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Haz Matters 

KPIX highlights dangers in fire-cleanup efforts

click to enlarge debriefer-2cfc9e45d373bb8d.jpg

Local physicians and labor organizers charge that workers cleaning toxic debris sites from the North Bay fires may be—and may have been—inadequately equipped for the task at hand.

Invoking the catastrophic 2001 terror attacks in New York City, Dr. Panna Lossy, a family-medicine resident at Sutter Santa Rosa, submitted a letter to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors this week which noted that long-term exposure to toxic materials "can compromise lung function irreversibly and may lead to an increased risk of prostate and thyroid cancer as well as multiple myeloma."

Lossy expressed concern over recent reports about the ash-removal cleanup now underway, where "workers who are cleaning up the toxic debris left by the devastating wildfires may not be provided with adequate protective gear . . . It is important to protect the hardworking crews from long-term consequences they many not be aware of." A fire-related fact sheet from FEMA stresses that "crews are specifically certified to handle household hazardous waste."

The worker-safety issue was highlighted after KPIX reported Dec. 4 on numerous environmental and safety issues disclosed to the Army Corps of Engineers during the first phase of cleanup. That report focused on work being done by Ashbritt, a Florida-based company, and featured a comment from Santa Rosa Vice Mayor Jack Tibbetts (pictured), who attested that he had observed contracted cleanup workers not wearing the proper safety gear.

California's Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal-OSHA) was looking into the charges, reported KPIX.

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