My Efforts to Prevent Painters’ Occupation Cancer

My Efforts to Prevent Painters’ Occupation Cancer

As painters, we contracted ourselves to work 40 hours a week, we didn’t contract our lives in that arrangement.


I just recently settled my workers compensation claim in California that my squamous cell carcinoma of my nasal septum was caused by my occupational exposures as a painter for 31 years.  The total settlement was for $280,000 and is a breakthrough case and will help, to some extent, other painters. Below is some work I have been doing to require “safe paint” and to prevent cancer amongst painters.

Since I was diagnosed with cancer in 1995, I have been actively working to prevent occupational cancer.  I helped to write a bill (SB370) designed toprevent cancer amongst painters.  (Lisa A. Morrow,PhD. endorsed this bill, as did Richard Trumka, Sec-Treas AFL-CIO)  It was tabled in committee last year (1997) and later (1998) considered “not for submission” by the California State Building Trades Council. Below are articles that I wrote for the San Francisco Building TradesNewspaper and the Painters District Council 8 newspaper. Doctor Larry Rose, the last Cal-OSHA Doctor, is the stepson of a painterfriend of mine who has bladder cancer.  Together we decided to begin a class action suit against the paint companies for cancer, lead poisoning, etc..His contacts led me to the Choulos law firm.  Steven Skikos is the attorneydoing the initial work on the suit with Choulos et.all..The Choulos Law Firm was involved in the Delcon Shield and Fen Fen classaction suits.Initially, the law suit will begin with lead poisoning. Hopefully such actionwould force the use of non-toxic paint products that are now available inplace of the toxins currently in use. (The following article is in the latest issue of the Painters DC#8 newspaper The Voice. and was previously printed in the San Francisco Building TradesCouncil Newspaper: Organized Labor.) TO THE ATTENTION OF ALL PAINTERS: As you know, I retired as your Business Representative last year (1997) dueto stress related to the job and cancer.  I am now working full-time toprevent cancer in other painters.     In order to do this, it is very important to find out how many paintersare in our union whose health has been afflicted with cancer.     If you have cancer, or know of any other painters who have diseases(cancer, dementia, liver ailments etc.) that are related to paint exposure orwho have died of cancer, and  painters who have children with leukemia,please call 415-474-7800 and ask for Mr.  Bill Choulos, Attorney at Law.     This information is important to help those of you, like myself, who havecancer and to prevent other painters and their families from getting sick inthe future. …Yours for a better tomorrow… Roland Sheppard Remember: Be Smart -Work Safe!

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The following is an Article printed in Organized Labor (Newspaper of the San Francisco Building and Construction Trades Council) 


On Monday, January 26, 1998, Senate Bill SB 370, died in the SenateAppropriations Committee due to a tie vote.  California State Senators JohnBurton, Chuck Calderon, and John Vasconcellos (all leading Democrats) did not show up to vote.  In previous articles I explained that the bill would give painters the presumption for cancer under workers’ compensation law that the firefighters and cops have enjoyed for the past 16 years. The presumption applies if a firefighter/cop can prove that he/she wasexposed to a carcinogen (cancer causing substance) during his/her employment as a firefighter/cop.  The authority on carcinogens, used in thepresumption, was the list of carcinogens documented by the InternationalAgency for Research on Cancer (IARC). The IARC has listed that occupational exposure as a painter is carcinogenic. In other words, exposure as a painter causes cancer.  (This is very logical, since we are exposed to over 150 known or suspected carcinogens and close to 3000 different hazardous substances on a regular basis.) We are the only occupation that is listed in this manner, yet the legislature, with a Democratic Party majority, COULD NOT SEE FIT to give us the same rights as the firefighters and the cops which are not on the IARC list. In 1984, the State of California, finished a mortality (death) study thatfound that painters experienced an overall mortality rate that was almost twice the average.  Excess rates of cancers were a major factor contributing to the excess mortality rate for painters. The ‘Double Breasted’ California PDCA legislative representative to theCalifornia State Legislature tried to blame the excess cancer rates onsmoking.  A large percentage of painters do smoke, but most scientificstudies on painters do take this into account.  In fact, even the NationalCancer Institute, in 1977, found an increased rate of lung cancer amongstpainters after controlling for smoking. Actually smoking has been found to have a synergistic (multiplying) effectwith other carcinogens.  For example, shipyard workers who smoke have twenty times the average rate for lung cancer.  Shipyard workers who do not smoke have ten times the average rate for lung cancer.  The contractors are well aware of these facts.  Smoking and painting do not mix.  In many respects it is just as dangerous to yourself and other workers to smoke while painting, as smoking at an oil refinery.  Has a contractor ever told you or your fellow workers not to smoke while working?  Has a contractor ever monitored the air levels of hazardous materials in the air while painting, as required by OSHA? SB370 would have required safety measures that would have made it moreexpensive not to be safe.  It would have established a level safety playingfield for all painting work. Our ‘friends’ in the legislature turned their backs on us.  It was a callousdisregard of our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Thepotential liabilities of the insurance companies and the paint industry hadmore weight than our high mortality rate. On the positive side, the different attorney organizations are now aware ofthe hazards of painting and the scientific evidence.  If you or any paintersyou know get cancer, they should file for workers’ compensation. Eventually, if we keep persistent, we can force the paint companies toproduce safe paint products.  A small step forward has been made in the pastseveral months.  Several major paint companies have now decided to stopputting formaldehyde (a chemical known to cause cancer in California) inlatex paint.

