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Editorial Last Updated: May 27, 2019 - 4:10:09 PM

Extinction Rebellion Is Fighting the Wrong War
By Dr. Gary K. Busch. 26/4/19
May 27, 2019 - 10:22:08 AM

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Over the last month there have been demonstrations across the word in support of the effort to reduce and prevent the destruction of the planet through the excessive burning of carbon which is putatively the main instigator of climate change. The followers of the Children’s Crusade led by a Swedish adolescent visionary has attracted devotees of the cult of Global Warming and have decided that they know best the urgency of dealing with the Paris Agreement ambitions.


They have decided that these ambitions are insufficient to avert total ecological disaster in a very short period and must be speeded up to prevent humanity’s extinction. They decry the apparent lack of urgency by the nations in Paris and demand an urgent reply from them to their protests. In support of their aims they blocked city streets, creating urban havoc; marching with their banners, earnest faces,  and an air of utter moral superiority over those who are less convinced of the need for responding to the urgency of such a shorter timetable for dealing with the complex problems associated with a changing climate and the effects of human intervention in accelerating the natural phenomenon of climate change.

Their observation that the climate is changing is not incorrect. However, the climate has been changing on a cyclical basis for about fifty million years. There is no question that human intervention in polluting the environment has changed in quantity and quality as man has moved from rude huts with wood fires in the days of the Neanderthal or the Cro-Magnons to modern cities and factories belching greenhouse gasses into the environment.  As humans have adapted their environments to provide for the demands of the Industrial and Post-Industrial Revolutions there has been a price they paid in living their lives in uncomfortable and unhygienic conditions in return for economic rewards and opportunities.
Although there is no complete agreement in the scientific world as to the scope and causalities of climate change there is a general agreement that the manifestations of this climate change, however they have been created,  should be addressed and dealt with to prevent further deterioration of the environment and, perhaps, its remediation. This includes moving to renewable sources of energy and reducing carbon output.


There has always been a theme of dishonesty and exaggeration which has run through much of environmental activism. Recognition of this fact began to permeate the consciousness of the civilised world when in November 2009 an anonymous hacker of a server at the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia copied thousands of emails and computer files to various locations on the Internet showing that this august body of international climate scientists, the IPCC, had exaggerated its findings and lied about the implications of its false or incomplete research.
This was just before the international summit on climate change. This incident, known as “Climategate” was very embarrassing to the Green community and to the media circus which had attached itself to an untrammelled pursuit of combatting Global Warming. The specious claims associated with the scientists’ findings were shown to be less than accurate and the opprobrium these same scientists had apportioned to their scientific opponents, who doubted the veracity of the IPCC findings and conclusions, was inordinate.

Despite a few busy days of stories in the world media about Climategate, there was soon a media consensus that in their unqualified scientific judgement, the leaked emails were a bum rap for the scientists and that the bulk of the evidence was compelling, despite being unsubstantiated and unable to withstand scientific scrutiny. This Green activist disaster story apparently sold more papers than rational scientific analysis and insistence on rigorous proof and replicability. Melting glaciers and forlorn polar bears became emblematic of the problem.

There was already a track record of wilful Green duplicity. In 1995, the mother lode of Green activism, Greenpeace, lied to the Dutch Parliament and the world that the floating oil drilling platform Brent Spar was going to be scrapped by sinking it in the North Sea while containing 5,500 barrels of oil which would cause an ecological disaster. They persisted in this lie and were supported by a frenzy of publicity in the international press. Even the normally reflective “New Scientist” carried the story and provided it credibility. Unfortunately for Greenpeace the Norwegians commissioned a survey of the platform and found that there was no oil at all on the abandoned rig. Greenpeace grudgingly retracted its claims, although most of the media were less forthcoming with their retractions.

In 2009 Greenpeace published 50,000 fake copies of the International Herald Tribune pretending that there was agreement on the climate change proposals by the world leaders. It was false and misleading. Greenpeace justified this con with the famous line “We can’t change the science. We need to change the politics.” That was why the Dutch Government considered banning them from Holland.

