‘Silent epidemic’ in US linked to work chemicals

Workplace chemical exposures are the eighth leading cause of death in the US, but the country lacks any prevention strategy, an advocacy group has warned.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) said these exposures are responsible for more than 40,000 premature deaths each year. The group, unveiling a new worker right-to-know website, said occupational exposures kill malignantly, from cancer, neurological breakdown, cardiopulmonary disease, and other chronic maladies.

“More Americans die each year from workplace chemical exposure than from all highway accidents, yet we have no national effort to stem this silent occupational epidemic,” stated PEER executive director Jeff Ruch, pointing out that allowed chemical exposure on-the-job is roughly 1,000 times higher than in the general environment. “In the US, environmental protection stops at the factory door.”

PEER warns that these occupational risks may be on the rise as thousands of new chemicals are introduced in US workplaces each year. Yet scrutiny by the US workplace safety regulator OSHA is in slow decline, PEER notes. At its current rate of health inspections, it would take OSHA nearly 600 years to sample chemical exposures at half the nation’s industrial facilities that handle hazardous substances.

“Reversing this long lethal trend requires a national commitment to ‘green’ the American workplace,” said Ruch. “Above all, OSHA needs to rediscover its ‘H’ by taking affirmative steps to sharply reduce the slow poisoning of American workers.”

PEER worker right-to-know chemical exposure database.

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