M.D., Sc.D., NIEHS, lead author on the study. "But we have to be concerned about what might be happening in those 25 countries where DDT is still used. Also, looking back on earlier decades in the U.S., we may have had an epidemic of pre-term births that we are just now discovering."
The U.S. Collaborative Perinatal Project, a program of the National Institutes of Health and 12 universities, still has stored blood serum from the mothers of thousands of children born between 1959 and 1966. A sample group of 2,380 was studied. Of these women's births, 361 were born pre-term, and 221 were small for gestational age; that is, they weighed less than most infants their age. Mothers of the affected infants had higher levels of DDE in their blood, indicating higher exposure to DDT in the environment. Average levels were about five times higher than at present.
DDT has long been suspected of reproductive toxicity. It was identified by Rachel Carson as being a potent reproductive toxin in birds in her pioneering environmental book Silent Spring published in 1962. The book forecast a time when DDT and other persistent pesticides used at that time could produce a spring where there were no birds left to sing. In fact, the bald eagle and the brown pelican were nearly driven to extinction before the banning of DDT in the U.S. in 1972 brought their numbers back.
Studies since then on human reproductive effects have been suggestive of the human reproductive toxicity of DDT, a pesticide still widely used and highly effective in areas where mosquito-borne malaria is a major public health problem. Previous studies have drawn data from smaller samples and were not statistically powerful.
"The findings of our study strongly suggest that DDT use increases pre-term births, which is a major contributor to infant mortality," Dr. Longnecker said. "If this association is causal, it should be included in any assessment of the costs and benefits of insect control using DDT."
Dr. Longnecker points out that other agents that are less toxic and less persistent, but more expensive, can be used to control malaria. He is now working with epidemiologists in Mexico to see if women from malaria areas, highly exposed to DDT, are affected like the U.S. women were.
EMPLOYEE OVERCOME BY VAPORS KILLED; OSHA PROPOSES $63,000 PENALTY
OSHA cited Apple Fabrication Inc., in Duncanville, Texas, with four alleged violations and a penalty totaling $63,000 for exposing employees to atmospheric hazards.
The alleged violations were discovered during an OSHA investigation that began on Jan. 9, 2001, in response to a fatality. The employee was killed after being overcome by trichloroethylene vapors while working inside a steel rinse tank. The employer was cited with two willful and two serious violations.
The alleged willful violations included failure to implement the confined space entry procedures. Employees who enter and work inside rinse tanks must follow a precise series of steps to control hazardous conditions before entry. The employer also allegedly did not perform air monitoring or require employees to wear respirators. A willful violation is defined as one committed with an intentional disregard of, or plain indifference to, the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
The two serious violations were for not having an attendant present when employees entered into the steel rinse tanks and for not implementing procedures for summoning rescue. A serious violation is one in which there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from the violation.
"The employer, knowing the hazards associated with the chemicals used during the tank lining operations, repeatedly allowed the employees to work inside these steel rinse tanks without using any safety procedures or equipment," said Kathryn Delaney, Dallas OSHA area director.
Apple Fabrication has 15 working days from the receipt of the citations, to either comply request an informal conference with the Dallas OSHA area director, or contest the citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
PA SCHOOL BUS OPERATORS FINED FOR VIOLATING FEDERAL DRUG AND ALCOHOL REGULATIONS
The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced that 12 Pennsylvania school bus operators and drivers have been fined for violating federal drug and alcohol regulations.
The 12 violated Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) governing the testing and use of controlled substances and alcohol by people who have commercial drivers licenses (CDL). The charges against companies operating school buses included using drivers known to have tested positive for a controlled substance, using drivers before receiving negative pre-employment controlled substance test results, and improperly conducting random drug testing.
The Pennsylvania Division of the FMCSA conducted a special investigation of school bus operators during which they checked compliance with drug and alcohol testing requirements and provisions associated with commercial drivers licenses. The division's 35 investigations resulted in civil charges against four companies that contract to transport school children, five school districts that transport their own students, and three individuals.
"We do not tolerate unsafe practices that place people, especially children, at risk. These fines underscore our commitment to safety and to ensuring that motor carriers comply with federal safety requirements," said Julie Anna Cirillo, FMCSA's chief safety officer and acting deputy administrator.
Technically, the fines are assessed through notices of claims, which are official charging documents used by the FMCSA to initiate civil actions for alleged violations of federal safety standards. Notices of claims were issued to the following: Superior Bus Service, Inc., Plymouth Meeting, Pa., $2,420; Gross School Bus Service, Inc., Bechtelsville, Pa., $10,200; Eleanor Bass, Philadelphia, $500; David R. Hylton, Nanticoke, Pa., $500; W.L. Roenigk, Inc., Sarver, Pa., $7,070; Randy M. Ehrmentrout, Tarentum, Pa., $500; Hempfield Area School District of Greensburg, Pa., $7,040; West Shore School District of New Cumberland, Pa., $7,050; Archbald Van Pool, Inc., (doing business as Probst Transportation), Archbald, Pa., $2,000; Interboro School District of Prospect Park, Pa., $3,060; School District of Haverford Township of Havertown, Pa., $7,960; and Marple Newtown School District of Newtown Square, Pa., $14,180. The companies and individuals will each have an opportunity to contest the charges against them in accordance with federal regulations.