MAC: Mines and Communities

US Update

Published by MAC on 2006-02-24

US Update

24th February 2006

Next week,after years of failure to update its classification of hexavalent chromium as carcinogenic (cancer inducing), the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will introduce new rules.

However, a study just released shows that the chromium industry deliberately
concealed and manipulated medical evidence, in order to prevent exposure standards for the poentially deadly metal being raised.

A new term has been coined in western Wyoming: "Biostitutes" are wildlife biologists whose independence, and capacity to stop harmful gas exploitation, is allegedly being compromised by the US Bureau of Land Management.

Wyoming is the US' third biggest source and producer of coal, where the biggest single miner is Rio Tinto/Kennecott; the UK company is also a major driller of coal bed methane gas.

Chromium Industry Withheld Evidence of Workplace Cancer Risk


24th February 2006

Scientists funded by the chromium industry withheld from the U.S. government key data supporting a strict standard for workplace exposure to hexavalent chromium while the chromium industry fought to block a lower federal workplace exposure level for the potentially deadly metal, according to secret industry documents published Thursday in a scientific journal.

The paper published in the peer-reviewed journal "Environmental Health," is based on evidence of the manipulation in documents that surfaced following the bankruptcy of the Industrial Health Foundation, a group funded by the chromium industry.

Researchers from the Washington-based Public Citizen Health Research Group, and the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services found the documents as the result of an Internet search and through the Public Access to Court Electronic Records system.

The revelations come less than a week before the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is required by court order to issue a new workplace exposure standard for chromium, a known carcinogen. OSHA estimates that 380,000 workers are exposed to hexavalent chromium, which is used in chrome plating, stainless steel welding and the production of chromate pigments and dyes.

The agency has repeatedly requested studies on the health effects of lower exposures to the metal. Despite having completed a 2002 study that found an increase in lung cancer deaths from moderate exposures to chromium five times greater than workers who were not exposed, the chromium industry did not notify OSHA of the study’s existence.

In addition, industry-funded researchers manipulated the data to obscure the evidence that hexavalent chromium was carcinogenic at lower exposures, the Public Citizen and George Washington paper claims.

The industry has denied doing anything wrong.

Currently, OSHA does not regulate hexavalent chromium on the basis of its carcinogenicity. The agency’s current Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) of 52 ug/m3 was originally recommended in 1943 by the American National Standards Institute as a level adequate to prevent nasal perforations in chromium-exposed workers.

The same standard exists today although the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a division of the Centers for Disease Control says several studies have shown that hexavalent chromium compounds can increase the risk of lung cancer. Animal studies have also shown an increased risk of cancer.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has determined that hexavalent chromium is a human carcinogen.

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has determined that certain hexavalent chromium compounds are known to cause cancer in humans, and the EPA has determined that hexavalent chromium in air is a human carcinogen. Public Citizen and the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union (PACE), now part of the United Steelworkers, successfully sued OSHA in 1997 and 2002 for delaying the promulgation of a new standard. In April 2003, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ordered the agency to do so by January 18, 2006, but has extended that deadline to February 28, 2006.

After the court ruling, OSHA began its rulemaking process, and, in its proposed rule and again in public hearings that took place in February 2005, actively sought data on exposure to lower levels of hexavalent chromium.

Anticipating that OSHA might attempt to reduce worker exposure to hexavalent chromium, in 1997 the industry commissioned a study that would combine the mortality data at four sites – two in the United States and two in Germany.

The study, completed in 2002, showed a statistically significant elevated risk of lung cancer death when workers were exposed to lower levels of hexavalent chromium. The study protocol explained that multiple study sites were necessary to gain sufficient statistical power.

The industry never published this four-site study, not did it provide the findings to OSHA. Public Citizen did so in June 2005.

To bolster its position that exposure to lower levels of hexavalent chromium were not harmful to workers, the industry split the results of this study in two, reducing its statistical strength.

A paper about the two U.S. plants was published in the "Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine" weeks before OSHA’s public comment period was scheduled to end. The published paper, based on only three lung cancer deaths and limited follow-up, concluded that reductions in exposure to hexavalent chromium may have reduced the incidence of lung cancer. The industry then highlighted the study in comments to OSHA.

In the second paper, describing the two German sites, the industry-funded researchers combined the results from the “intermediate” and “high” exposure groups.

