Destroyed Medical Records Bring OSHA to the Door

Acting on a complaint from the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers that Pratt & Whitney Aircraft's East Hartford, Conn., facility destroyed medical records, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has begun an inspection of the facility.

According to Dan Coulom, a spokesman for Pratt and Whitney, OSHA visited the facility earlier this month. The union filed the complaint after an employee requested medical records and was told the company could not supply the records because they were accidentally destroyed two years ago.

The fact that the records were destroyed and that OSHA is investigating is particularly interesting given the fact that a multimillion dollar study is about to begin to examine a potential link between working conditions at Pratt & Whitney plants in Connecticut and apparently elevated levels of brain cancer among workers. Nearly 50 Pratt & Whitney workers at several current and closed Connecticut facilities - Southington, Rocky Hill, Cheshire, East Hartford, Middletown and North Haven - have died of brain cancer, and many more are ill.

Some 300 people, including representatives from Pratt & Whitney and the machinists union, met Tuesday night to learn about the study parameters from researchers from the University of Oklahoma and the University of Pittsburgh, who will conduct the study, which is being funded - at a reported cost of $8 million - by Pratt & Whitney.

At this point, it is unknown if the destroyed records included medical information from employees who are suffering from or died of brain cancer. Coulon pointed out that researchers will examine "millions of pages or records, from death certificates, to medical records, to insurance information to tumor registries." He said the loss of the records does not compromise the investigation, adding, "Did we knowingly keep them away from the investigation? Absolutely not."

Researchers plan to examine the medical records of 123,000 employees who worked at the four Pratt & Whitney facilities between 1952 and 2000. Lead researcher Gary Marsh said the study is the largest of its type. Researchers will collect brain cancer mortality rates and tabulate the number of cases at each facility. They will weigh factors such as age, gender, lifestyle issues such as smoking, race, length of employment at Pratt and Whitney and medical history, and analyze the production processes and chemicals and other materials used at the facilities. The study is expected to take six years to complete.

The Public Health Department of Connecticut, which will oversee the study, started the ball rolling in 1999 when it responded to concerns raised by the machinists union about elevated levels of brain cancer.

The company "blew it off" as "not important," said John Deleone, a union safety representative of the union's concerns about brain cancer. "As the numbers grew, they sat up and took notice," he added.

Carol Shea and Kate Greco, the widows of friends and coworkers John Shea and John Greco, claim that over 60 workers have died from brain cancer. John Shea and John Greco worked at Pratt & Whitney for over 30 years and both died from a rare form of brain cancer, glioblastoma multiforme. Their widows started a Web site called WorkedtoDeath.com (http://www.workedtodeath.comwww.workedtodeath.com), in which they provide updates and contact numbers for Pratt & Whitney employees or their families seeking additional information.

In a statement, the women complained the destroyed records "could be essential in discovering the potential relationship of workers' exposure and the brain cancers." By destroying the records, complained Shea and Greco, Pratt & Whitney betrayed "the public trust, their shareholders, current employees, deceased employees and the families who have lost a father, mother, brother, sister or child," adding, "A full investigation is crucial."

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