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EPA Eliminates Vital Protection to Keep Air Clean of Toxics, Threatening Our Health

1973 EPA photo of a smokestack of the DuPont chemical plant on the Houston Ship Channel.

For decades, the Clean Air Act has protected us from the dangerous health effects of hazardous air pollutants (HAPs). Many of these are toxic, since breathing or otherwise ingesting them can cause cancer, as well as respiratory and degenerative neurological diseases that can lead to death. Some, like chlorine and clorhydric acid, can inflame the lungs and airways. Workplace exposure to styrene, a solvent frequently used to manufacture plastics and synthetic rubber, is linked to degenerative diseases like multiple sclerosis and others similar to Parkinson’s Disease. Thanks to strong federal rules that protect us from 187 toxic air pollutants, the EPA estimates that we have avoided emitting 1.5 million tons of these pollutants every year since 1990.

But the EPA, recently—and quietly—eliminated these protections. To the already long list of EPA actions that have undermined public protections and the extensive conflicts of interest of many of the agency’s political appointees, we can now add a new assault on our health and environment: the withdrawal of a long-standing policy known as “once in, always in” (OIAI). The change was made with no public comment and a muted announcement of a “reinterpretation” of the law. Eliminating OIAI will allow major sources of hazardous air pollutants like mining smelters and petrochemical manufacturing to discontinue the use of the maximum achievable control technologies (known as “MACT”) to control toxic air emissions.

In a previous post before UCS completed our analysis of potential impacts, I warned that the rule change would increase cancer-causing toxic air pollutant emissions. My colleague Dr. Gretchen Goldman also explained how environmental justice (EJ) communities—typically low-income communities of color already overburdened with environmental hazards in their neighborhoods—would be the most affected by this rule change. Sure enough, in our study we did in fact find that many of the communities where there are already high levels of toxic contamination will become even more exposed.

Let’s take the communities of Galena Park and Manchester along the shipping channel in Houston, TX as an example. Together with our partners—residents of these communities and activists of the EJ organization TEJAS, we showed some time ago that their health and livelihoods are already under assault due to the clustering of multiple industrial facilities that emit large quantities of toxic air pollutants. Legislative District 29 (TX-29), where these communities are located, currently has 15 facilities that have kept emissions under 25 tons per year through the use of MACT; eleven of these facilities could emit an additional 205 tons per year of toxic air pollutants as a result of the EPA’s new policy, which represents an increase of nearly 70 percent!

Some major sources of hazardous air pollutants such as the Deer Park chemical manufacturing in Houston, TX (a subsidiary of OxyChem), could increase its emissions of hazardous air pollutants from 0.64 to nearly 25 tons per year if it stops using MACT to control emissions.

The EPA’s new guidance will affect states very differently because some states have their own stringent toxic emissions limits, while others follow federal guidelines. The 21 states that only follow federal guidelines will likely be most affected by the new guidance as shown in our web feature. But all states rely on the federal designation to some degree so this problem will occur across the country.

How can you find out how impacted your area may be? You can check out a map we created showing how many facilities in your congressional district could increase toxic emissions. For example, if you click on Montana’s At-Large congressional district, a pop-up window will reveal that 9 out of 17 MACT-subject facilities in the district could emit 212 tons per year of hazardous pollutants, and that the state does not have any additional protections in place to limit toxics. If you scroll the pop-up a bit further down, you will find the name and office phone number of that district’s congressional representative. We encourage you to contact your congressional representative and ask them how they will demand that the EPA and your state’s environmental agency will protect public health from this dangerous new change.

Take action

There are many ways you can speak up about the concerns you have about the potential for the facilities in your community to release hazardous air pollutants due to this reduction in public protections.

  • If you live in a state where toxic air pollution might increase, push your state legislators to enact stronger state-level laws to protect your community from toxic air pollutants. Below are some ways to engage – consult these tips on communicating with policymakers.
  • Inquire with your state air agency how your area might be affected by the changes to the “once in, always in” mandate. Find your state agency on the EPA site.
  • Utilize the media to bring attention to the issue. Write a letter to the editor, Op-Ed, or meet with local journalists or editorial boards about your concerns. See these tips on best practices.
  • Directly contact the company that operates the facility near you, and ask them to commit to maintaining their classification and use of MACT technology and requirements. Follow up if you don’t hear back in a week and utilize their response (or lack thereof) to hold them accountable for their actions, and/or to show the media, your policymakers, and the public what they are saying.
  • Tell EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to do his job of carrying out the EPA’s mission of protecting public health and the environment by rescinding the new guidance.
    • Tweet at EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, the EPA, and tag your members of congress.

