A New York environmental remediation contractor is facing a big OSHA fine after exposing its workers to mercury poisoning while removing the chemical at a Superfund site.
OSHA investigated Environmental Remediation Services Inc. (ERS), a Schenectady, NY, hazardous materials remediation contractor, after receiving complaints from its employees about mercury exposure and a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE).
ERS workers were removing liquid mercury and mercury-contaminated soil and wood from the third and fourth floors of the General Electric Co. Power and Water Main Plant, a Superfund site in Schenectady.
OSHA’s inspection found that several ERS employees inhaled or absorbed excessive levels of mercury vapor or liquid mercury through their skin. The agency’s biological monitoring confirmed the workers had symptoms consistent with respiratory mercury exposure, such as:
- neurological impairment
- memory loss
- feeling pins and needles in the skin
- damage to the gums, and
- skin damage.
ERS was hit with one willful and 13 serious violations of workplace health and safety standards, adding up to a $142,200 penalty. The company didn’t comply with several requirements for protecting workers engaged in hazardous waste operations. The violations included failure to:
- inform employees doing the remediation work about the nature, level and degree of their exposure to hazardous materials
- implement a site-specific health and safety program for the jobsite and have a safety and health program for mercury
- provide appropriate selection of PPE to workers to prevent skin absorption of hazardous substances
- train employees on safe work practices, use of engineering controls and medical surveillance requirements
- provide medical exams and consultations for employees who reported signs or symptoms of possible exposure to hazardous substances
- address limitations of PPE
- perform initial air monitoring for arsenic
- prevent employees from consuming water in mercury-contaminated areas
- evaluate the effectiveness of respirators used by workers when temperatures rose above 90 degrees, and
- retrain employees on respiratory protection requirements.
Robert Garvey, OSHA’s Albany area director, said in a press release:
“Particularly disturbing is the fact that (ERS) managers knowingly refused to perform personal exposure monitoring of employees most likely to have the highest exposure levels. Had the monitoring been done, managers could have identified overexposures and mitigated or prevented them from occurring in the first place. Instead, these employees were needlessly sickened while simply doing their jobs.”
ERS has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and proposed penalties to comply, request a conference with OSHA’s area director or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.