Judge Orders OSHA to Release Toxic Exposure Database

Judge Mary L. Cooper of the Federal District Court in Trenton, N.J., has ruled that OSHA should release information related to beryllium sampling and exposure. The June 29 decision came in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by Dr. Adam M. Finkel, a former chief regulator and regional administrator at OSHA from 1995 to 2003 and now a research scientist and professor (Finkel v. U.S. Department of Labor, et al., Civil Action No. 05-5525 (MLC)).

Finkel filed the FOIA request in June 2005, seeking release of the entire contents of the OSHA database on toxic exposures--a huge compendium of more than 2 million analyses conducted during some 75,000 OSHA workplace inspections since 1979--including information about the concentration of each substance found, the company where the sample was taken, and an encrypted code for the OSHA inspector who took the sample. He also requested coded information about the results of beryllium sensitization tests conducted on the inspectors. OSHA "constructively denied" both requests, citing the protection of confidential commercial information and trade secrets, as well as the privacy of compliance officers.

Cooper said that OSHA did not meet its burden of justifying its decision to withhold the requested information. She wrote that the "public interest in disclosing information that will increase understanding about beryllium sensitization and OSHA's response thereto is significant." Agreeing with Finkel that "information material for monitoring the government's activities is the core purpose of the FOIA," the judge concluded that "[t]his public interest sufficiently outweighs the inspection officers' limited privacy interests in their ID numbers.

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