Public Citizen and George Washington researchers say that doing so obscured the fact that in the full four-site study, the risk of lung cancer death was elevated at even the intermediate level – a level close to that considered by OSHA for a new exposure limit. "Together, these two papers were intended to prevent OSHA from promulgating a stricter exposure limit" for hexavalent chromium, the researchers claim.

“Polluters and manufacturers of dangerous products should not be permitted to hide data that are important for protecting the public’s health,” said Dr. David Michaels, lead author of the report and director of the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services.

Michaels and co-author Dr. Peter Lurie, deputy director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group compare the chromium industry's manipulation of scientific results to the behavior of the tobacco and pharmaceutical industries.

"The tobacco industry, for example, used the attorney-client privilege to shelter scientific studies from disclosure; it also funded apparently independent organizations to provide a patina of credibility for its work. Pharmaceutical manufacturers have withheld unfavorable clinical trial results and have disparaged research that produced unwelcome findings," Michaels and Lurie write.

“The circumstances regarding this study raise troubling questions about the ability of the government to effectively issue rules protecting public health when studies are conducted, controlled and selectively published or provided to the rulemaking agency by the regulated industry,” said Lurie. “Corporate America loves to decry what it calls junk science," Lurie said, "but there’s no question that the industry was the producer of the junk in this case."

The report, "Selected science: an industry campaign to undermine an OSHA hexavalent chromium standard," is online at:

Drilling Energy Programs Trump Conservation

by Blaine Harden, Washington Post Staff Writer

22nd February 2006

PINEDALE, Wyo. - The Bureau of Land Management, caretaker of more land and wildlife than any federal agency, routinely restricts the ability of its own biologists to monitor wildlife damage caused by surging energy drilling on federal land, according to BLM officials and bureau documents.

The officials and documents say that by keeping many wildlife biologists out of the field doing paperwork on new drilling permits and that by diverting agency money intended for wildlife conservation to energy programs, the BLM has compromised its ability to deal with the environmental consequences of the drilling boom it is encouraging on public lands.

Here on the high sage plains of western Wyoming, often called the Serengeti of the West because of large migratory herds of deer and antelope, the Pinedale region has become one of the most productive and profitable natural gas fields on federal land in the Rockies. With the aggressive backing of the Bush administration, many members of Congress and the energy industry, at least a sixfold expansion in drilling is likely here in the coming decade.

Recent studies of mule deer and sage grouse, however, show steep declines in their numbers since the gas boom began here about five years ago: a 46 percent decline for mule deer and a 51 percent decline for breeding male sage grouse. Early results from a study of pronghorn antelope show that they, too, avoid the gas fields.

Yet as these findings have come in, the wildlife biologists in the Pinedale office of the BLM have rarely gone into the field to monitor harm to wildlife. "The BLM is pushing the biologists to be what I call 'biostitutes,' rather than allow them to be experts in the wildlife they are supposed to be managing," said Steve Belinda, 37, who last week quit his job as one of three wildlife biologists in the BLM's Pinedale office because he said he was required to spend nearly all his time working on drilling requests. "They are telling us that if it is not energy-related, you are not working on it."

Belinda, who had worked for 16 years as a wildlife biologist for the BLM and the Forest Service, said he came to work in the agency's Pinedale office 20 months ago because of the "world-class wildlife." He has quit to work here for a national conservation group, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, as its energy initiative manager.

"It is a huge attraction for biologists to work in western Wyoming," he said. "But in this [BLM] office, they want you to look at things in a single-minded way. I have spent less than 1 percent of my time in the field. If we continue down this trend of keeping biologists in the office and preventing them from doing substantive work, there is a train wreck coming for wildlife."

Belinda is not alone in his view that the BLM, in its focused pursuit of increased drilling, is neglecting its congressional mandate to manage federal lands for "multiple use."

For years the BLM has reallocated money Congress intended for wildlife conservation to spending on energy. A national evaluation by the agency of its wildlife expenditures found three years ago that about one-third of designated wildlife money was spent "outside" of wildlife programs.

An internal BLM follow-up study found last year that this widespread diversion of money has caused "numerous lost opportunities" to protect wildlife. The study found that the unwillingness of the agency to use wildlife money for conservation programs has "reduced ability to conduct on-the-ground restoration" and made the BLM unable "to conduct adequate inventory and monitoring of habitats and populations."

The sum effect of these diversions, the study said, has damaged the credibility of land-use planning by the BLM. These findings were echoed last year in a report by the Government Accountability Office, which said that BLM managers order their field staff to devote increasing time to processing drilling permits, leaving less time to mitigate the consequences of oil and gas extraction.

