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Environmental Factor, February 2013

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NIEHS answers the call in the aftermath of Sandy

By Eddy Ball

WETP Director Chip Hughes

“It’s still staggering to see what’s happened,” Hughes said of his last visit to the area. “I think mold is going to be a huge problem.” (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Robert Ortiz prepares a demonstration

OSHA trainer Robert Ortiz, center, prepared a demonstration during a training session for members of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network Dec. 16, 2012, in Union Beach, N.J., one of the workshops conducted under existing contracts with members of the New York-New Jersey Consortium. WETP Public Health Educator Ted Outwater was also onsite for the Sunday afternoon workshop. (Photo courtesy of Ted Outwater)

A special Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) allocation Dec. 29, 2012, is helping NIEHS expand safety training in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The FEMA mission assignment that kicked off Jan. 8 with a session hosted by the New York City Housing Authority will support additional training for several thousand more people.

“It’s been both about creating public awareness of health and safety issues, as well as specific, more advanced training for people who are responders,” said WETP Director Chip Hughes. “Up to this point, it’s been mostly geared for volunteers and day laborers, tailored to what jobs people have been doing and what prior training, if any, they have about environmental health issues.”

“We have a team that’s evaluating OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] personal sampling data from people involved in the response,” Hughes explained. “We’re using it for our own purposes to evaluate what are the important exposures patterns.”

Hughes said the NIEHS involvement would probably last for at least a year, as it did in previous natural disasters, such as Katrina. He said he hopes for additional funding to support training on effective remediation of mold and other storm-related damage that affect the health of workers and residents. Hughes and his staff have rotated their onsite visits to New York and New Jersey over the past three months.

Taking advantage of a worker training infrastructure

The NIEHS Worker Education and Training Program (WETP) grantees have supplied worker safety awareness training, through existing programs in their New York and New Jersey communities, since the disaster hit Oct. 29, 2012. Members of the New York-New Jersey Consortium worked with representatives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), OSHA, and state agencies to support responders, who range from well-trained public safety employees to municipal workers, volunteers, and subcontractors with little or no formal training.

In both New York and New Jersey, WETP supports a vigorous network of safety and health training organizations. This includes union-based programs, university and community college programs, and community nonprofits. It also includes the nonprofit training branch of the N.J. Highway Patrol. In total, over the past five years, these organizations have provided more than 9,000 courses for some 155,000 workers on a wide variety of safety and health topics. The primary focus has been hazardous waste operations and emergency response (hazwoper), with nearly 14,000 workers in New York and New Jersey alone having received training. The awardees have the capacity to provide training on disaster response, incident command systems, lead, asbestos, mold remediation, confined space, and numerous other topics, including what is known as lockout/tagout to prevent injury by disabling hazardous energy sources, such as electrical, pneumatic, and chemical equipment exposed or damaged during a disaster.

The awardees include the New York-New Jersey Consortium, which includes the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey; Hunter School of Health Sciences; New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health; New Jersey State Police; University at Buffalo; New York City District Council of Carpenters Labor Technical College; and the Universidad Metropolitana.

Other awardees include the Partnership for Environmental Technology Education Community College Consortium for Health and Safety Training, whose members include Niagara and Ulster County Community Colleges in New York, and the following union-based training organizations: International Union of Operating Engineers; Laborers' International Union of North America; International Brotherhood of Teamsters; CPWR–The Center for Construction Research and Training; Service Employees International Union; Civil Service Employees Association, Local 1000 in Albany, N.Y.; American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; and International Association of Fire Fighters.

NIEHS resources for Hurricane Sandy cleanup

NIEHS has the capacity to provide a basic four-hour safety and health awareness training program for cleanup and recovery workers. A booklet, presentations, and trainers are available to deliver the program in English or Spanish.

In New York state, labor law requires the provision of the OSHA 10-hour construction course to laborers, workers, and mechanics for any publicly funded construction project of at least $250,000.

Upon request, representatives of NIEHS will meet with organizations to help identify needs and plan training. Following is a list of training that may be provided through NIEHS and its Clearinghouse:

  • Hurricane Sandy site-specific hazard awareness
  • Mold hazard awareness and mitigation techniques
  • Respirator protection training
  • Work zone safety
  • Asbestos and lead awareness
  • Defensive driving
  • HAZWOPER operations and refresher
  • OSHA 10 construction
  • First aid, including cardiopulmonary resuscitation or automated external defibrillation
  • Violence in the workplace

Many of the Hurricane Sandy training materials and additional information about the Clearinghouse are available at

The hurricane booklet order form can be found at

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