GOP Rep. Complains About Regulators Using "Buzz Words" Like "Cancer"

October 11, 2011 12:11 pm ET — Matt Finkelstein


Last week, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing titled "Workplace Safety: Ensuring A Responsible Regulatory Environment." Don't be fooled by the innocuous name, though: As committee chair Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) explained, Republicans called the hearing in order to discuss the Obama administration's "punitive approach to workplace safety" and the economic "uncertainty surrounding much of the administration's regulatory actions."

The GOP members were particularly concerned about the Occupational Health and Safety Administration's (OSHA) efforts to limit workers' exposure to crystalline silica, which can cause lung cancer and silicosis. At one point, Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-IN) — who is also a thoracic surgeon — complained about the agency citing the risk of cancer to justify regulation. Touting his own medical expertise, Bucshon noted that cigarette smoke is the leading cause of lung cancer and challenged OSHA chief David Michaels to produce scientific evidence linking silica to the disease.

He added, "I don't like it when people use buzz words that try to get people's attention, and cancer is one of those."

BUCSHON: I don't like it when people use buzz words that try to get people's attention and cancer is one of those. So I'd like to see — do you have scientific data to show that the increase of lung cancer is, first of all caused by silica dust exposure, second of all, that it's increasing, because I think that that's not correct.

"Well, Dr. Bucshon, I'm glad you asked me that question. You know, I'm an epidemiologist," Michaels responded, explaining that "there are a number of studies that have been done all over the world that conclude that exposure to silica dust increases the risk of lung cancer irrespective of exposure to tobacco." And while it doesn't take a medical degree to understand that smoking is by far the top cause of lung cancer, that doesn't mean there are no other risks — and it's a flat out lie to suggest, as Bucshon did, that silica is not on the American Cancer Society's list of carcinogens. According to the ACS:

Other carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) found in some workplaces that can increase lung cancer risk include:

  • Radioactive ores such as uranium
  • Inhaled chemicals or minerals such as arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, silica, vinyl chloride, nickel compounds, chromium compounds, coal products, mustard gas, and chloromethyl ethers
  • Diesel exhaust

The government and industry have taken steps in recent years to help protect workers from many of these exposures. But the dangers are still present, and if you work around these agents, you should be careful to limit your exposure whenever possible.

Bucshon's wrongheaded comments are entirely consistent with the current Republican agenda. Under the guise of "job creation," Republicans have declared a war on federal regulations at the expense of public health. For example, the American Public Health Association estimates that one of the regulations Republicans are trying to roll back could save up to 36,000 lives per year.

Watch (full transcript here):

[h/t: The Pump Handle]