"If a wildlife biologist is working on an application for a permit to drill, that doesn't mean he is not doing wildlife work," Bennett said. "The wildlife job is a broad job, and it does involve energy."

Here in Wyoming, what has angered Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D), along with state wildlife managers, environmental groups, many local residents and some oil industry executives is what they describe as growing evidence of a lack of balance in the federal push for more drilling -- even as scientific studies show significant and worrisome declines in wildlife around gas fields. Those studies have been funded by the BLM and the energy industry.

The BLM's pace of issuing new permits to drill in Wyoming and across the West has continued to increase, even though the oil and gas industry -- which is chronically short of drilling rigs and skilled workers -- cannot drill nearly enough holes in the ground to keep up with the permits that have already been granted. In the past two years, the BLM issued a record 13,070 drilling permits on federal land, but industry drilled just 5,844 wells.

"The pressure comes from Washington," said Freudenthal, who said he has assigned more state wildlife biologists to Pinedale and other active drilling areas in an attempt to keep up with the federal push. "As you go up the chain of command of BLM and into the Department of Interior, I am not sure they share our commitment to balance. No matter how large the benefits are from this development, it does not justify turning a blind eye to the environment."

At the BLM state office, Bennett said his agency would like to "take it slow and easy. We are trying to do that to the extent we can." But he said the bureau is under "a lot of national pressure, from industry and from Congress. The demand for gas is a real issue to people."

Pinedale is an especially profitable place to address that demand. With more gas extracted from a smaller footprint than anywhere else on federal land in the West, it produced an estimated $4 billion worth of gas last year.

In the Pinedale BLM office, as in agency offices across the West, monitoring and research on the impact of drilling on wildlife are almost never done by staff biologists, according to Roger L. Bankert, associate field manager for lands and minerals.

"This is an energy office, and our biologists don't have time to do the monitoring," Bankert said. He said it is "done by private consultants who are hired by the energy companies," with BLM approval.

Under a federal law intended to enlist the local community in the planning of oil and gas development, the Interior Department has named an advisory group to study and make recommendations about the impact of drilling here. The chairman of the group, Linda Baker, says she is alarmed by what she describes as the BLM's refusal to listen to her group's advice or adapt its management to findings that drilling is harming wildlife.

"We are seeing the handing over of a multiple-use valley to the energy industry," Baker said. "This is a disaster in the making."

Rather than slowing down to assess wildlife impact and to allow energy companies to catch up to drilling permits already issued, as recommended by Baker's group, state officials and several national environmental organizations, the BLM appears to be stepping on the accelerator. It has just released a proposal that recommends granting permits for drilling 3,100 more wells in nearby Jonah Field -- a sixfold increase over the number of current wells.

Federal management of drilling here has angered a former senior energy executive who lives near Pinedale.

"There is no well-thought-out, overall development plan for this field," said Kirby L. Hedrick, a former vice president at Phillips Petroleum Co. in charge of worldwide exploration and now a member of the board of directors of Noble Energy Inc. in Houston. "The BLM has been approving plans ad hoc."

Maryland Power Plants Linked to 700 Premature Deaths Per Year

by ENS, BALTIMORE, Maryland

15th February 2006

Nationwide, 700 premature deaths, 30,000 asthma attacks and 400 pediatric emergency room visits each year are linked to current pollution from six Maryland power plants, according to a new study released today by the Maryland Nurses Association (MNA).

Conducted by Dr. Jonathan Levy, assistant professor of environmental health and risk assessment, Harvard School of Public Health, the study looks at the impact of particulate matter and gases that contribute to fine particle pollution from the Chalk Point, Dickerson, Morgantown, C.P. Crane, Brandon Shores, and H.A. Wagner power plants. The plants are powered by coal, oil and natural gas.

"Considering health outcomes based on current population estimates, the six power plants together have an annual impact in Maryland of approximately 100 premature deaths, 4,000 asthma attacks, and over 100,000 person-days with minor restrictions in activity, among other health outcomes," the Levy report concludes.

"The corresponding annual national impacts are approximately 700 deaths, 30,000 asthma attacks, and nearly 800,000 person-days with minor restrictions in activity," according to Levy's report.

Maryland Nurses Association Community Health Specialist Brenda Afzal said today, "Power plant pollution is a major public health problem in Maryland. This study simply documents what every nurse in this state already knows is true."

The MNA and the American Lung Association are asking that the power plants be required to install or upgrade commercially available technologies like scrubbers to reduce the amount of fine particle pollution emitted from their stacks.

