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Hazmat firm cited by OSHA after workers sickened by mercury


A New York hazardous materials remediation contractor has been cited and is facing $142,200 in proposed penalties from federal workplace safety regulators for exposing its workers to mercury.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited Schenectady, New York-based Environmental Remediation Services Inc. for one willful and 13 serious violations after finding the contractor failed to properly safeguard employees performing mercury removal work at a Superfund site in Schenectady, the agency said Wednesday in a statement.

The agency began its inspection in March after employees complained about mercury exposure and lack of personal protective equipment while they were removing liquid mercury and mercury-contaminated soil and wood from the site, according to the release. OSHA's inspection found that several employees inhaled or absorbed excessive levels of mercury vapor or liquid mercury through their skin. Biological monitoring confirmed the workers had symptoms consistent with respiratory mercury exposure.

The contractor also did not comply with several requirements to protect employees engaged in hazardous waste operations, including informing employees of the nature of the work and the level and degree of their exposures and implementing a site-specific or mercury-based health and safety program, according to OSHA.

“Environmental Remediation Services Inc. did not control the mercury exposures,” Robert Garvey, OSHA's Albany, New York, area director, said in the statement. “They failed to implement measures such as ventilation, protective equipment or reorganizing work to reduce employees' exposure levels despite the employees' complaints about the exposure. Particularly disturbing is the fact that company managers knowingly refused to perform personal exposure monitoring of employees most likely to have the highest exposure levels. Had the monitoring be done, managers could have identified overexposures and mitigated or prevented them from occurring in the first place. Instead, these employees were needlessly sickened while simply doing their jobs.”

A company spokesperson could not be immediately reached for comment.

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