The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration handed out a second round of citations to Robins Air Force Base last week and employees are voicing their concerns about the work environment
In May of last year OSHA handed down citations to Robins Air Force Base, most of which dealt with high carcinogen levels in buildings 169 and 670. A new set of citations were issued last week and the reoccurring problem of cancer causing particles in the work area remains. Employees are concerned not enough is being done to make sure their work environment is safe.
"You don't know what you're walking into and you don't know what you're walking out of because it's something you really don't see. It's kind of like dust, you know. You don't know that you're being exposed to anything and then sooner or later, you know there's been people that have got cancer that has worked in that building," said Ray Fisher, an Air Craft Sheet Metal Mechanic at RAFB.
Fisher is one of around 200 people who work in building 169. Many employees are concerned with repeated findings of high exposure levels. In the OSHA citations chromium, cadmium, and lead, all of which can cause cancer were found.
These contaminants come from old paint on air craft parts. When the parts are sanded down, dust particles are emitted into the air.
In OSHA's initial round of citations in May of last year, chromium (VI) was found in a number of areas in buildings 169 and 670: A wipe sample of the break room table, where employees eat in building 169 showed 7 micrograms of Chromium (VI) and 13.5 micrograms of chromic acid.
The local union president for base employees, Tom Scott, says the federal government isn’t holding itself accountable.
"They have plenty of resources they could have corrected it. Outside agencies, private sectors the same thing would have been fined about $400-thousand, $600-thousand dollars and the agency is immune from it, you can't fine one another and I don't know if that's why the delay is or not, but I think more or less than need to get these employees a safe environment to work in," said Scott.
Last November OSHA fined the Macon-based company, Aerospace/Defense Coatings of Georgia, more than $300-thousand for over exposure of chromium (VI).
Just last week OSHA fined Lead Enterprises Inc. in
OSHA officials say they cannot fine other federal agencies.
We spoke with base officials about the carcinogen levels and according to Deryl Israel, the executive director of Warner Robins Air Logistics Center, before OSHA cited the violations, base officials thought their work environment was safe.
"What came as I wouldn't say a surprise to us, but we thought we were doing well and OSHA came in and found some things and we've worked since then to understand OSHA's interpretation and adjust our processes to comply with that," said Israel.
Maybe the most staggering of the May citations was in room 117, where according to OSHA a machinist was exposed to more than 1,700 micrograms of chromium (VI), approximately 342 times the limit established to prevent lung cancer.
Base officials have since shut down the room. But the contamination doesn’t stop there, the most recent OSHA citations said high levels of chromium (VI) and cadmium were found in buildings 59, 89, and 323; further evidence that high contaminant levels could be in other areas on the base.
“As long as I've been on base for 23 years they've been working on air craft parts and the air craft parts have always had that stromium chromate which has chromate (VI) in it," said Tom Scott.
OSHA's most recent citations noted base didn’t properly inform employees about exposure levels. Stating employees with skin and eye contact to chromium (VI) did not demonstrate knowledge of the health hazards associated with the contaminant.
"We were never briefed on it, well I wasn't when I come through the door. We knew that we had some hazardous chemicals that we were working with, but they were pretty well known throughout the industry. But as far as the contaminants or the dust and stuff like that, I was not familiar with them until this actually broke lose," said Ray Fisher.
According to the CDC, high exposure levels to chromium (VI) can cause a number of health problems including irritation of the nose, runny nose, asthma, and in severe cases lung cancer.