The Associated Press  [Printer-friendly version]
July 2, 2007


By Jesse J. Holland

WASHINGTON -- A federal judge has ordered the Labor Department to
share with the public the results of years of toxic substance sampling
in American workplaces. Federal officials said Monday they were
reviewing the decision.

The decision, by U.S. District Judge Mary L. Cooper, came in a Freedom
of Information Act lawsuit by former Labor Department official Adam
Finkel, who now is a whistleblower.

Finkel was a chief regulator and regional administrator for the Labor
Department's Occupational Health and Safety Administration from
1995-2003. He sued the Labor Department in 2005 after they refused to
tell him the results of beryllium tests on OSHA inspectors.

Beryllium is a lightweight metal that is used in aerospace components,
semiconductor chips, jet engine blades, transistors, nuclear reactors
and nuclear weapons. It often is mixed with other metals to form an

Scientists have learned that exposure to low levels of beryllium dust,
fumes, metal, metal oxides, ceramics or salts even over a short period
of time can result in chronic beryllium disease, lung cancer or skin

The Labor Department argued that releasing the information would
invade its inspectors' privacy, put at risk trade secrets of the
companies involved and make it harder to inspect companies in the

"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 in her decision.

Finkel also asked for the entire OSHA database on toxic exposures,
including how much was found, the company where it was found and the
code number for the inspector who found it. The database includes more
than 2 million analyses conducted during roughly 75,000 OSHA
inspections of workplaces since 1979.

"Ordinary citizens paid to collect these data, and I look forward to
analyzing this public database to help OSHA find its way back to its
original mission," said Finkel. He is now a professor of environmental
and occupational health at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of
New Jersey School of Public Health, and a visiting professor at
Princeton University.

The Labor Department said it was still reviewing the decision, since
officials were just notified of the judge's ruling on Monday.
On the Net:

U.S. District Judge Mary Cooper's decision on Finkel v. Department
of Labor:

Department of Labor: