Posted: Oct 31, 2013 6:09 PM by Jamie Leary - MTN News
More than 22 employees at a Bozeman company test positive for high levels of lead and health officials say there could be more.
USA Brass Company Inc., which buys and provides brass for individual reloaders and commercial ammunition manufacturers, has had 22 employees so far with elevated levels of lead in their blood.
"That's always a concern whenever you have a large number of people," said Matt Kelley, a health officer with the Gallatin County Health Department. "What we found out is that most of those people work at the same place.
"We rarely get a situation where we're getting that many cases of elevated blood lead levels at any given time," Kelley said.
That's when the health department decided to contact Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA).
On Sept. 30, OSHA released information that showed that USA Brass in Bozeman had 10 serious violations and workers who had been over-exposed to lead.
That was when the workers sought medical treatment from their health care providers, an OSHA representative told MTN.
When the test results came back, 22 workers tested positive for elevated levels of lead, several were more serious than others.
"A small number of them had levels that were elevated enough that they required therapy to bring those levels down," said Kelley.
The citations and violations by USA Brass include: Improper training of employees, and employees exposed to levels of lead anywhere from1 to 4.6 times the permissible exposure level. The citation also says the company failed to provide proper protective equipment and did not properly inform employees about what they were working with.
OSHA says the next step is to have an informal meeting with USA Brass.
USA Brass CEO Zach Flanagan did not return our call today.
When asked if the conditions have changed since the original citation was issued, Jeff Funke OSHA area director in Billings stated:
"The claim from Mr. Zach Flanagan that the workplace is now in compliance with OSHA regulations has not been verified by OSHA.
"It is his simple word saying he has corrected them," Funke said. "I have no proof that any conditions have changed at all. I don't have that."
When OSHA issues citations, they are proposed - the citations are not final, so the employer has the ability to contest those citations which USA Brass has done.
"Quite honestly it is quite tragic and sad that these employees have these elevated blood lead levels but as far as OSHA's case, it only makes it stronger," Funke said.
OSHA has recommended that USA Brass pay a fine of $45,500 dollars.
We have reached out to USA Brass for comment but have not yet heard back.