'Baltimore Sun' Shines Light on OSHA Shenanigans

Some of you might be surprised to learn that your car's brake pads could contain asbestos: truly nasty stuff, which "causes lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other cancers."
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This is the sort of story we've become so used to: Government scientist publishes findings that somebody connected with both the Administration and Big Business doesn't like, so the scientist's job is threatened. In this case, it's the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the problem is asbestos in brake-pad linings, and the Baltimore Sun blows the whistle:

It took six years to get federal worker safety officials to issue warnings to auto mechanics that the brakes they're working on could contain lethal asbestos fibers. But it took only three weeks after the warnings were posted before a former top federal official with ties to the auto industry reportedly pushed to have them removed.

John Henshaw, a former head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, called Aug. 15 for the agency to make changes to its warnings, according to documents obtained by The Sun.

But Ira Wainless, an OSHA scientist who wrote the advisory bulletin about asbestos in brakes, refused, according to agency documents. Wainless cited dozens of studies, including work at his own agency, to show that his presentation of the medical risk to mechanics was solid.

Last week, David Ippolito, an official with OSHA's Directorate of Science, Technology and Medicine, told Wainless that he would be suspended without pay for 10 days if the changes weren't made, according to documents.

Wainless refused again, and the advisory bulletin remains online.

Reporter Andrew Schneider helpfully notes that "Henshaw worked with two consulting firms run by Dennis Paustenbach, ChemRisk and Exponent. These firms, according to [Ed Stern of Local 12 of the American Federation of Government Employees] and documents obtained by The Sun, have been paid more than $23 million since 2001 by Ford, General Motors and Daimler-Chrysler to help fight asbestos lawsuits brought against them by former workers."

Some of you might be surprised to learn that your car's brake pads could contain asbestos: truly nasty stuff, which "causes lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other cancers," according to the American Cancer Society. Actually, the Sun story notes, "The United States is one of the few industrialized nations that hasn't banned the use or importation of most asbestos products." An awful lot of Americans think this carcinogen was banned years ago. What demonstrated this -- and got Wainless on this topic to begin with -- was an investigative series that began in 1999 in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which has kept on the asbestos beat and the continuing risks to Americans.

In this week of OJ and "Kramer," the OSHA story has been pretty much ignored across the country. No surprise there, either, as media-owners cut back on newsgathering to focus on the bottom line. But rather than bash the MSM for playing up the easy, crowd-pleasing stories, let's call the glass half full and be glad that there are still real journalists at a lot of significant news outlets outside the media capitals.

Hat tip to Americablog.

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