Without casting any aspersions on the current Extinction Rebellion’s genuine belief that what they say is true and accurate, exaggeration and hyperbole has not passed them by. Their demands on the international community to instantly bring forward the policies that community has already agreed to in Paris, are largely outside the scope and capability of that community’s ability or intention to achieve quickly.
What is so frustrating in the excitement and interest their protest has engendered is that the demonstrators have chosen to focus their demands for policy changes from national governments; complex political and economic actors with a range of economic and social problems with which they must deal; an inevitably slow process. By focusing on government policies these activists continue to neglect the vitally important ecological crises in their own local communities; problems which they can win and in which they can achieve admirable results.

This ecological struggle which needs their urgent support and attention is the crucial need to protect their local environments from the toxic chemicals, poisonous gases and polluted water which escape the walls of the local factories, mines, mills and farms in their hometowns and villages; environmental challenges which pollute their local areas.  Much of what the environmentalists cite as hazardous to the world has already poisoned the air and water of the workplaces in their localities It is a mystery of profound proportions why the environmental movement and its passionate acolytes have cavalierly passed up the opportunity to assist the working people in these enterprises by using their activism and energy to insist on the enforcement of already existing but neglected laws which have been designed to produce a safe and hazard-free working environment for the workers in these plants and farms. These chemical, dust and water hazards escape the walls of the workplace and affect the local communities. Greens have an important stake in their control. Yet, with the full arrogance of the middle classes to the plight of working men and women the opportunity to make real and positive improvements to the ecology and climate of their local communities is universally ignored or demeaned. Working people are invisible to them and the crushing burden of occupational exposures of working people in their work environment to the hazards of contact with carcinogens, mutagens, teratogens and similar agents is not seized on by the activists for their attention. It is a war they can win but they choose not to fight.


It is immensely frustrating to read about the current battle of the ecology movement with the use of glyphosates in the agricultural environment. Glyphosates are broad-spectrum systemic herbicides and crop desiccants; organophosphorus compounds. They are used to kill weeds, especially annual broadleaf weeds. These glyphosates, like the readily available ‘Roundup’, are sprayed on crops or weeds and often cause disease and dysfunction to those who come in direct contact with them. There are many compounds like these which cause harm to humans and animals on contact and are then washed away into the communal water supply.

The ecologists are rightly adamant in protesting the use of these substances in agriculture. What they are not adamant about or protesting is the working conditions and safety of the workers in the plants which manufacture these herbicides. These workers are subject to far higher risks of disease and disabilities as a result of working in an environment in which these substances are made and compounded. Workers struggle with improving their working environment through their unions (if they have them, or if the union is interested) and through national health legislation which regulates the occupational health in their place of employment and, notionally, through a system of plant inspections by licensed inspectors. The law of the land in many countries has created organisations like OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) in the US or the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) in the UK. These bodies are grossly inadequate and cannot inspect and protect the exposure levels in the workplace because politicians, like the Trump Administration, regularly cut back their budgets and manpower. This is the same with the Environmental Protection Agency refusing to enforce the Clean Air Act or the Clean Water Act.

The level of intervention in the workplace by OSHA inspectors was never high but had been gradually improving; especially under Obama. Trump and his pals in the Senate and state governments have cut health and safety inspections to a ridiculous minimum. There is a wilful neglect of workers’ safety in the U.S. Federal OSHA is a small agency Including its state partners they have reduced the number of OSHA inspectors to approximately 2,100 inspectors for the whole of the U.S.; looking after the health and safety of 130 million workers, employed at more than 8 million worksites around the nation — which translates to about one compliance officer for every 59,000 workers. That's not health or safety. It is a recipe for neglect, and it is getting worse every month. The environmental Green movements are doing almost nothing to assist working people who are the first line of defence in the struggle for a clean and healthy environment.

This battle of working people for a healthier work environment is not unique to the West. Across the globe it is the same struggle by men, women and children for a workplace that will not kill or injure them. Occasionally a story makes a news splash but it then fades in time. One of the most famous, referred to in the question above, relates to the actions by Union Carbide in Bhopal, India.