Want to receive the latest information on federal attacks to our health, safety, and environmental protections, and customized opportunities for you to push back and advocate for science? If you’re a scientist or technical expert, you can do so by joining the Science Network’s watchdogging initiative. If you’re an advocate within your local community, join the cadre of Science Champions.

Science — The Hidden Gem at the Heart of the EPA and Why You Should Support It

Photo: skynesher/iStockphoto

The role of science in EPA decision-making might, in the vocabulary of former President George W. Bush, be the most “misunderestimated” part of the EPA’s job. Although their work is the foundation of virtually every EPA decision—from regulatory protections to reviews of new chemicals to Superfund cleanups—agency scientists have labored for years under the radar. Career and political professionals appreciate and routinely rely on their work, but their invaluable contributions remain largely invisible.

Not any longer. Scott Pruitt’s obvious distaste for science has pushed EPA science into the headlines. We’ve gone from a norm in which a top-ranking EPA science policy figure was on virtual speed dial to the administrator to a Pruitt-era multi-faceted attack on the scientists themselves. Initially Pruitt ignored them, then tried to defund them, and is now attempting to hobble their work.

An attempt to slash the EPA’s Science and Technology Account

Let’s start with the 2019 Trump/Pruitt proposed budget, which is virtually identical to their 2018 proposal that was fortunately soundly rejected by the Congress. The 2019 budget would cut the EPA’s Science and Technology budget by 49%. The specifics—all programs funded by the S&T Account that President Trump proposes cutting—illustrate the insult to the health and safety of the American public.

  • A 67% cut to the “Air and Energy” account that looks at how air pollution damages our health and well-being. This is essential information as the EPA decides which pollutants must be reduced and at what levels, and prepares the country to respond to climate change. The Trump budget would ax these programs despite analysis showing that since 1990 the American public has reaped clean air benefits to the tune of $2 trillion compared to estimated costs of $65 billion. Need one good example? This program helps advance the development and use of lower-cost, portable, and user-friendly monitoring devices individuals can use in their own communities to find out what they and their families are breathing. Why cripple one of the EPA’s biggest public health success stories when we actually need to be investing more in our clean air?
  • A 37% cut in “Safe and Sustainable Water Resources” to protect the lakes, streams, and rivers across our country from which we get drinking water and where we fish, swim, and boat. This research is an essential part of making sure water bodies are healthy, that valuable water isn’t overwhelmed by pollution from factories and other industrial processes. You only have to look at the role of EPA scientists in monitoring and evaluating algae blooms in Toledo, Ohio that endangered drinking water for millions of people, or Flint, Michigan’s problems with lead in drinking water to understand why this account should be funded at even greater levels than it is today.
  • A 61% cut in “Research on Sustainable Communities.” Cities and states across the country rely on the research and planning tools developed in this program as they go about their jobs assuring good environmental and health outcomes. This research also develops and demonstrates new and improved techniques for environmental protection. For example, program researchers found a way to estimate how drinking water, food, dust, soil and air contribute to blood lead levels in infants and young children.
  • A 34% cut in “Research on Chemical Safety and Sustainability” to evaluate how thousands of chemicals, existing and under development, might affect people’s health and the environment. This research allows the EPA to develop the scientific knowledge, tools and models to conduct integrated, timely, and efficient chemical evaluations. Getting a bit wonky here—because I was personally involved in this effort and watched it grow from a concept to being the international leader in innovating approaches to chemical hazard: this account supports the EPA’s work in computational toxicology, which in turn helps the EPA take on the herculean task assigned it by the 2016 Lautenberg amendments to the bipartisan Toxic Substances Control Act to analyze possibly thousands of chemicals for potential risk. The tool integrates knowledge from biology, biotechnology, chemistry, and computer science to identify important biological processes that may be disrupted by the chemicals and thereby sets priorities for their review based on potential human health risks. Risking that program should be a non-starter.
  • Completely eliminating Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Grants that support outside researchers for cutting edge work in all of the areas above.
Political takeover of science

Scott Pruitt’s most recent attack on science at the EPA is a back-door attempt to institutionalize a very damaging idea that has failed to be enacted by Congress over multiple years. Pruitt is trying to railroad through a regulation that would throw out scientific studies used in setting EPA rules and other requirements unless the raw data on which the studies are based are made publicly available.

