Today’s guest post comes from Elizabeth Grossman, a gifted environmental journalist who is the author of Chasing Molecules: Poisonous Products, Human Health, and the Promise of Green Chemistry, High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health, and other books. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, YaleEnvironment360, The Washington Post, The Nation and Grist. I met Lizzie this past fall at the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) conference; she’s been writing about science and the environment for more than a decade.
She reported this story by taking EPA data uncovered by the Center for Public Integrity, and checking it against publicly-available information from OSHA. Her story got my attention because it suggests (based on admittedly limited evidence) that companies that are careless or irresponsible about air pollution also have workplace-safety issues. I wasn’t surprised to see BP among them–my FORTUNE colleagues David Whitford and Peter Elkind did a great job dissecting its culture in BP: “An Accident Waiting to Happen.’ Seeing DuPont on the list did surprise me, since the company is known for its safety culture. This story first appeared at The Pump Handle, a website about public health and the environment.
We have learned from Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) documents obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request and released by the Center for Public Integrity earlier this month that there are currently about 465 United States industrial facilities on what the EPA calls its “watch list.” The list is made up of businesses EPA considers chronic violators of the Clean Air Act – but against which the agency has taken no formal enforcement action. An examination of these same companies’ occupational health and safety records reveals them also to be chronic violators of Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) standards.
These “watch list” facilities are located all over the country, but many are clustered in historical manufacturing hubs in the Midwest, Southeast, and along the Gulf Coast. Nearly all can be described as heavy industry. They include petroleum refineries and facilities making chemicals, cement, paper, paint, pharmaceuticals, and metal products, along with waste treatment (landfills, recycling, and incinerators) facilities, meat processing plants, mines, pipelines, a shipyard, and automotive plants. OSHA typically inspects about one percent of the United States’ 8 to 9 million workplaces annually, but more than 70 percent of the “watch list” companies have received OSHA inspections over the past ten years. Those without inspection records included US military facilities and mines that OSHA is not authorized to inspect, as well as a number of public facilities and utilities: municipal landfills, water treatment plants, and generating stations.
Overall, the OSHA inspection reports for the EPA “watch list” companies reveal what for many of these companies appears to be a history of chronic OSHA violations. Some of these companies had dozens of violations over the past ten years; a few had more than 100. (To round out the picture of these companies’ operations, I included both the specific “watch list” facilities and the individual companies’ comparable operations in other locations.) Among the companies with the most recorded OSHA violations at their various facilities around the country was BP Products, with more than 400 at facilities nationwide – violations that included 314 in one inspection record following the 2005 explosion at BP’s Texas City refinery that killed 15 workers. (The Deepwater Horizon incident does not yet appear in BP’s OSHA inspection records.) International Paper was cited for more than 295 violations, while Republic Engineered Products (part of Republic Steel) had more than 170 violations, various divisions of DuPont nationwide received more than 130 citations for OSHA violations, and the Greif company, manufacturer of packaging materials, was cited for about 100 violations nationwide in the past decade. Wheeling Pittsburgh Steel exceeded 100 violations since 2001, and Weyerhaueser‘s various divisions around the country were cited for more than 300. [click to continue...]