During the night of 2-3 December 1984 at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India there was a terrible leak of methyl isocyanate gas (MIC) in the plant which spread a throughout the plant and then escaped over the plant walls into the surrounding community.

Methyl isocynanate is an organic compound which is used as an intermediate chemical in the productions of carbamate pesticides. It is also used in the production of rubbers and adhesives. MIC is colourless, highly flammable and poisonous. It reacts strongly with water (or tears). The threshold limit value (‘TLV’) set by the American Conference on Government Industrial Hygienists is 0.02 ppm (parts per million). MIC is toxic by inhalation, ingestion and contact in quantities as low as 0.4 ppm. Exposure symptoms include coughing, chest pain, fainting, asthma, irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, as well as skin damage. Higher levels of exposure, over 21 ppm, can result in pulmonary or lung oedema, emphysema and haemorrhages, bronchial pneumonia and death.  It must be stored at a relatively low temperature to be safe in glass or stainless steel containers. At the Union Carbide plant MIC, and other toxic intermediaries, were stored in underground reservoirs. Workers produced fertilisers on a floor above the reservoirs. There were frequent leaks of MIC and its components over the life of the factory. However, in 1984 there was a full-scale leak of MIC from the reservoir to the workplace.

Over 500,000 people were exposed to the gas. The first to be exposed to the full toxicity of the gas were the workers in the plant. Then the gas escaped over the factory walls into and around the small towns located near the plant. The official immediate death toll was 2,259. The government of Madhya Pradesh confirmed a total of 3,787 deaths related to the gas release. A government affidavit in 2006 stated that the leak caused 558,125 injuries, including 38,478 temporary partial injuries and approximately 3,900 severely and permanently disabling injuries. Others estimate that 8,000 died within two weeks, and another 8,000 or more have since died from gas-related diseases.

The Bhopal disaster was not the first time that the workers suffered from exposure to MIC and other gases in the plant. MIC was made at the plant by using methylamine reacting to phosgene to form MIC, which was then reacted with 1-naphthol to form the final product, carbaryl (the pesticide).The local trade unions regularly complained about unsafe practices in the plant, sending in official protests in 1976 ad 1981. Workers were constantly unwell and, in 1981, a maintenance worker died of exposure. In January 1982, a phosgene leak exposed 24 workers, all of whom were admitted to a hospital. None of the workers had been ordered to wear protective masks. One month later, in February 1982, an MIC leak affected 18 workers. In August 1982, a chemical engineer came into contact with liquid MIC, resulting in burns over 30 percent of his body. Later that same year, in October 1982, there was another MIC leak. In attempting to stop the leak, the MIC supervisor suffered severe chemical burns and two other workers were severely exposed to the gases. During 1983 and 1984, there were leaks of MIC, chlorine, monomethylamine, phosgene, and carbon tetrachloride, sometimes in combination.

There was little concern by local and regional governments of the unsafe practices and the hazardous nature of the work environment. Even after the disaster, the local and regional governments falsified inspection records, results of periodic inspections to ‘cut a deal’ with Union Carbide. Compulsory safety audits were only done at two-year intervals and the results ignored. In May 1982, the senior officials of the corporation were well aware of "a total of 61 hazards, 30 of them major and 11 minor in the dangerous phosgene/methyl isocyanate units" in Bhopal. The case became major news and finally attracted environmental specialists to do an inspection of Bhopal. They discovered that hazardous pollution predated the accident and lingered on for decades after the accident.

UCC's laboratory tests in 1989 revealed that soil and water samples collected from near the factory were toxic to fish. Twenty-one areas inside the plant were reported to be highly polluted. In 1991 the municipal authorities declared that water from over 100 wells was hazardous for health if used for drinking. In 1994 it was reported that 21% of the factory premises were still seriously contaminated with chemicals. Beginning in 1999, environmental studies of the Union Carbide plant (UCIL) discovered from soil, groundwater, well water and vegetables from the residential areas around UCIL and from the UCIL factory area show contamination with a range of toxic heavy metals and chemical compounds. Substances found, according to the reports, are naphthol, naphthalene, Sevin, tarry residues, alpha naphthol, mercury, organochlorines, chromium, copper, nickel, lead, hexachlorethane, hexachlorobutadiene, pesticide HCH (BHC), volatile organic compounds and halo-organics. Many of these contaminants were also found in breast milk of women living near the area.