American Lung Association of Maryland President and CEO Steve Peregoy said, "This is a problem that we can and should do something about. Commercially available technologies like scrubbers can reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by 95 percent or more, and would be expected to reduce fine particle health effects caused by sulfur dioxide by a corresponding amount."

Power plant emissions are the easiest pollution to remedy, the nurses and health advocates say, pointing out that most of the remaining fine particulate matter comes from numerous other sources such as automobiles and out of state power plants, that may be more difficult for Maryland to control.

Afzal said, "When you can point to hundreds of deaths and thousands of other hospitalizations tied to a single problem like this, there is a compelling case to be made for public action. Death and illness from power plant pollution strikes at the most vulnerable Maryland residents - the children and seniors - leaving it to the rest of us to do the right thing."

Between eight and 20 percent of the impacts of the six power plants occur in Maryland, which has two percent of the U.S. population, Levy found.

The study notes that fine particles disperse over hundreds of kilometers after they are formed, and all six of the plants studied are only a short drive from Maryland borders.

Most of the balance of the deaths and illness cases linked to the power plant pollution are in downwind states such as Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey, along with impacts in Virginia and the District of Columbia, as well. These states also are experiencing extra pollution-related premature deaths and other serious health consequences as a result of the emissions from these six power plants, Levy concludes. The study indicates that while individuals in Maryland are at greater risk from this pollution than residents of other states, the total public health burdens outside of the state are higher than inside the state.

Levy said, "The combustion of fossil fuel from power plants and other sources generates particles smaller than 2.5 microns, or less than one-tenth the width of a human hair. Hundreds of studies have established that these fine particles trigger asthma attacks, exacerbate cardiovascular disease, and contribute to thousands of premature deaths every year from heart and lung disease and, to a lesser extent, from lung cancer."

"Because the formation and transport of fine particles is well understood, and the link between exposure and disease reasonably well established," he said, "it is possible to
estimate the health effects associated with emissions from specific power plants."

The area where the power plants are located are not in attainment for federal air quality standards. While not eliminating risks, a reduction of one microgram per cubic
meter would at least bring this area into attainment with the EPA standard, the nurses and healthy lung advocates argue. Three of the six power plants named in the study - C.P. Crane, Brandon Shores, and H.A. Wagner - are owned by Constellation Energy, based in Baltimore, Maryland.

Constellation spokesman Rob Gould said the results of the study seem similar to an Environmental Protection Agency finding several years ago that prompted the establishment of a new national Ambient Air Quality standard for very fine particulate.

In response, the EPA finalized "two of the most sweeping air pollution reduction rules ever promulgated, the Clean Air Diesel Rule and Clean Air Interstate Rule. The first rule will take the sulfur out of diesel fuel and the Clean Air Interstate Rule will reduce sulfur by 73 percent and nitrogen oxides 61 percent from power plants nationwide, including Maryland," Gould explained.

"These rules will be implemented in 2007 and 2010 respectively and will allow Maryland to meet the new standard," said Gould, "comprehensively addressing the health problems identified." "Constellation Energy is very supportive of these new rules," Gould says. The company has announced its intention to spend $500-600 million to install additional air pollution controls on top of $250 million spent to date.

Relatively small changes in total loadings of fine particles into the air can yield substantial benefits to the public's health, Levy concludes.

Peregoy agrees, saying, "Most of the fine particle pollution from power plants is a byproduct of the sulfur dioxide (SO2) and, to a lesser extent, the nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions emitted by such plants. Sulfur dioxide emissions from the six power plants in Maryland have increased about two percent since 1999, while NOx emissions have declined 43 percent."

"There is extensive health evidence on the link between NOx and SOx emissions and a variety of adverse health impacts, including respiratory symptoms, hospitalizations for respiratory or cardiovascular disease, and premature mortality," Peregoy said.

The other three power plants named in the study - Morgantown, Dickerson and Chalk Point - are owned by Atlanta-based Mirant Corporation. Mirant spokesman Dave Thompson said he could not comment until he had seen the study.

Levy's analysis is based on peer reviewed models and studies previously published in academic literature. This includes the application of an atmospheric dispersion model called CALPUFF, which has been evaluated extensively in the published literature, including in an application in the Washington, DC area, he said. In addition, a model was used that links source emissions with concentrations across the United States, which has been applied in EPA regulatory impact analyses and has similarly been evaluated in the published literature.

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