The Recovery Act has provided a windfall of funding opportunities to help advance green jobs in our country. From green jobs training programs to grants for clean energy research, the Recovery Act is helping put people back to work while simultaneously pushing our nation towards a green economy. However, some of these green jobs are actually quite hazardous.
In a new story for ProPublica, David Epstein examines the beryllium risks that employees of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation may be facing. The facility received $2 billion in stimulus dollars to help clean up the area. This funding will add 4,000 new jobs in the area and at $17/hour plus benefits for some positions; this would be considered a good green job.
However, this is a nuclear facility and so radiation and other contamination risks are real. Employees received comprehensive training about radiation risks but only a few hours on the risk of beryllium dust. One of the worrisome risks is a rare but incurable condition, chronic beryllium disease (CBD).
“A new CBD prevention program at the 586-square-mile Hanford site was to be in place Jan. 1. Yet there have been lapses and delays as stimulus hiring proceeds. Months after the deadline, workers say beryllium safety steps are not uniformly implemented. Current and former workers say safety officials downplay the dangers of beryllium and that new workers don't understand the gravity of the risk.” Source: ProPublica
Epstein’s article goes into great detail about the risks of beryllium dust and the health legacy that the nuclear facility has left on its past employees. The article is broken down into several sections: Stimulus Jobs vs. Beryllium Risks, CBD and Hanford, Apology to Beryllium Workers, and Beryllium Whistleblowers at Hanford.
Although Epstein’s article focuses specifically on the dangers of beryllium dust, it isn’t the first article that touches on how some of these good green jobs being funded through stimulus dollars are actually more like hazardous “green” jobs.
Earlier this year, several employees of Lacy Enterprises filed a racial discrimination lawsuit in Alabama. These individuals were required to clean out the baghouses at coal-fired power plants. The purpose of a baghouse is to reduce the release of hazardous air pollutants at the power plant. However, these baghouses need to be cleaned on a regular basis.
In comes Lacy Enterprises, a subsidiary of GE, which provided workers to clean out the baghouses. Unfortunately these workers were faced with demeaning racial slurs and less than safe working conditions. The complaint alleges that the employees weren’t given new facemasks on a regular basis and received insufficient protective gear.
Again, these are supposed to be good green jobs – jobs that help improve the economy while providing a good wage and benefits. However, worker safety is being left out of this equation. Perhaps the good green jobs mantra needs to be switched to good, safe green jobs.
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