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New York Hospital Cited For Exposure of Formaldehyde Which Can Cause Brain Cancer

FLUSHING, N.Y. -- A Flushing hospital's alleged failure to protect workers from exposure to formaldehyde has resulted in $112,500 in fines from the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). New York Hospital of Queens was cited for two alleged willful and three alleged serious violations of health and safety standards following an inspection by OSHA's Queens district office, which began Dec. 15 in response to an employee complaint. The complaint concerned possible overexposure to formaldehyde for pathology assistants and oral pathology residents working with specimens stored in containers filled with formalin, a preservative that contains formaldehyde.

The hospital did not promptly monitor employees' exposure to formaldehyde after they reported signs, symptoms or respiratory conditions consistent with exposure and did not ensure that all employees who worked with formaldehyde were provided proper training. "Exposure monitoring and employee training are key tools for identifying and addressing formaldehyde hazards before they affect workers," said Richard Mendelson, OSHA's area director for the boroughs of Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan, N.Y. "The hospital knew these safeguards were required and did not implement them even after employees displayed exposure symptoms."  The willful citations, carrying $99,000 in proposed fines, were for failure to promptly monitor employees with exposure to, and provide training for employees having exposure to, formaldehyde. OSHA defines a willful violation as one committed with an intentional disregard of, or plain indifference to, the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and regulations.

Serious citations were for failing to repeat initial exposure monitoring when there were changes in personnel and control measures, failing to provide medical surveillance for overexposed employees and failing to inform employees of the results of exposure monitoring. Proposed fines totaled $13,500. A serious citation is issued when death or serious physical harm are likely to result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known. Formaldehyde is a colorless, strong-smelling gas often used as a preservative in medical laboratories. A suspected human carcinogen, it has been linked to nasal and lung cancer, with possible links to brain cancer and leukemia. Acute exposure is highly irritating to the eyes, nose and throat. Long-term exposure to low levels may cause respiratory difficulty and skin irritation.

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