A federal judge has ordered OSHA to share with the public the results of years of toxic substance sampling in U.S. workplaces. The June 29 decision, by U.S. District Judge Mary L. Cooper, came in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by former Labor Department official Dr. Adam M. Finkel.
Labor Department officials are reviewing the decision.
Finkel was a chief regulator and regional administrator for OSHA from 1995-2003. He sued the Labor Department in 2005 after it refused to reveal the results of beryllium tests on OSHA inspectors.
Beryllium is a lightweight metal 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 alloy.
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 disease.
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 future.
"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 two 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, who 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.