In The Atlantic, Alana Semuels writes about poor families living in the Atlanta suburbs – one of the many suburban US areas where a growing proportion of residents are struggling to get by. And because poverty has historically been concentrated in cities, that’s where the infrastructure and resources that help low-income residents tend to be located. Suburban residents often find it much harder to access assistance, or to get around if they don’t have a car. (Details on trends and local specifics are available from the Brookings Institution.) For instance, Semuels notes that both jobs and social services may be hard to reach in areas where public transit is limited. One example:
Gary Shelt, 52, just moved to a Norcross extended-stay motel where he pays $253 a week from DeKalb County, a more urban area inside the 285 beltway in Atlanta. I met him as he waited for a bus alongside a six-lane Gwinnett road, his bike leaning up against the bus shelter. Shelt, who makes a living doing odd jobs repairing homes and cleaning buildings, just moved to Norcross a few weeks ago because he’d heard there was more work out there.
He hadn’t anticipated that transit would be such a problem. He’d biked to the bus stop, and planned take a bus to MARTA, the Atlanta-area transit system, to go meet a client who wanted help installing a television. But the bus was already 45 minutes late.
As affluent young professionals and older empty nesters flock back into cities across the country in search of better lifestyles, the suburbs left behind are increasingly stuck with a demographic—the working poor and struggling middle class—they were never built to accommodate. Many of these people don’t have cars, and many of them can’t even easily make it to the bus. In fact, the Brookings Institute has found, fewer than 50 percent of poor suburbanites in metro Atlanta even have access to transit, and what they have is limited. Bus service in Clayton County, which has a 21 percent poverty rate, was canceled outright in 2010. There is no regular mass transit in exurban counties like Paulding or Bartow. In Cherokee County, there are just two fixed bus routes along with a few park-and-ride connections to the Xpress regional bus system, which brings suburban commuters to downtown and midtown Atlanta. If you don’t live or work near one of these nodes, you’re out of luck.
In Cobb County, there’s no bus service at all on Sundays. Cobb Community Transit operates a system that is tiny given the immense size of the county—just 20 routes compared with almost 200 operated by MARTA, the transit agency that serves the city of Atlanta and Fulton and DeKalb counties, and also operates a rail network. The bus routes that do operate in Cobb are limited; some run along main commercial arteries (like busy Cobb Parkway where MUST’s headquarters is located), and others are rush-hour-only, taking commuters from Cobb to downtown Atlanta and back.
One good piece of news in Semuels’ story is that Clayton County is now reversing the transit shutdown Burns described in her piece. Semuels explains:
Clayton County, which is just south of Atlanta’s city center, had shut down its public transit in 2010 as a result of budget shortfalls. But the Partnership for Southern Equity and other local groups advocated better transit, and in the elections of November 2014, voters in Clayton County overwhelmingly approved a sales-tax increase to fund the expansion of MARTA, Atlanta’s transit system, into the county. It’s the first new county in the Atlanta region to add MARTA service since 1971.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the county’s sales tax will increase from seven to eight percent, which will allow funding for limited bus service to start in March and full bus service next year. The rest of the funds will be set aside for future high-capacity service, such as commuter rail or bus rapid transit.
It’s great to see the Clayton County residents have recognized the importance of investing in a public-transportation system that will allow for those who can’t drive to get to school and jobs. I hope other jurisdictions are coming to similar conclusions about the essential role of public transportation in fighting poverty.
This week’s MMWR includes a report on the experience of volunteer firefighters, police and other personnel who responded to a November 2012 train derailment in Paulsboro, NJ. The Contrail train twisted off a movable bridge and three tank cars containing vinyl chloride landed in Mantua Creek. About 20,000 gallons of vinyl chloride were released, resulting in a noxious vapor cloud.
Among those responding to the early morning incident were individuals with the Paulsboro Fire Department, and HAZMAT teams from the PBF Energy’s Paulsboro Refinery, Gloucester County, and Conrail. It wasn’t long before residents and responders complained of respiratory problems, headaches and other problems. Ultimately, more than 250 individuals visited local emergency rooms because of symptoms following the incident.
The MMWR article provides the results of a survey, conducted by the New Jersey Department of Health, the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, of 93 emergency responders to the Paulsboro incident. One topic of particular interest was identifying symptoms of acute exposure to vinyl chloride, which is already known as a human carcinogen. Their survey findings include:
- 48% of respondents reported spending >12 hours at the site, and only 22% reported using respiratory protection during their response activities
- 26% reported experiencing headaches, 26% reported experiencing upper respiratory symptoms, and 22% reported experiencing lower respiratory symptoms
Among the 72 respondents who reported they did not wear respiratory protection on initial arrival at the scene:
- 49% said they didn’t’ think it was required for their work
- 24% said none was available
- 17% said they were not advised to wear respiratory protection
- 17% said they did not think they needed it
What the MMWR piece doesn’t describe are the circumstances that might illuminate why better safety precautions were not taken. As Debra Coyle McFadden, assistant director of the New Jersey Work Environment Council told me:
“It is imperative that every step is taken to protect and train emergency responders. When the exposure levels are unknown, the leadership onsite should proceed to instruct emergency responders to protect themselves as if the level is above established occupational exposure limits until it is proven otherwise.”
In the Paulsboro incident, that didn’t happen. The National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) investigation describes the troubling nature of the emergency response. For example:
- There was confusion about the contents of some of the railcars. About 25 minutes after the derailment, the fire chief radioed: “We are getting some information that a couple of these tanks have bad stuff, we just can’t get the placards.”
- The trainmaster reviewed the shipping manifest [a.k.a., train consist] with the deputy fire chief, but then the trainmaster departed with the document. It was the only available copy. “The trainmaster retained possession of the consist for almost 3.5 hours, leaving emergency responders with no means of referencing the document for response planning.”
- “The incident commander and other first responders remained within about 50 yards of an active vinyl chloride release. …About 6 hours into the incident, the fire chief had yet to relocate the ICP [incident command post] to a safe location and failed to establish PPE requirements for the accident scene.”
NTS Board Member Robert Sumwalt noted:
“This new location was only about 1/4 mile from the ruptured tank car—a distance that still posed unacceptable risk because the responders were not wearing protective clothing and equipment.”
The NTSB’s report goes on and on like this. (It makes me wonder what the situation would be like for emergency responders in my town should one of the dozens of trains motoring through it derailed.)
The NTS Board Members raise critical issues concerning our country’s hefty reliance on volunteer fire fighters. They are an integral part of local emergency response, but the NTSB asks some serious questions about the ability of volunteers to respond safely to event such as the Paulsboro incident. NTSB acting chairman Christopher Hart asked:
“How can volunteer firefighters obtain the training they need to do their jobs adequately without being required to have so much training that people who have full-time jobs will choose not to be a volunteer firefighter because the training requirements are more than they can reasonably handle?”
There was harsh criticism directed at individuals in charge of the emergency response. NTS Board Member Sumwalt said:
“…when disasters occur, the very men and women putting their lives on the line as first responders count on prudent, informed decision-making by their incident commanders. While the decision to not evacuate nearby Paulsboro residents can be somewhat explained by logistical concerns and uncertainty, what is indefensible are the decisions, actions, and inactions that placed first responders directly in harm’s way.”
Erring on the side of caution, as Debra Coyle McFadden suggests, would be a good first step toward protecting the health of our community’s emergency responders. The MMWR article’s authors recommend ongoing health monitoring of the emergency responders involved in the Paulsboro, NJ incident. The trouble is they note, there’s not a complete roster of individuals who participated in the emergency response.
- He was part of a crew of contractors who were working to retool the plant for a new line of Ford trucks.
- While working on a body marriage machine, “a safety rod broke on the decker and crushed the worker.”
- “Several of the workers FOX 4 spoke to Tuesday say that this is not the first time that machine has broken, and say they were worried something like this was going to happen.”
The Metropolis Planet, a local Illinois paper near Winding’s hometown, says he was a millwright and member of the Carpenters Union Local 640.
At the time of the incident, federal OSHA was investigating a complaint received earlier in the month about safety hazards at the plant. I was unable to find any record in OSHA’s on-line data of inspections involving KCI Inc.
Each year, more than 100 workers in Missouri are fatally injured on-the-job. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 113 work-related fatal injuries in Missouri during 2013 (preliminary data, most recent available.) Nationwide, at least 4,405 workers suffered fatal traumatic injuries in 2013.
The AFL-CIO’s annual Death on the Job report notes:
- Federal OSHA has 26 inspectors in Missouri to cover more than 147,000 workplaces.
- The average penalty for a serious OSHA violation in Missouri is $1,931.
Federal OSHA has until the end of June 2015 to issue any citations and penalties related to the incident that stole Timothy Todd Winding’s life. It’s likely they’ll determine that Winding’s death was preventable. It was no “accident.”
Standing in her wedding gown, Courtney Davis held this sign:
“Message2Congress: If you had banned asbestos, maybe my dad would have been here to give me away.”
Her father, Larry W. Davis, 66, died in July 2012 of pleural mesothelioma—a cancer caused by asbestos exposure.