While a great industrial disaster, Bhopal is not a unique instance of having a toxic work environment; often without supervision or inspection or effective representation. These factories, across the world,  pollute the air with toxic chemicals; they poison the water supply with their effluent; they infect grazing land with toxic chemicals and heavy metals and, in the middle of all this miasma, there are millions of workers who do their jobs every day without adequate breathing masks, protective suits; respirators and are unable to get inspections from the authorities charged with monitoring their workplaces. They are the primary victims of unsatisfactory and delayed interventions to safeguard the environment – not just the polar bears.


One of the most dangerous aspects of ignoring the desperate state of occupational hygiene in the industrial world is that there is very little awareness of the effects of chemical substances on worker health by workers, managers and regulators. Often it is only a health disaster which precipitates awareness.

I saw this, first-hand, in a labour grievance case I was appointed to resolve as an arbitrator. It was one of my earliest cases. A worker who was employed in a metal processing plant had been dismissed from his job for erratic behaviour He worked a stamping press which shaped metal sheets into forms. The worker sometimes used his feet to operate the press; sometimes he would press the switch with his eyes closed; often singing at the top of his lungs. The union pursued his grievance for unfair dismissal with some reluctance but, under the terms of the contract, it came to me to decide. Both the union and the management were reluctant to let him back on the job and they made that clear to me. I was very puzzled by this behaviour. The worker couldn’t explain why he did these things. I demanded that, as part of the arbitration, I wanted to visit the workplace. They agreed to let me in. I asked to see the workstation of the fired employee.

When I went to the workstation I asked the worker to show me what he did to operate the press. He showed me. I watched and I was appalled. The workstation was right next to the bath in which the stainless steel was dipped for ‘pickling’. Pickling is the process used to remove grease and metal impurities from the surface of stainless steel. The bath is full of nitric and hydrofluoric acids. There was no containment or dissipation of the fumes from these acids; no respirator given to the worker. In short, the worker was intoxicated by the fumes from the pickling bath (and, to some degree the other workers as well) which accounted for his erratic behaviour. I found that the plant layout was in direct violation of the health and safety rules and no one was aware of this; either the union or the management. I then demanded the health records of the last three employees who had worked at the same workstation. None had worked there for more than four months before quitting or moving to a new job in the factory. I gave the worker his job back and got an agreement with the management that they would build a containment system for the fumes from the pickling bath. The union promised to monitor this.

This is not an unusual case. I have been in many factories where, in addition to a myriad of safety issues, there are chemical substances in free use in the plant, the toxicity of which no one in the plant is aware. One of the key reasons for this is that both the management and the union, and certainly the workers, have no idea which chemicals are being used, nor their toxicity levels.


One of the key issues of the modern industrial world is the increas¬ing number of deaths, disabilities and diseases generated through con¬tact with hazardous chemical agents in the workplace. The public must be concerned with occupational chemical pollution partly on humanitarian grounds but also because there is considerable spillover of occupational pollution into the general environmental pol¬lution of their nations' air and water systems. Occupational chemical hazards are everybody's problems sooner or later; they are the origin of most environmental problems; yet these hazards are solvable, in the long run, only by a massive public awareness of their stake in keeping the industrial plants free of toxic and hazardous substances. When the environmentalists rail against the greenhouse gases and pollution of the environment of the blast furnace ovens at steel plants or the clouds of smoke and vapour hovering above coal-fired power stations they never seem to ask about the poor people who work in these plants and their levels of exposure to toxic gases, heat and dust. Only by dealing effectively with the hazards of the workers in these plants will there ever be a proper solution to the wider picture of environmental degradation.

A major impediment to dealing with the problems of occupational hygiene is that most of the people who work in these plants have no idea of which chemical substances are being used in the work environment and to which they are exposed. No one tells them what these substances are, how they can be monitored, or what governmental rules are in force to limit human exposure to these risks.

