March 22, 2001

Jane F. Garvey, administrator of the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), announced that U.S. airlines complied with the Monday, March 19, 2001 deadline to retrofit commercial airplanes with both fire detection and suppression systems.

Most wide-body passenger airplanes already had fire detection and suppression systems in inaccessible cargo compartments. The FAA's Feb. 17, 1998 final rule required that the remainder of the passenger fleet be retrofitted within three years. In addition, approximately 300 all-cargo airplanes were required to have detection systems and means to shut off airflow to the cargo compartment.

Out of the 3,483 airplanes affected by the FAA's rule, 3,154 were retrofitted by the end of Monday. A total of 264 airplanes remain in maintenance until the installation work is complete. Some operators have either made business decisions not to operate some aircraft or cannot meet the deadline, leaving 65 airplanes on the ground. The FAA does not foresee any overall disruption to passenger service.

The FAA granted a 90-day exemption to Pacific Island Aviation for the operation of three Shorts SD3-60 airplanes that provide essential air service in the Mariana Islands between Rota, Tinian, Saipan and Guam. In the interim, these aircraft are equipped with smoke detectors and hand-held fire extinguishers. An exemption was also granted to Freedom Air for the operation of one Shorts SD3-30 in the same region. Freedom Air's airplane also has detection and manual suppression. All other requests for exemptions were denied.

The total life-cycle cost to retrofit the fleet is estimated at $300 million. The lifetime cost per aircraft is approximately $90,000.


Do estrogens, wood dust, a common solvent called trichloroethylene, the flavoring methyleugenol and the antibiotic chloramphenicol cause human cancer under some circumstances? The National Toxicology Program, headquartered at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, seeks final public comments and data on these and several other substances and exposures before recommending whether to list them as human carcinogens in the federal government's tenth and newest Report on Carcinogens.Comments will be accepted for 60 days.

Last year, two federal science committees and one public peer review panel with non-government members looked at eight nominated substances. The three scientific review committees evaluated available, published data relevant to listing these substances as "known" or, with less complete data, as "reasonably anticipated to be" causes of human cancer. Here are the substances reviewed:

  • Trichloroethylene. This widely used metal degreasing solvent was unanimously recommended for upgrading from "reasonably anticipated" to listing as a "known" human carcinogen by one government panel, the NIEHS Review Committee, but the upgrade was turned down, 4 to 3, by the second government panel representing other agencies and regulators, and by the public panel. If not upgraded, trichloroethylene would continue to be listed as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen."
  • Estrogens. Steroidal estrogens, which are used in some post-menopausal therapy and as oral contraceptives, were recommended as "known" human carcinogens by unanimous votes of the two government panels and 8 to 1 by the public panel. Conjugated estrogens, a subgroup of the broad group of steroidal estrogens, are already listed as "known" and drug labeling or package inserts discuss the possible side-effects that occur in some people.
  • Wood dust. All three panels, after reviewing the data, unanimously recommended wood dust, produced in furniture and cabinet manufacturing, as a "known" human carcinogen.
  • UV Radiation, UVA, UVB and UVC. All three panels voted unanimously to recommend broad spectrum ultraviolet radiation, whether from the sun or from artificial sources, be listed as a "known" human carcinogen. The lengths, UVA, UVB and UVC were each recommended for listing as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen."
  • Methyleugenol. All three panels recommended this flavoring, traces of which are used in some jellies, baked goods, nonalcoholic beverages, chewing gum, candy and ice cream, be listed as "reasonably anticipated" to be a human carcinogen. Methyleugenol is also used as a fragrance in many perfumes and cosmetics and occurs naturally in many foods.
  • Chloramphenicol. All three panels (with one person abstaining in one of the panels) unanimously recommended the highly restricted antibiotic chloramphenicol be listed as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen." The drug is considered a "last resort" antibiotic under certain circumstances where other antibiotics have failed.
  • Nickel and certain nickel alloys. Used in commercial operations for more than 100 years, metallic nickel and certain of its alloys were recommended as "reasonably anticipated" by a vote of 6 to 2 in the initial NIEHS committee, but the second and third panels voted against the alloys being listed, recommending only that nickel itself be listed.
  • Talc. Natural mineral talc containing a distinctive fiber shape, called asbestiform fibers, was approved for listing as a known human carcinogen by the NIEHS panel but rejected by the second government panel, which voted 6 to 2 for its listing as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen." The public panel split 5 to 5 on whether it should even be listed as "reasonably." The two government panels recommended that talc that does NOT contain asbestiform fibers should be listed as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen" but the public panel voted 7 to 3 that it not be listed at all. This last panel did not consider studies linking ovarian cancer and talc because it was not clear whether the talc contained asbestiform fibers or not.

The Report on Carcinogens is a Congressionally mandated listing of known human carcinogens and reasonably anticipated human carcinogens, and its preparation is delegated to the NTP by the Department of Health and Human Services. The law states that the reports should provide available information on the nature of exposures, the estimated number of persons exposed and the extent to which the implementation of current federal regulations decreases the risk to the public. NIEHS/NTP plans to publish the tenth report next year.