Stephanie Harper was a daddy’s girl. She told reporter David McCumber, her father was a jack of all trades–repairing vehicles, fixing HVAC–and when he came home at night, “I’d sit on his feet and grab his pants leg.” The 37 year-old mother from Texas now suffers from mesothelioma and agonizing pain that goes along with it. Stephanie was most likely exposed to the asbestos fibers from her dad’s work clothes.
Paul Zygielbaum, 64, is a retired technology executive from Santa Rosa, California. He was exposed to asbestos at home and during his early career as an engineer. Zygielbaum was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2003. His treatment included ghastly surgery in which is abdomen was opened and filled with chemotherapy chemicals. Paul was on the legislative front lines in 2007 when the US Senate nearly passed a bill to ban asbestos.
The politics of that effort and the stories of Courtney, Stephanie and Paul are profiled by Hearst Newspapers’ reporter David McCumber. The three articles have been published over the last several weeks in the Connecticut Post, the San Antonio Express News, and the San Francisco Chronicle, respectively (here, here, and here.) McCumber does a public service reminding us that the scourge of asbestos—and the companies that profited from it—continues to cause disease and death.
Nearly 60 countries have banned asbestos, but the US is not one of them. Companies still import it into the US—more than 1,000 tons of it annually. We also have the deadly legacy of 13 million tons of the deadly mineral that was used in our country since 1900.
Then I read this from a news release issued by OSHA last month:
“OSHA cites 6 Chicago-area companies for worker exposure to asbestos”
Really?? Workers still getting exposed to asbestos?
It makes me angry to learn how some companies gamble with people’s lives. Asbestos exposure in US workplaces is just setting up individuals and their families to be the next ones suffering from asbestos-related diseases. Even more maddening is that these companies won’t be held accountable when the exposed develop disease years from now. Something is seriously wrong with a company that allows its employees and others to be exposed to a known human carcinogen. Take away their business licenses and permits to operate.
OSHA’s news release indicates that last summer, the six firms were involved in a renovation project at Chute Middle School in Evanston, Illinois. The project involved removing 60 feet of pipe that contained asbestos insulation. OSHA responded to a complaint and found more than a dozen violations of safety standards designed to protect workers from exposure to asbestos. In this day and age—and more than 40 years after OSHA issued its first asbestos regulation—it’s inexcusable for any firm to be so ignorant about asbestos.
OSHA proposed two willful violations related to asbestos and a $55,000 penalty to Environmental Services Firm Ltd. of Evanston, Illinois. This firm was supposedly the onsite asbestos consultant. F.E. Moran received citations for 10 serious violations related to asbestos and a proposed penalty of $47,500. The other firms that also received citations for violations of OSHA’s asbestos standard are Nicholas & Associates, ASAP Environmental, and B.B. Construction Enterprise, Inc.
I asked Paul Zygielbaum to read OSHA’s news release. He remarked:
“This is an unfortunate reminder of an ongoing American tragedy of which most citizens are unaware. I’m glad to see OSHA enforcing the law when companies carelessly or malevolently disregard the well-being of their workers. I only wish that the penalties were harsh enough to be a more effective deterrent.”
I agree. It’s been 25 years since Congress updated OSHA’s penalty amounts. It’s to be a LOT more expensive for companies that violate worker safety laws, including giving senior officials jail time.
And what about the Evanston/Skokie School District that hired these firms? What steps had the school district’s leadership taken to ensure they were contracting with responsible firms—not those that don’t understand or comply with OSHA regulations. I hope the school district is getting some bad publicity, and that all the firms involved are now on some sort of “no bid allowed” list.
Courtney Davis, Stephanie Harper and Paul Zygielbaum are three of the millions across the globe touched by asbestos-related disease. Without a global ban on asbestos use and strong regulations to prevent exposure, sadly, they’ll continue to have company.
A new analysis of data from the world’s largest and longest-running study of women’s health finds that rotating night shift work is associated with higher mortality rates. The new findings add to a growing awareness that long-term night shift work comes with serious occupational health risks.
Published this month in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the study found that all-cause and cardiovascular disease-related mortality were significantly increased among women who worked more than five years of rotating night shifts when compared to those who never worked the night shift. In addition, the study found that working 15 or more years of rotating night shifts was associated with a modest increase in lung cancer mortality. Previous research has also found a link between working the night shift and serious health risks. In fact, in 2007, the World Health Organization designated night shift work as a probable carcinogen, as it disrupts the physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a daily cycle — otherwise known as circadian rhythms. Study authors Fangyi Gu, Jiali Han, Francine Laden, An Pan, Neil Caporaso, Meir Stampfer, Ichiro Kawachi, Kathryn Rexrode, Walter Willett, Susan Hankinson, Frank Speizer and Eva Schernhammer write:
The circadian system and its prime marker, melatonin, are considered to have anti-tumor effects through multiple pathways, including antioxidant activity, anti-inflammatory effects, and immune enhancement. They also exhibit beneficial actions on cardiovascular health by enhancing endothelial function, maintaining metabolic homeostasis, and reducing inflammation. Direct nocturnal light exposure suppresses melatonin production and resets the timing of the circadian clock. In addition, sleep disruption may also accentuate the negative effects of night work on health. Taken together, substantial biological evidence supports the role of night shift work in the development of poor health conditions, including cancer, (cardiovascular disease), and ultimately, mortality.