In some cases, the relationship of risk and disease are obvious. Coal miners know that extended periods of exposure to coal dust causes “black lung” which severely debilitates the miners. Workers in the cotton and clothing plants know that long exposure to textile dust causes “byssinosis”. Hat makers processing the beaver-skin hats fashionable in the early 1900s knew that the mercury they used for processing made them mad (hence “Mad as a hatter”). The earliest correlation between occupational exposures and disease dates from the work of Percival Pott who, in 1775, found an association between exposure to soot in chimneys and the high incidence of scrotal cancer in young chimney sweeps. Some of these conditions derived from an ignorance of the relationship of work and disease. In other cases, the link was known but avoided and exploited.

Perhaps the most egregious disregard for the safety of the workers was captured in the testimony of G.W.H. Schepers (Bureau of Laboratories, Dept, of Health, Wash¬ington, D.C.) recorded in the “Biological Effects of Asbestos” NY Academy of Sciences 1965. Schepers testified that, in South Africa, they used “young children, completely included within large shipping bags, trampling down fluffy amosite asbestos, which all day long came cascading down over their heads. They were kept stepping lively by a burly supervisor with a hefty whip. I believe these children to have had the ultimate of as¬bestos dust exposure.” These young boys did not survive long. They died of asbestosis within fourteen months’; most before the age of twelve.

The asbestos case is illustrative of one of the most insidious results of occupational exposures. For most of these cases there is a latency period; in the case of asbestos almost twenty years, between exposure to the hazard and the development of cancer as a result. For exposures to asbestos, the end of the latency period results in the condition of mesothelioma (a cancer of the covering of the lung). The root of the problem lies in the fact that the workers were dying, in great numbers, from asbestosis long before they developed the cancer which awaited them. Miner’s were dying of emphysema and pneumonia from coal dust before they could develop the range of cancers that awaited them. Leather workers died of bladder and renal failure from exposure to beta-napthylamine and benzene before their cancers could be seen. It was only when treatment for their symptoms became more effective that the cancers were able to develop.

These exposures were not limited to the workers alone. There have been many cases tried in the courts in which the workers’ families suffered from the occupational exposures to hazardous substance by their husbands. Workers returned home with clothing covered with dusts (like asbestos). Their wives washed their clothes and she and her children were exposed to asbestos dust which had the same effect as if she had worked in the mill or mine or factory. The companies generally refused any compensation to the workers or their families for these exposures. The Congressional testimony is full of the duplicitous corporate reactions to their workers claims. For example, in 1978 Babcock & Wilson had serious problems with asbestos exposures in their electrode shop. The Committee found a memo from the Board in which the Manager, R.K. Smith stated “No citation has been issued by OSHA and I am sure that OSHA is not even aware of the Electrode Shop exposure to such suspected car¬cinogens as asbestos, iron powder, silica flour, and others ... As the situation stands right now, no one in the meeting wants the warning signs posted at this time. Readings of dust and suspected carcinogen concentrations will not be taken until alternative solutions can be examined”. This is a typical management position to be found in the records.

As a result of labour union and legislative pressure independent organisations began to form to conduct research and set standards for occupational hygiene and safety. In the U.S. the independent National Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (NCGIH) convened on June 27, 1938, in Washington, D.C. In 1946, the organization changed its name to the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) and offered full membership to all industrial hygiene personnel within the agencies as well as to governmental industrial hygiene professionals in other countries. Its most important work involves setting standards for safe exposure for threshold limit values for chemical substances (TLV-CS), and threshold limit values for physical agents (TLV-PA).

