Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Court: OSHA Should Release Exposure Database

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Court: OSHA Should Release Exposure Database

Article excerpt

Prompted by a lawsuit filed by former OSHA regional administrator Adam Finkel, a federal court has ruled that OSHA should make its database of information on worker exposure to toxic substances available to researchers and policymakers.

Now a professor of environmental and occupational health at the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey School of Public Health, Finkel first sought the release of the OSHA beryllium records when he filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on June 20, 2005.

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On Nov. 22, 2005, Finkel filed a new FOIA lawsuit against the Department of Labor, in which he asked OSHA to release the entire contents of its database on toxic exposures. The database contains the concentration of each substance found (e.g., asbestos, lead, benzene, silica dust), the company from which the sample was taken and an encrypted code for the inspector who took the sample. Finkel also requested coded information about the results of beryllium sensitization tests conducted on OSHA inspectors.

According to a June 29 ruling by Judge Mary Cooper of the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, the Labor Department claimed that it refused to release the data because of "trade secrets" lurking within the database, as well as the necessity of not releasing the coded ID numbers of each inspector for the sake of their privacy.

"The court finds the public interest in disclosing information that will increase understanding about beryllium sensitization and OSHA's response thereto is significant," Cooper wrote. …

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