Why is this a terrible idea and threatening to public health? For five decades, EPA’s regulatory protections have relied on many thousands of health-related studies of pollutants, including epidemiological, human, and animal studies. Many examine the relationship between concentrations of various pollutants and their impacts on people’s health.

The raw data on which these studies are based often includes names, dates of birth and death, health, lifestyle information, and subjects’ locations—data that is personally damaging if released and has almost nothing to do with public understanding or the validity of the study’s results. Ethical and legal considerations rightly keep scientists from releasing such personal data. Restricting the use of the data cuts two ways, as often it is submitted by industry in support of its activities as well by groups that are arguing for more stringent regulatory controls. There are certainly ways to confirm independently the validity of the studies as has been done with two keystone air quality studies by the Health Effects Institute (HEI), an organization jointly funded by EPA and the industry.

The Pruitt proposal creates other problems as well: so much time has passed since the leading studies of the impacts of air pollution were compiled in the early 1990s that it would be logistically difficult to retrieve and redact all of the underlying data; this would effectively prevent the use of the most authoritative data available on the impacts of air pollution.

Put in plainer language, Pruitt’s latest attack on science is not good for anyone—industry or the general public.

Attacks on science hit locally

There are many practical, local examples of why cutting science funding is so pernicious and bad for everyone. The EPA, for example, plays a role in the cleanup of Anchorage, Alaska’s Elmendorf Air Force Base and for that had the assistance of another federal body, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), which examined blood samples taken from residents at the base. ATSDR concluded on the basis of science that lead exposure there did not pose a health hazard. There is no way to make such determinations without science and data, in this case medical data such as blood sample test results, which are critical in drawing valid conclusions as to whether regulated facilities, such as Superfund cleanup sites, cause health effects in nearby communities.

Another notable example is the remote native village of Kivalina in Northwestern Alaska, which is downstream from Red Dog Mine. Unsurprisingly, Kivalina residents are worried about how mining activities might threaten their health by contaminating subsistence foods from their hunting and gathering activities. Personal medical data taken from Kivalina residents was analyzed to determine that Kivalina residents and their food are unlikely to be at risk. The same form of analysis of environmental impacts has been used at other sites such as the long-running cleanup efforts of asbestos contamination in Libby, Montana.

The EPA’s seminal achievements over almost 50 years include removing lead from gasoline; reducing acid rain to improve water quality; reducing second-hand smoke exposure; improving vehicle efficiency and emission controls; and encouraging a shift to rethinking of wastes as materials.

Evaluating and acting on science—the best available science—and having the funding to ensure science expertise is on tap at the EPA is the linchpin to any one of these. Congress and the American public should tell Pruitt to back off from his attacks on EPA science and make sure the agency has the funding it needs to do its job.

Robert Kavlock is the former Acting Assistant Administrator for the EPA Office of Research and Development and an EPA Science Advisor (retired). He is currently a member of the Environmental Protection Network, a nonprofit organization of EPA alumni working to protect the agency’s progress toward clean air, water, land and climate protections.

What Happened During the Hasty White House Review of EPA’s Science Restriction Rule?

We already know that the production of Administrator Scott Pruitt’s rule to restrict science at the EPA was purely political, but it’s possible that there’s a whole new layer of politics that went on at the White House level as well.

Source: reginfo.gov

On Thursday April 19, the White House Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) received a draft proposed rule from the EPA titled “Strengthening Transparency and Validity in Regulatory Science.” It was signed promptly by Administrator Pruitt on Tuesday. At first, the OMB’s website showed its review completion on Wednesday (meaning that Pruitt had signed the document before it was cleared by the White House), but then later in the week OMB backdated its review completion date to Monday. That means that not only is there likely some funny business going in between the EPA and OIRA, but OIRA had four days (and little more than one to two full work days) to review a proposed rule that would dramatically impact the way that EPA uses science in future rulemakings.

In just a couple days of OIRA review, a UCS analysis of the rule before and after review shows that it grew by four pages and was narrowed significantly to cover just economically significant rules and those with dose response data and models that underlie “pivotal regulatory science.” While the docket does not currently include details on who made those changes, if OIRA staff was responsible for changing the scientific basis of this rule, there is certainly reason to be concerned. White House review under Executive Order 12866 is supposed to be limited to cost benefit analysis and overlap with other agencies and should in no way change the scientific content of the agency’s work. Interference from the White House in this area doubles down on the already implicit affront to scientific integrity at EPA that this rule represents.

We compared the start and conclusion documents from OIRA’s EO 128666 review of EPA’s science restriction policy and noticed that post-review changes (those in blue) included narrowing its scope to cover the dose response data and models underlying “pivotal regulatory science.” Source: regulations.gov

 

The policy post-OIRA review also included definitions for “dose response data and models” and “pivotal regulatory science.” Source: regulations.gov

Not only are there questions about OIRA’s role in changing the content of the rule, but the rule’s mad dash through White House review is not normal even by Administrator Pruitt’s standards. OIRA review of proposed rulemakings, required under President Bill Clinton’s Executive Order 12866, is supposed to take under 90 days with the possibility to extend to 120 days if it is absolutely needed. If we operate under the assumption that a 90-day review is an adequate amount of time for OIRA to review a rule, make sure the costs and benefits have been thoroughly analyzed, allow time for interagency review and meetings with stakeholders, and then suggest changes to the agency, exactly how inadequate is a 1 to 2 day review? According to OIRA’s regulatory review data, since the time that Pruitt has been at EPA, the agency has reviewed 41 rules that were not economically significant (including the policy in question). The average review time for those rules? 52 days. In fact, only 6 other rules have gone through review in less than a week at the EPA in this period, several of which were addendums to rules (like definitions, delays, or stays).

So what’s the problem with such a quick turnaround from the White House?

UCS has in the past taken issue with extensive delays in OIRA review, especially under the Obama administration, that have held up important science-based public health protections in regulatory limbo. While an overly long OIRA review period bogs down the regulatory process, a dramatically swift review process may allow rules to be proposed without the proper analysis to back it up. This is precisely what we’re now seeing with the EPA’s proposal to restrict science. In it, the EPA claims it’s not an economically significant rule, citing no analysis on the potential costs and benefits of the rule. It calls for a system to make scientific data publicly available but cites no existent database that would be able to handle all of EPA’s “pivotal regulatory science.” It does not include protections for privacy for confidential business information and it gives the EPA administrator the ability to waive rules from the requirements on a case by case basis. And finally, it reveals just how feeble the rule is by posing 25 substantive questions (almost four pages-worth) to commenters for them to answer in 30 days— the shortest comment period window possible for a rule.

UCS has submitted a comment to the EPA asking for an extension to this woefully insufficient comment period for such a sweeping rule and we are joined by many other organizations who are doing the same. House Science Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson and Energy & Commerce Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Tonko were joined by 63 democratic colleagues on a letter calling for a 90-day comment period because “regardless of viewpoint, there is agreement that the proposed rule would be a significant change in how the agency considers science in policymaking.” It is imperative that Administrator Pruitt heeds this call to ensure all stakeholders have a chance to meaningfully participate in this process, which has been bungled in a variety of ways since this rule began as just a twinkle in Lamar Smith’s eye.

Photo: Matthew Platt/CC BY-SA (Flickr)

The Health and Safety of America’s Workers Is at Risk

Saturday, April 28, may have seemed like just another Saturday. Some of us likely slept a little later and then got on to those household chores and tasks we couldn’t get to during the week. Some of us enjoyed some leisure time with family and friends. Many of us got up and went to work—maybe even to a second or third job.

But April 28 is not just another day. Here in the US and around the world, it’s Workers’ Memorial Day—the day each year that recognizes, commemorates and honors workers who have suffered and died of work-related injuries and illnesses. It is also a day to renew the fight for safe workplaces. Because too many workers lose their lives, their health, their livelihoods or their ability to fully engage in the routine activities of daily living because of hazards, exposures and unsafe conditions at work.

