‘Gold mine’ of workplace toxicity data released


After a long FOIA battle that ended with a federal lawsuit, Adam Finkel, former OSHA director of health standards programs for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration  (bio and contact information), has “acquired data on some three million samples, taken at about 75,000 locations from 1979 to 2009,” the Center for Public Integrity reports as part of its “Data Mine” series.

The air and “wipe” samples in question were taken to determine workplace exposure to toxic substances. Finkel plans to analyze this data “gold mine” and make it available to the public in an easily digestible format (a project for which he has already secured grant money). At some point, OSHA itself may do the same.

Asked if OSHA plans to make the sampling data public, agency spokeswoman Diana Petterson responded in an e-mail that “it is under consideration and must address certain concerns including the data integrity and the completeness of the data.” Finkel, who left OSHA after accusing the agency of failing to test its own inspectors for dangerous levels of beryllium, is skeptical. “They made it as hard as they possibly could,” he said. “This database is up to 30 years old, and they’ve shown no interest in making it accessible or doing anything useful with it internally.”

The Data Mine series, a collaboration between The Center for Public Integrity and the Sunlight Foundation, will highlight inaccessible or poorly presented information from the federal government.

From the CIA to the CDC, we’ll be looking at data that needs to be public, with regular posts on the Center’s and Sunlight’s websites. We’ll describe each data set, as well as officials’ plans for putting it online – or not.

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