Today Michael Whitney has a story up about an OSHA official’s comment about clean up workers getting sick. What did they get sick from? "almost all have been heat related," according to Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Jordan Barab. As I read that my heart sank. I fell into "What’s the pointism" and threw the covers over my head. "What can I do?" I thought. "Experts have spoken! I’m just a brain in a box with pointy ears and a fedora."
Then I got mad and posted a comment about the story (here).
The media have covered all aspects of this story. From the impact of regulatory capture to the mechanics of blind shear rams. But sometimes journalists get mislead by the same regulators that the industry captured. And when they do they fail the public.
And when the public is failed we need to respond. What to do? My first impulse was despair, then anger. Next I started researching, writing and then I’ll act.
"Almost all have been heat related" Really? My first question would be: "Could I please see your evidence and look at the medical information that you are relying on to tell you this?"
I’m sure there would be a lot of hemming and hawing about patient confidentiality or they would direct me to some chart hoping I wouldn’t drill down into data to see how thin it really is. As it turns out exposure to volatile hydrocarbons can show up in blood panels. But you have to draw the blood.
Tonight on Virtually Speaking Jay Ackroyd interviewed Riki Ott the marine biologist and author of Not One Drop: Betrayal and Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill In response to one of my questions about this issue Riki said,
BP has either been blocking blood panels or they have been taking blood panels and not letting really anyone see what the blood panel works look like.
— Riki Ott on Virtually Speaking July 8, 2010
Read that quote again. This pisses me off.
We live in a CSI world, people who don’t want to be caught need to either hide the evidence of the crime or make sure nobody collects the evidence in the first place. Blood panels from all sick workers should be taken. That would be our smoking gun to prove that it wasn’t heat or wasn’t’"just heat" that lead to sick workers.
We need evidence because in Corporate America the model is "Get sick, then sue." instead of "Better safe than sorry" (aka, the precautionary principle). Until we move to the precautionary principle we need to act as our own private detectives. We need to assume the worse, get proof, establish a chain of custody, etc.
As Ott further explained, environmental health doctors and technicians look in the blood for the volatile organic compounds or the break down products of the volatile organics. We can find this info if we look for it. She mentioned that the Environmental Health Center-Dallas is one of the leading centers for detecting chemical poisoning. But we can only do this if we get blood panels from all the workers sick from "heat-related" activities. Then we could challenge OSHA’s interpretation of the data and make sure that everyone is wearing the correct gear for their work.
Why do I care about the health of a bunch of people working in the Gulf trying to clean up a massive oil spill? It’s not my job. Surely the adults are in charge. (Don’t call me Shirley!) But here’s the deal. The adults get fooled. ALL THE TIME. Smart people get locked into a viewpoint that doesn’t let them question authority without having the same expertise as the person they are talking to. I see it all the time.
Businesses and governments know this and they use it to their advantage. I saw it during the tainted pet food crisis of 2007 and I’m seeing it now.
I’m not a scientist. I don’t even play one on TV. But I’ve worked with a lot of scientists (and CEOs, CFOs and EIEIOs). Usually I’m the dumbest person in the room, which is fine with them — until I show them how easily their products or results can be misunderstood by journalists. Then they are all ears. Some want to know "What can we do to make it clear to them?" Others get mad that journalists aren’t smart enough to understand them. "They ask the dumbest questions!" Still others want to use the weaknesses of the media to trick them into getting better coverage.
My job is not to help them hide the truth or trick them. There are other people who do that. The former campaign press secretary for Vice President Dick Cheney comes to mind. I just try and help them tell an interesting story. I don’t help people get away with sickening people.
I know that it is important to tiptoe around the super citizen corporations because if you don’t they will punish you. But people are getting sick and it’s time to stop tip toeing around the corporations, letting government regulators make excuses for them and ignoring reality.