The Threshold Limit Values (TLV) established and updated by the ACGIH represent the most recent compilation of chemical exposure limits, established in co-ordination with the NIOSH (National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health) Many industrial countries have similar agencies and publish their own TLVs. I wrote a book for the International Chemical Workers Union (ICF) in 1975 comparing the U.S. TLVs with the German MAK-Werte (Maxi¬male Arbeitsplatzkonzentrationen gesundheitsschadlicher Stoffe) and the Swedish Hygienska Gransvarden (Anvisningar om hygieniska gransvarden for luftfororeningar pa arbetsplatsen). In it I listed all the hundreds of TLVs, their chemical formulae, and thee limits acceptable for their exposure in the three countries. I also listed the known carcinogens, organic acids, diphenyls, heavy metals, etc. The ICF  had it translated into six languages and circulated the information to its affiliates around the world.

A TLV refers to time-weighted concentrations for a seven or eight hour workday and a forty hour week. Threshold limits are based on the best available information from industrial experience, from experimental human and animal — and, when possible, from a combination of the three. The known carcinogens are banned from the workplace unless specifically licensed and monitored. These TLVs refers to the time-weighted average exposure to be permitted in the plants for the "average worker". Since people differ from each other in constitution, susceptibility to disease, diet, and the host of other variables which distinguish human beings from each other, there may very well not be any "average workers" in the plant. These TLVs may cause a significant number of workers irritation, allergic reac¬tion, or even serious occupational disease. In others it may aggravate existing maladies or compound the effects of non-work-related hazards, such as excessive cigarette smoking which is a potent co-carcinogen. It recognized that such physical factors as heat, ultraviolet and ionizing radiation, humidity, abnormal pressure (altitude) and the like may place added stress on the body so that the effects from exposure at a threshold limit may be altered. Most of these stresses act adversely to increase the toxic response of a sub¬stance. Although most threshold limits have built-in safety factors to guard against adverse effects to moderate deviations from normal en¬vironments, the safety factors of most substances are not of such a mag¬nitude as to take care of gross deviations. For example, continuous work at temperatures above 90°F or overtime extending the work-weak more than 25 percent might be considered gross deviations. In such instances, judgment must be exercised in the proper adjustments of the threshold limit values.


Having up to date TLVs and reading the literature from NIOSH and the International Agency For Research on Cancer IARC) is very important in controlling occupational hygiene limits. However, in most plants I have visited the workers, the unions and the managements have no clear idea of which chemicals are in the plant or being used. While at the ICF we were contacted by the Canadian union representing the workers at the Eastman Kodak plant. Kodak was a paternalistic company which fought any efforts to organise their workers into unions. The only local union was the local in Toronto. Kodak was determined to drive the union out. I spoke with the Canadian unionists and I enquired what type of work was performed in Toronto and asked what chemicals were being used in the plant. They checked and said they didn’t know. Kodak labelled all of its chemicals and substances with “EK”numbers; that is Eastman Kodak code numbers. The unions didn’t know what the EK numbers stood for. I contacted Kodak and told them I was a customer for industrial chemicals in Nigeria and asked if they would send me a catalogue of their products. Kodak sent me a catalogue. All its products were listed and included the actual name, composition and strength of the chemicals, its packaging and it EK number. I then contacted the Canadian unionists and asked for list of all the EK numbers they were using in the plant. They sent them to me and I converted the EK numbers to actual chemical names. I found that, among the other chemicals, there were six carcinogens being used. I prepared a fact sheet of TLVs and health descriptions of the chemicals in the plants as well as the carcinogens. I recommended that the union call in the Canadian occupational hygiene inspectors as a matter of urgency to inspect the plant to measure the levels of chemical exposure to the more dangerous chemical substances and, each week, do a piece for the local newspaper of the carcinogens being used by Kodak in Toronto. They should write up a different carcinogen each week. They did so and the ICF sent messages to all its members worldwide of the chemicals (and their EK numbers)  in use in Kodak and suggesting that they too call in their own national hygienists to inspect their plants in their own countries. By the end of the third week Kodak moved to settle the strike and allowed the Canadian union to retain its right of representation.

What the Kodak case illustrates is that the workers in many of the industrial plants do not know what substances are being used in their plants. They are not chemists or trained in decoding the rules governing substances like ethylidene norbornene (ENB) which are colourless liquids which are rapidly oxidising and can cause fires and explosions if their concentration rises above 5 parts per million. The monitoring of these substances will require expert help; help they will not get from their understaffed and largely invisible licensed hygienists who might inspect their plant once every thirty-two years (the current average).

