Washington, DC — Two public servants who blew the whistle on dangers in the workplace are being honored at different ends of the country. Both whistleblowers experienced and overcame retaliation from their respective federal agencies but neither believes that the underlying occupational dangers they exposed have been resolved.
“The American public also owes these two public servants a note of gratitude,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “Significantly, though, both are being honored by private organizations and not by the federal agencies they served.”
The first is Dr. Adam Finkel, the former Rocky Mountain Regional Director for the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration, who revealed that a significant percentage of OSHA inspectors had been exposed to beryllium, an extremely toxic metal that can cause an often-fatal lung disease. Dr. Finkel protested a decision by then-Assistant Labor Secretary John Henshaw to not inform potentially exposed individuals of their exposures and to deny recommended blood screening tests.
Following Dr. Finkel going public with his concerns, OSHA finally began a medical monitoring program, but only for its current inspectors. The screening results showed a significant percentage of the inspectors examined had become sensitized to beryllium. OSHA also removed Dr. Finkel from his position as Regional Administrator. A whistleblower retaliation complaint by Dr. Finkel was settled with PEER’s assistance. Today, he has faculty positions in environmental and occupational health at Princeton University and the New Jersey University of Medicine and Dentistry.
Dr. Finkel has been selected to receive the prestigious David P. Rall Award for Advocacy in Public Health to be presented by American Public Health Association this November in Boston.
The second whistleblower is Leroy Smith, a federal prison safety manager, who revealed that computer terminal disassembly plants were showering particles of heavy metals, such as lead, cadmium, barium and beryllium, over both inmates and civilian prison staff at Atwater Federal Prison, a maximum-security institution located just outside of Merced, California.
Nearly two years after his original disclosure, Smith says problems persist at Atwater and the six other federal prisons with similar computer recycling plants due to the intransigence of the federal Bureau of Prisons and its parent agency, the Department of Justice. Smith, also a PEER client, now works as the safety manager at the Federal Correctional Institution at Tucson, Arizona, pursuant to a settlement of his whistleblower retaliation complaint.
Today, Mr. Smith is slated to receive an “e-Hero Courage in Action Award” from the Texas Campaign for the Environment. This September, Smith also received the “Public Servant of the Year” award from the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, the federal agency charged with whistleblower protection.
“Unfortunately, our system is such, even in the 21st Century, where whistleblowers have to risk their careers and livelihoods to draw attention to dangers facing co-workers,” Ruch added. “It is a hell of a way to run a railroad.”