Unless you know someone who was killed or seriously injured on the job, you probably don’t give workplace safety much thought. Perhaps you think work-related deaths, injuries and illnesses are infrequent, or only affect workers in demonstrably risky jobs—like mining or construction. The actual statistics, however, tell a different story. (For a more detailed and visual look, see this Bureau of Labor Statistics [BLS] charts package.)

Fatalities: In 2016 the number of recorded fatal work injuries was 5,190. On average, that’s 14 people dying every day. In the United States. It’s also 7 percent more than the number of fatal injuries reported in 2015 and the highest since 2008. Most of these deaths were the result of events involving transportation, workplace violence, falls, equipment, toxic exposures, and explosions. And the 2016 data reveal increases in all but one of these event categories. That’s not going in the right direction.

Non-fatal cases: According to the BLS, private industry employers reported 2.9 million non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses in 2016, nearly one third of which were serious enough to result in days away from work—the median being 8 days. For public sector workers, state and local governments reported another 752,600 non-fatal injuries and illnesses for 2016.

Costs: And then there’s the enormous economic toll that these events exact on workers, their families and their employers. According to 2017 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index, the most serious workplace injuries cost US companies nearly $60 billion per year.

But that’s just a drop in the bucket. The National Safety Council estimates the larger economic costs of fatal and non-fatal work injuries in 2015 at $142.5 billion. Lost time estimates are similarly staggering: 99 million production days lost in 2015 due to work injuries (65 million of which occurred in 2015), with 50 million estimated days lost in future years due to on-the-job deaths and permanently disabling injuries that occurred in 2015.

And even these costs don’t come close to revealing the true burden, as they do not include the costs of care and losses due to occupational illness and disease. A noteworthy and widely cited 2011 study estimated the number of fatal and non-fatal occupational illnesses in 2007 at more than 53,000 and nearly 427,000, respectively, with cost estimates of $46 billion and $12 billion, respectively.

Who foots the bill and bears these enormous costs? Primarily injured workers, their families, and tax-payer supported safety net programs. Workers’ compensation programs cover only a fraction. See more here and here.

The other part of the story

As sobering as these data and statistics are, they tell only part of the story; the true burden of occupational injury and illness is far higher. Numerous studies find significant under-reporting of workplace injuries and illnesses (see hereherehereherehere). Reporting of occupational disease is particularly fraught, as many if not most physicians are not trained to recognize or even inquire about the hazards and exposures their patients may have encountered on their jobs.

Nor do the statistics reveal the horror, loss, pain, and suffering these injuries and diseases entail. In the words of Dr. Irving Selikoff, a tireless physician advocate for worker health and safety, “Statistics are people with the tears wiped away.”

Just imagine having to deal with the knowledge that a loved one was suffocated in a trench collapse; asphyxiated by chemical fumes; shot during a workplace robbery; seriously injured while working with a violent patient or client; killed or injured from a fall or a scaffolding collapse; or living with an amputation caused by an unguarded machine.

Or the heartache of watching a loved one who literally can’t catch a breath because of work-related respiratory disease. Or is incapacitated by a serious musculoskeletal injury. Or has contracted hepatitis B or HIV because of exposure to a blood-borne pathogen at work.

And here’s the kicker: virtually all work-related injuries and illnesses are preventable. There’s no shortage of proven technologies, strategies and approaches to preventing them. From redesign, substitution and engineering solutions that eliminate or otherwise control hazards and exposures to safety management systems, worker training programs, protective equipment, and medical screening and surveillance programs, there are multiple paths to prevention. And, as a former assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, David Michaels, recently wrote in Harvard Business Review, safety management and operational excellence are intimately linked.

Historic progress now at risk

The Good News: It’s important to note and remember that workplace health and safety in the US is a lot better than it used to be before Congress enacted the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, and even since 2000. This progress has resulted large measure from the struggles of labor unions and working people, along with the efforts of federal and state agencies. Workplace fatalities and injuries have declined significantly, and exposures to toxic chemicals have been reduced.

It is also a testament to the effectiveness of health and safety regulations and science-based research. We can thank the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) for many of these protections and safeguards. We must also acknowledge and thank the persistence, energy, and efforts of the workers, unions, researchers, and advocates that have pushed these agencies along the way.