This is a worldwide phenomenon. When I first visited the Russian aluminium and nickel plants in the early 1990s I was shocked to see that there was no effective health and safety programs. On my next trip too Bratsk and Krasnoyarsk smelters and to Norilsk I brought with me copes of studies I had written for the International Metalworkers’ Federation on occupational health hazards in the aluminium and nickel industries. I gave these to the workers as they had never had any information like this before. They then had something to negotiate from. This was important; not only because of the workers’ safety and health; there was an epidemic of fluorine exposures throughout the region of the plant due to the escape of fluoride into the water supply and the incidence of fluorosis (both dental and skeletal) in the wider public.
Knowledge and enforcement of standards in crucial for ensuring the safe handling of chemical substances in the workplace and thus, preserving and sustained a healthy environment beyond the plant walls.


An important aspect of creating rules and regulations for the safe work with industrial products and processes is that the standards which have been set and the TLVs established are for an average worker. In this they mean an average male worker of around 70 kilos in weight. Irrespective of equal opportunities and equal rights, men are different from women. Most importantly, women are child-bearing. They have very different demands for occupational exposures than men. Many of the substances for which there are established TLVs are capable of passing through the placental barrier and affecting the unborn child. Many solvents used in the industrial workplace are much more hazardous to women than men. Working women have many more miscarriages and spontaneous abortions than their more sedentary sisters. Many of the substances they are in contact with are not only carcinogenic, they are mutagenic and teratogenic (the Thalidomide effect).

This applies to many different workplaces. One study showed that women working in operating theatres during the year preceding pregnancy face a 1.3 to 2 times higher risk of miscarriage and a twofold increase in birth defects from contact with anaesthetic gases. Women employed in factories who process and pack those gases (just as women who pack birth control pills, cosmetics, dyes and solvents of all kinds) are at risk. Women who handle chemical products labelled “Not to be taken by pregnant women.”) run the same risks. I was contacted by the head of IG Chemie of Germany who  told me that the German employers of a range of contraceptive products decided that the rate of miscarriage, spontaneous abortions among women in their plants was too uncontrolled and so they fired or transferred the women and employed only men. They said that feminising the men (who lost facial hair and started to grow breasts as a result of their jobs) was less damaging than the toll on women.


This is a wonderful opportunity for the local community activists to use their environmental urges to assist the workers and their unions in protecting the environment by controlling the problems before they escape the factory walls. The young students and university students with a knowledge of chemistry can turn their howls of fury against their local polluters in addition to the international governments and agencies who move slowly. They should get their Drager meters to monitor the gasses at or near the plant. They should take water samples and monitor the outflows. This is a practical use of all their energy, knowledge and commitment to a better world.
Most importantly they can work together with the local workers and their unions to press their local political authorities to enforce standards in the workplaces. Its is not something that most local authorities engage in. It defies the scope of irony to think that the benighted legislators of Alabama, Mississippi and Missouri turn their righteous fury on women who seek legal abortions when these same legislators turn their backs on the safety and hygiene of women working in their state and allow large numbers of spontaneous abortions, miscarriages and birth defects because they will not enforce proper standards of hygiene in their workplaces.

Perhaps a Green New Deal will encompass the rights and aspirations of working people for a safe and healthy workplace and the expertise and commitment of the Green community will share their skills in the front lines of the environmental movement.


[1] "Methyl isocyanate". Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health Concentrations (IDLH). National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

[1] Eckerman, Ingrid . "The Bhopal Disaster 1984 – working conditions and the role of the trade unions"  Asian Pacific Newsletter on Occupational Health and Safety. 13 (2), 2006.

[1] "Industrial Disaster Still Haunts India". MSN. 2 December 2009.

[1] Janice Robinson “The Lack of Transparency in Asbestos Litigation” NIOSH 2013

[1] Gary Busch, Chemical Agents in the Workplace: Threshold Limit Values in the United States, Germany and Sweden, ICF 1975

Source:Ocnus.net 2019

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