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Navy Hazards Addressed; Review Unlikely

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

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Navy officials have addressed toxic-metals exposures that threatened to shut down a California painting and maintenance facility last fall, but federal health officials have declined to take a broader look at workplace conditions there.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued notices of willful and serious violations in September to the Navy’s Fleet Readiness Center Southwest for hazardous conditions at its facility at North Island Naval Air Station in Coronado, CA, where about 500 workers service Navy and Marine Corps aircraft.

Those violations were the fourth series that OSHA issued against the facility since 2011. The painting operation was also cited in 2008 for a serious sprinkler violation.

OSHA officials now say that the worker hazards noted in the most recent inspection have been addressed, but that no follow-up inspection has determined whether the facility is currently in compliance.

FRC Building 94
CommNexus

FRC Southwest is located in Building 94 at Naval Air Station North Island. The Navy offered a tour of the facility, the target of OSHA notices, in 2011.

"The issues were addressed," OSHA Area Director Jay Vicory said in an interview. "We received from the Navy documentation indicating that employees were removed from the hazards."

The 2012 citations followed several inspections in 2011; in all, the facility received 27 notices of violations. (An OSHA notice to a federal agency is the equivalent of a citation to a private employer, but OSHA may not fine agencies for violations.)

NIOSH: No Further Review

Meanwhile, however, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has declined OSHA's request for a comprehensive Health Hazard Evaluation of Building 94, the focus of the most recent OSHA notice.

Building 94, built in the 1930s, is a repair hangar for maintenance of F/A-18 aircraft. About 200 to 250 people work in the building, 80 percent of them Department of Defense civilians and 20 percent contractors.

The OSHA notice reported accumulation of lead dust in 32 locations and willful violations for exposures to lead, cadmium and beryllium in multiple locations, including food and beverage storage areas. (The beryllium violations related to grinding and milling of copper-beryllium bushings.)

The notices were issued Sept. 5, and the Navy was given a compliance deadline of Sept. 26. As part of those notices, OSHA urged the Fleet Readiness Center to request an Health Hazard Evaluation from NIOSH.

In June, NIOSH declined the request, stating in a letter to the Navy that the agency considered the current measures sufficient and appropriate.

Exposures and Cleanups

In the letter from NIOSH, epidemiologist Christine R. Schuler, Ph.D., noted information by OSHA that the building had not been formally cleaned since the 1980s, but that the Navy had awarded a contract for major industrial cleaning and to assess "legacy exposures" from past operations.

Navy painting
Fleet Readiness Center Southwest

OSHA has reported recurring problems with painting and other maintenance activities at the Navy's Fleet Readiness Center Southwest in San Diego.

The letter said that abatement was underway to remove and encapsulate flaky and loose lead-based paint, but that that work had not been completed.

Schuler also noted that the facility had developed a Beryllium Control Guide and Beryllium Worker Safety program PowerPoint Presentation, but the agency recommended some changes in that presentation.

For example, Schuler urged the facility to discontinue recommendations of barrier creams to prevent beryllium exposures. In fact, she said, such creams "have not been demonstrated to be effective in preventing entry of particles through the skin" and "may actually enhance particle entry."

The agency also recommended that workers in beryllium areas dispose of used Tylvek coveralls and use boot scrubbers or change out of work shoes.

Otherwise, Schuler wrote, "We believe that the prompt actions taken in response to the OSHA Notice were appropriate."

Other Exposures

In 2011, NIOSH completed an In-Depth Survey Report on exposure control measures used in some of the facility's painting operations.

The study focused on Building 465, where Navy F/A-18C/D Hornets were refinished.

Industrial hygienist
NIOSH

An industrial hygienist measures supply air velocity during a NIOSH assessment of ventilation in Navy painting operations. Changes were recommended.

That study noted an imbalance in the ventilation systems for that building despite the use of highly toxic coatings containing isocyanates. The study also reported excessive exposures to various painters and workers for hexavalent chromium and other metals.

The assessment recommended changes in the ventilation systems.

The Southwest facility is not the only one to have drawn OSHA's notice.

OSHA records show that Fleet Readiness Center Mid-Atlantic in Norfolk, VA, was cited in April for five serious and five repeat violations related to spray finishing and other operations. One of the repeat violations was later deleted.

OSHA records also show repeated complaints, inspections and notices involving Fleet Readiness Center East, in Cherry Point, NC, dating to 2007.

Wider Review Sought

Vicory said OSHA had hoped that NIOSH would review a "gamut" of potential hazards at the San Diego facility, to "help the employer address some of the issues that were not addressed when the inspection took place."

"We would have liked to have seen a full-fledged on-site investigation," he said.

Vicory said OSHA was working with NIOSH on a beryllium standard, for which OSHA first floated a request for information in 2002. That request followed petitions in 1999 and 2001 from the United Steel Workers for a standard. There has been no regulatory action on the proposal since 2002.

And although the Navy has addressed the hazards noted in the latest inspection, "We’re not saying they’re in compliance," said Vicory. "We’re just saying they removed their employees from the hazards in the citations."

   

Tagged categories: Hexavalent chromium; Isocyanate; Lead; Metal coatings; NIOSH; OSHA; Respiratory Protection Standard; U.S. Navy

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