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WETP gets "back to basics"

By Daniel Youhas
December 2010

WETP Director Joseph Hughes
Hughes, above, welcomed the diverse group of grantees and partners to the fall meeting. He and his staff make sure the meetings address the latest developments in worker training and safety. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

NIEHS auditorium filled with grantees
Grantees filled the NIEHS auditorium to capacity for the two-day workshop. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Deborah Berkowitz, OSHA chief of staff
Representing OSHA, Berkowitz described activities involving her agency and WETP. OSHA is one of several partner agencies working with WETP to promote worker safety. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

book copy of City of Dust
DePalma's presentation was the latest in a series of talks by authors with ties to WETP on the social, economic, and safety issues facing workers exposed to hazards on the job. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

More than 100 NIEHS awardees and representatives from federal agencies, labor unions, and nonprofit organizations got "back to basics" at the NIEHS Worker Education and Training (WETP) Fall Awardee and Technical Meeting in Research Triangle Park, N.C. Oct. 25-26 to discuss new and emerging worker education and training issues related to hazardous waste cleanup, the green economy, and environmental justice.

Created in 1986 under the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA), WETP funds non-profit organizations with a demonstrated track record in developing and delivering hazardous waste operation and emergency responder (HAZWOPER) training under the standards implemented by the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

In October 2010, NIEHS announced grant awards of $36 million to 20 organizations to develop safety and health training for workers involved in hazardous waste operations and transportation, environmental restoration of contaminated facilities, and chemical emergency response (see story ( Several of the new awardees shared insights into their training for additional target groups, such as veterans with disabilities, maritime workers, and utility workers. 

WETP Director Joseph "Chip" Hughes opened the two-day meeting by highlighting the WETP program and awardee achievements over the past 5 years, including providing safety and health training for first responders to Hurricane Katrina, the Haiti earthquake, and Gulf oil spill.

"The fall 2008 workshop focused on safety and health in the green economy and that was a good start," Hughes said. "However, we need to continue promoting the safety and health of workers in the greening economy, especially as it relates to nanotechnology." Rice University chemist Kristen Kulinowski, Ph.D., and Environmental Profiles, Inc. Senior Consultant Bruce Lippy, Ph.D., ( Exit NIEHS past NIEHS meeting panelists (, are drafting a paper that will provide a framework for WETP awardees to train their constituents about the hazards of and controls for specific nanomaterials in their workplaces.

Deborah Berkowitz, OSHA chief of staff, highlighted the OSHA/WETP minimum criteria document for OSHA's Susan Harwood Training Grant Program, developing the April 2010 National Action Summit for Latino Worker Health and Safety, and OSHA's role during the Gulf oil spill.

Gwen Collman, Ph.D., NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training (DERT) interim director, announced a new health study for oil spill cleanup workers and volunteers. Collman told the audience, "We do not have good science that connects environmental [toxin] levels to personal levels. The body handles exposures in different ways." NIEHS expects 27,000 people will participate in NIEHS-funded research to assess short and long-term mental and physical health effects.

In conjunction with the study, NIEHS announced a Request for Applications to study the health, environmental and economic effects of the Gulf oil spill. The agency plans to utilize community organizations to establish the evidence base needed to inform recovery and develop strategies to promote health and well-being of populations.

Other panels discussed WETP involvement in the April 2010 Liberty RadEx homeland security simulation exercise, promoting 10 CFR Part 851 Worker Safety and Health Program throughout the Department of Energy (DOE) complex, Environmental Training and Environmental Justice, and the White House's Council on Environmental Quality recovery through home retrofitting program.

The next WETP awardee and technical workshop is scheduled for Spring 2011.

(Daniel Youhas is a contractor for the NIEHS Superfund Research Program and WETP.)

Remembering the aftermath of the World Trade Center attack

During lunch, author Anthony DePalma, a former New York Times reporter, presented a dramatic overview of his new book, City of Dust: Illness, Arrogance, and 9/11.

Beginning with a call from NIEHS to Paul Lioy, Ph.D., at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey Health Center soon after the 9/11 attacks, the book is an examination of the health crisis that followed from the poisonous dusting of New York City in the aftermath of the World Trade Center disaster. According to DePalma, near the epicenter the dust was as much as four inches thick.

DePalma recounts the stories of a number who died from complications linked to the dust, as well as of some who are still alive but continue to experience severe respiratory and other ailments.

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