The Red Flags: There are numerous indications that this progress will be slowed or even reversed by a Trump administration intent on rolling back public protections and prioritizing industry interests over the public interest. For example:

  • Right off the bat, the president issued his two-for-one executive order requiring agencies to rescind two regulations for each new one they propose. So, to enact new worker health and safety protections, two others would have to go.
  • OSHA has delayed implementation or enforcement of several worker protection rules that address serious health risks and were years in the making—i.e., silica, the cause of an irreversible and debilitating lung disease, and beryllium, a carcinogen and also the source of a devastating lung disease.
  • OSHA has left five advisory and committees to languish—the Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health; the Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee; the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health; the Federal Advisory Council; and the Maritime Advisory Committee—thus depriving the agency of advice from independent experts and key stakeholders.  Earlier this week, a number of groups, including the Union of Concerned Scientists, sent a letter to Secretary of Labor Acosta asking him to stop sidelining the advice of independent experts.
  • President Trump signed a resolution that permanently removed the ability of OSHA to cite employers with a pattern of record keeping violations related to workplace injuries and illnesses. Yes, permanentlybecause it was passed under the Congressional Review ActAnd Secretary Acosta recently seemed hesitant to commit not to rescind OSHA’s rule to improve electronic recordkeeping of work-related injuries and illnesses.
  • Having failed in efforts to cut some worker health and safety protections and research in his FY18 budget proposal, the president is going at it again with his FY19 proposal. He is calling for the elimination of the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board and OSHA’s worker safety and health training program, Susan Harwood Training Grants. There is, however, a tiny bit of good news for workers in President Trump’s proposed budget for OSHA; it includes a small (2.4 percent) increase for enforcement, as well as a 4.2 percent increase for compliance assistance. Of note, employers much prefer compliance assistance over enforcement activities.
  • The president’s budget also proposes to cut research by 40 percent at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)—the only federal agency solely devoted to research on worker health and safety—and eliminate the agency’s educational research centers, agriculture, forestry and fishing research centers and external research programs.
  • He has also proposed taking NIOSH out of CDC, perhaps combining it later with various parts of the National Institutes of Health. Never mind that NIOSH was established by statute as an entity by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.
  • The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has also jumped on the regulatory reform bandwagon. The agency has indicated its intent to review and evaluate its regulations protecting coal miners from black lung disease. This at a time when NIOSH has identified the largest cluster of black lung disease ever reported.
  • EPA actions are also putting workers at risk. Late last year, the EPA announced that it will revise crucial protections for more than two million farmworkers and pesticide applicators, including reconsidering the minimum age requirements for applying these toxic chemicals. Earlier in the year, the agency overruled its own scientists when it decided not to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos, thus perpetuating its serious risk to farmworkers, not to mention their children and users of rural drinking water. And the agency has delayed implementation of its Risk Management Plan rule to prevent chemical accidents for nearly two years.
  • The Department of Interior is following up on an order from President Trump to re-evaluate regulations put into place by the Obama administration in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon accident in 2010, which killed 11 offshore workers and created the largest marine oil spill in United States’ drilling history.
  • And then there’s a new proposal at the US Department of Agriculture that seeks to privatize the pork inspection system and remove any maximum limits on line speeds in pig slaughter plants. Meat packing workers in pork slaughter houses already have higher injury and illness rates than the national average. Increasing line speeds only increases their risk.
Remember and renew

The Trump administration makes no bones about its (de)regulatory agenda. The president boasts about cutting public safeguards and protections, and his agency heads are falling right in line. Our working men and women are the economic backbone of our nation. They produce the goods and services we all enjoy, depend on, and often take for granted. They are our loved ones, our friends, and our colleagues. They deserve to come home from work safe and healthy.

Worker Memorial Day is a time to pause and remember workers who have given and lost so much in the course of doing their jobs. It is also a time to renew our vigilance and be ready to use our voices, votes and collective power to demand and defend rules, standards, policies and science-based safeguards that protect our loved ones at work. Let’s hold our elected leaders and their appointees accountable for the actions they take—or don’t take—to protect this most precious national resource.

This post originally appeared in Scientific American.

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