Further details appear in the Federal Register, Vol. 66, No. 43, pages 13334-13338.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the first National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, an important new research tool that will provide better information on levels of exposure to environmental chemicals, and over time what these levels mean for public health

Advances in a technology known as biomonitoring allow CDC to measure chemicals directly in blood and urine samples rather than estimating population exposures by measuring air, water, or soil samples. Based on this scientific advancement, the new report provides data on actual levels of chemicals in humans. As data are collected over the years, researchers will be better able to determine possible health effects and design appropriate public health strategies.

"This new resource is a significant development in the field of environmental health," said Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson. "It will help us to better track the exposures of Americans to chemicals in the environment and to measure the effectiveness of our public health efforts."

This first report initially measures the exposure of the U.S. population to 27 environmental chemicals. The report includes metals (e.g., lead and mercury), pesticide metabolites, phthalate metabolites and cotinine (which tracks exposure to tobacco smoke). Levels of environmental chemicals were measured in blood and urine samples collected from participants in CDC's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) - an ongoing national health survey of the U.S. population. The Report provides results from the 1999 survey; data from future years will help confirm these findings.

"The Report is a major step toward assessing in the U.S. population which environmental chemicals are present in blood and urine samples, who is exposed, trends in exposure over time, and whether interventions to reduce exposure are working," said Richard J. Jackson, MD, MPH, Director of CDC's National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH).

Although the report does not include new information on health risks of exposures or on potential routes of exposures, this is the first time that national exposure levels of the U.S. population are known for 24 of these 27 chemicals. CDC previously assessed the population's exposure to three substances -- lead, cadmium, and cotinine, and the report provides new data for the 1999 calendar year. Previously, only limited data were available on which environmental chemicals were in the U.S. population and at what levels.

The presence of a chemical in blood or urine does not necessarily indicate that the chemical will cause disease. Additional research is required to determine whether the levels reported are a cause for health concern.

The first Report provides information on the exposure of the U.S. population to these 27 substances. The chemicals, grouped into four categories, are as follows:

  • Metals: lead, mercury, cadmium, cobalt, antimony, barium, beryllium, cesium, molybdenum, platinum, thallium, tungsten, and uranium.
  • Tobacco smoke: cotinine - a metabolite of nicotine that tracks tobacco smoke exposure.
  • Organophosphate pesticides (six metabolite measurements representing exposure to 28 pesticides): dimethylphosphate, dimethylthiophosphate, dimethyldithiophosphate, diethylphosphate, diethylthiophosphate, and diethyldithiophosphate. These metabolites are generally formed by the breakdown of 28 pesticides, including chlorpyrifos, diazinon, fenthion, malathion, parathion, disulfoton, phosmet, phorate, temephos, and methyl parathion.
  • Phthalate metabolites: mono-ethyl phthalate, mono-butyl phthalate, mono-2-ethylhexyl phthalate, mono-cyclohexyl phthalate, mono-n-octyl phthalate, mono-isononyl phthalate, and mono-benzyl phthalate.

Information on environmental chemical exposures will assist clinicians and public health officials to better understand the relationship between toxic exposures and health consequences and guide public health prevention efforts. CDC will add other substances to future reports based on data obtained from samples collected in subsequent NHANES surveys. CDC will continue to measure the 27 original substances as well. The goal over the next few years is to expand the Report to provide information about 100 chemicals. CDC will monitor trends over time that may help scientists better understand the impact of the environmental chemicals on our health. In the future, CDC will be able to report exposure levels for more specific population groups (e.g., children, minority populations, or women of childbearing age).

In addition, CDC will expand the Report to include exposure data from studies of people exposed from localized or point-source exposures (e.g., data on levels of mercury in people who eat mercury-contaminated fish from a polluted river). 


OSHA has cited Shelby Contracting Co., Inc., and proposed penalties totaling $123,200 for safety violations at an excavation site in Huntsville, Ala.

OSHA's inspection began after one of the agency's compliance safety and health officers observed workers installing a manhole in an unprotected, 29-foot deep trench.

Following an inspection of the job site, OSHA cited the company for two willful violations of trenching standards for allowing employees to work in a trench with no adequate protective system and no safe means of exiting the excavation. The two willful citations carry proposed penalties totaling $112,000.

"To ensure worker safety in excavations over five feet deep, walls must be sloped or shored or trench shields or boxes must be used," said Ramona Morris, acting area director for OSHA's Birmingham office. "Failure to provide some kind of protective system exposes employees to the risk of cave-ins. Too many workers are trapped or killed when management makes the decision to shortcut safety."

Morris added, "In this case, employees were also placed at risk of falling back into the trench as they tried to exit it." OSHA inspectors observed that the exit ladder at the worksite fell short of a ramp going to the top of the trench. This left workers in the hazardous position of having to climb on all four limbs for four to six feet along the trench wall to reach the ramp.

In addition to the two willful citations, one repeat violation drew a proposed fine of $11,200 for failing to have a competent person inspect the trench. OSHA cited the company for a similar violation in 1999.

In explaining OSHA's reason for issuing willful citations in this case, Morris said, "This employer was aware of the highly hazardous nature of trench work and knew this particular trench was unsafe but failed to take any action to protect workers whose lives were at risk."

OSHA defines a willful violation as one committed with an intentional disregard of, or plain indifference to, the requirements of the OSH Act and regulations.

Huntsville-based Shelby Contracting employs about 120 workers primarily in water, sewer and pipeline construction. The company has 15 working days to contest OSHA's citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.