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Inspector claims chemical exposure is 'shortening my life'

June 1, 2013

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The chemicals used in poultry-processing plants may represent a danger to both plant workers and federal inspectors.

In affidavits released April 25 by the Government Accountability Project, two U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors described respiratory problems and other health issues related to chemical exposure and extreme temperatures in poultry plants.

GAP, a whistleblower advocacy organization based in Washington, is among the groups opposing USDA’s proposal to change the inspection process and allow faster line speeds.

“I’m all for improving inspection, but this plan isn’t it,” Amanda Hitt, director of GAP’s Food Integrity Campaign, said in a press release. “Not only does the plan put consumers at risk, but the threat to workers is now evident.”

According to the affidavits, poultry plants began using more chemicals when they shifted from taking contaminated birds off the line to leaving them on the line and treating all birds with disinfecting chemicals. In one affidavit, an inspector said exposure to chemicals such as chlorine had left inspectors with problems such as burning eyes, nose and throat; difficulty breathing; and asthma.

The affidavit states that the inspector asked for work accommodations but was told none could be made and transferring to another plant was not possible because chemical use was widespread. “I know each time I enter the plant, I am shortening my life,” the inspector said. “My doctor asked me whether the money is worth my life, and I do not think it is.”

The other inspector described extreme hot and cold conditions, which the inspector believed made chemical scents stronger and exacerbated joint pain. Heaters and fans in the appropriate season would help, but some plants actually removed them in what the inspector thought was retaliation for reporting non-compliance, the affidavit states. The inspector noted that workers must deal with the same hazardous conditions but fear punishment if they speak up.

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