Fire/emergency medical services Respiratory conditions Workplace exposures

Post-9/11 illnesses spur lawsuit aimed at protecting first responders from corrosives

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Washington – Watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility has filed a lawsuit intended to prompt the Environmental Protection Agency to strengthen its corrosive dust standard to better protect first responders.

According to the lawsuit, filed Sept. 9 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit by EPA chemist/whistleblower Cate Jenkins and PEER, EPA has not modified its regulation on corrosive dust standards since 1980. First responders at the World Trade Center on 9/11 suffered damaged respiratory systems due to caustic dust, PEER states.

Alkaline corrosive materials at a level now exempted from hazardous waste regulations can cause chemical burns, especially to respiratory tissue, according to the lawsuit. Corrosive dust is released during building demolition, cement manufacturing and crashes involving cement trucks, PEER claims, putting responders and the public at risk.

The lawsuit argues that the EPA regulation must be updated because the alkaline corrosivity standard is at a level 10 times higher than the World Health Organization’s standard.

The petitioners are asking for the current pH alkalinity level of 12.5 to be set to 11.5 to match the international standard, and would like non-water corrosive materials to be included in the updated regulation.

PEER also filed a petition with EPA in 2011.