The federal agency responsible for ensuring workplace safety recently asked an Anniston facility that trains nurses, police, firefighters and emergency medical personnel with deadly warfare agents to replace the protective masks its students wear.
That’s been done, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which oversees the Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston, but it was unclear Friday whether the new masks also meet other federal guidelines that regulate their use at the Anniston facility.
Ramona Morris, director of Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Birmingham office, in a letter to Center for Domestic Preparedness director Mike King on Dec. 30, wrote that employees at the Anniston center are exposed to chemicals and biological warfare agents, such as sarin, VX, anthrax and ricin, while wearing M40 masks, which are not approved “and therefore, not in compliance” with OSHA regulations.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the federal agency that oversees testing and certification of such safety equipment, told The Star in October that the masks used at the Anniston center were not certified for that work.
“OSHA does not consider it appropriate at this time to issue a Notice of Unsafe or Unhealthful Working Conditions for the alleged hazard,” Morris wrote to King, but the agency asked that all workers there be provided with a NIOSH-approved respirator.
It came to light in November that since 2011, workers at the Chemical, Ordnance, Biological, and Radiological unit, known as the COBRA facility, in Anniston, instead of using a non-toxic strain of the biological agent ricin, were using the deadly version, which has no antidote. The CDP has on hand antidotes for the other chemical and biological agents used there.
FEMA knew the masks used at the Anniston center were not NIOSH-certified for more than four years, according to the agency, but it wasn't until someone filed two complaints with OSHA since June that the agency replaced the masks.
A FEMA spokeswoman in a message to The Star on Dec. 21 wrote that the agency has replaced the M40 respirators with NIOSH-certified Avon C-50 respirators.
Asked whether the C-50 respirators meet OSHA regulations for use at the COBRA facility, Michael D’Aquino, OSHA’s Atlanta office spokesman, declined to answer. Instead, in a message to The Star on Friday, D’Aquino, wrote that a reporter’s questions on the matter have “national implications” and referred the questions to Amanda Kraft, a Washington D.C.-based OSHA spokeswoman.
Attempts to reach Kraft on Friday were unsuccessful, and it was not clear whether Kraft had received The Star’s emailed questions on Friday.