To conduct the study, researchers analyzed data from the Nurses’ Health Study, which was established in 1976 and involved nearly 122,000 nurses. The night shift analysis was based on 22 years of health and behavioral data follow-up among nearly 75,000 of the participating nurses. In a press release about the findings, study co-author Schernhammer, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and associate epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, described the study as “one of the largest prospective cohort studies worldwide with a high proportion of rotating night shift workers and long follow-up time. A single occupation (in this case, nursing) provides more internal validity than a range of different occupational groups, where the association between shift work and disease outcomes could be confounded by occupational differences.”
In analyzing the decades of data, Schernhammer and her colleagues found that all-cause mortality appeared to be 11 percent higher for nurses who worked six to 14 years of rotating night shifts, which was defined as working nights at least three times per month. In addition, cardiovascular disease-related mortality appeared to be 19 percent higher for those working rotating night shifts for six to 14 years as well as 23 percent higher for those working such shifts for 15 years or more. No association was found between rotating night shifts and cancer mortality, except in the case of lung cancer — nurses who worked rotating night shifts for 15 years or more appeared to experience a 25 percent higher risk of lung cancer mortality. The researchers noted that while the impact of rotating night shifts appeared to be stronger among current smokers in regard to all-cause mortality, the effect of night shift work was still “statistically significant” among nurses who never smoked.
The researchers noted that while the study helped confirm previous findings on the adverse effects of night shift work, more research is needed to inform and shape feasible interventions for such workers.
“To derive practical implications for shift workers and their health, the role of duration and intensity of rotating night shift work and the interplay of shift schedules with individual traits…warrant further exploration,” the study concluded.
To read a full copy of the study, visit the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for more than a decade.
Elbert C. Woods’ work-related death could have been prevented. That’s how I see the findings of Federal OSHA in the agency’s citations against his employer, Cleveland Track Material. The 45-year-old was working in August 2014 at the company’s Cleveland plant when he was pulled into machinery. I wrote about the incident shortly after it was reported by local press.
Inspectors with OSHA conducted an inspection at Cleveland Track following Woods’ death. The agency recently issued citations to the firm for six serious violations and proposed a $49,000 penalty. The violations all involved gross failures in the company’s lockout/tagout system. Cleveland Track settled with OSHA and agreed to pay a $35,000 penalty.
Just a few weeks prior to the work-related death of Elbert C. Woods, another Cleveland Track worker, Michael John Rettew, 41, died from injuries he suffered in April 2014 at the firm’s facility in Reading, PA. The company received citations from OSHA for serious violations and agreed to pay a $9,750 penalty
When some local press initially reported Elbert C. Woods’ death, they called it an accident. An “accident” suggests the circumstances were unforeseen or could not have been avoided. OSHA’s findings tell a different story. Call it cutting corners, call it poor management, call it breaking the law. Whatever you want to call it, Elbert C. Woods’ work-related death—and that of Michael John Rettew—could have been prevented, it was no accident.
Fatal work injury that killed Stanley Thomas Wright was preventable, Nevada OSHA cites Rebel Oil Co.
Stanley Thomas Wright’s work-related death could have been prevented. That’s how I see the findings of Nevada OSHA in the agency’s citations against his employer, Rebel Oil Company. The 47-year-old was working in August 2014 at a railyard in North Las Vegas, NV. Wright was asphyxiated while working inside a tank car. I wrote about the incident shortly after it was reported by local press.
Inspectors with Nevada OSHA conducted an inspection at the railyard following Wright’s death. The agency recently issued citations to Rebel Oil for three serious violations and proposed a $11,475 penalty. The violations involved failing to evaluate the hazards of a confined space, failing to inform workers of the danger posed by confined space, and failing to take prevention measures related to entering the confined space. Rebel Oil is contesting the citations.
When some local press initially reported Stanley Thomas Wright’s death, they called it an accident. An “accident” suggests the circumstances were unforeseen or could not have been avoided. Nevada OSHA’s findings tell a different story. Call it cutting corners, call it poor management, call it breaking the law. Whatever you want to call it, Stanley Thomas Wright’s work-related death could have been prevented, it was no accident.