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(Below is a copy of the standard letter that I sent out asking for supportand copies of articles that I have written for my union’s newspapers.  It wasbased on making it expensive not to be safe with the workers compensationsystem enforcing safety.  ((All painting contractors have to be licensed and carry insurance in California.))) 

Hello! My name is Roland Sheppard.  I was a business representative for Painters Local 4, in San Francisco, from 1994-1997.  In August 1995, I had my entire nose removed due to squamous cell carcinoma of the nasal septum. Epidemiologists have concluded that my cancer was due to my numerous exposures to carcinogens during my 31 years as a working painter.  Since my operation, I have been active trying to prevent cancer in general, and to prevent other painters from getting cancer. In 1983, the State of California did a mortality study that found thatpainters had twice the mortality rate of the rest of the population.  They concluded that this was due to the especially high rate of cancer amongst painters. In 1989, the The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) determined that “Occupational exposure as a painter is carcinogenic (Group1).”  Painters work with approximately 150 know or suspected carcinogens on aregular basis.  With the proper use of respirators, protective clothing,gloves, etc., most occupational cancers and others diseases associated withpainting can be prevented. (In spite of the evidence,  The State of California  has done nothing to makepainters aware of these facts or to lower the rate of cancer amongstp ainters!) The case for painting as an occupational carcinogen is pretty welldocumented.  However, most painters are under the impression that “waterbased paints are safe.”  There is a study on “Waterborne paints” Scand J Work Environ Health 13 (1987) 473-485.  The general conclusion of the article is that the waterborne paints are “safe.”  It does point out that painters in closed rooms (bathrooms etc.) were exposed to formaldehyde above the levels at that time.  These paints also contain ethylene glycols, vinyl acetates, and ethylene oxides. The danger is that most people assume that latex paint is safe.  Painters arenot as careful about fumes etc. as they are with oil, epoxy, or lacquercoatings.  Their bodies do not let them know if they are over exposed.  Forexample, cigarettes taste terrible when working with the old paints.  With the new water based paints they taste good. (The nicotine soothes the irritation to the mucus membranes — making a great cancer cocktail!) In today’s world of air conditioning, most painters work in environments that are closed off (confined space).  Basically, they are working in higher levels than those recorded in the aforementioned study on waterborne paints. By today’s standards for formaldehyde, the 1987 conclusions and “‘safe’ exposure levels” about waterborne paints do not stand up to the test of science. Nothing has been done despite the obvious facts. I helped to get a bill written in California (SB 370)*.  It is presently postponed to the nextsession in the senate appropriations committee.  It is designed to make itcheaper to make painting safe and to make it expensive to put painters atrisk.  It would use the “free market system” to enforce safety rather than tohave the government spend money to hire more OSHA investigators who can only check less than 1% of the jobs.   The exclusions to the “presumption” require training making the employer aware of the risks thus requiring safety compliance.  It would be easy to enforce, for safety requires replacing gloves, respirator cartridges, and goggles on a daily/semi-daily basis.(Also, painters can not smoke if they are wearing respirators.) In my trade, approximately 75% of all painters die of cancer and/or otherdiseases associated with the trade that are basically preventable.   I am open to anyone who would want to support SB 370 to prevent cancer and other occupational diseases for painters.  (It is unfortunate that prevention is not a top priority in cancer circles.) It may sound stupid, but I am trying to prevent preventable diseases.  Itshould be a “no brainer”.   I hope that you can support this bill and pleasesend me any copies of support that you send.  Thank you for your time.I am sincerely yours, Roland Sheppard


* SB 370 Workers’ compensation: BILL NUMBER: SB 370 INTRODUCED 02/13/97   INTRODUCED BY Senator Solis FEBRUARY 13, 1997 An act to add Section 3212.8 to the Labor Code,relating to workers’ compensation. LEGISLATIVE COUNSEL’S DIGEST SB 370, as introduced,Solis. Workers’ compensation:

Existing law provides that in the case of active firefighting members ofstate and local fire departments or in the case of peace officers, asspecified, an injury under the workers’ compensation law includes cancer that develops or manifests itself during the period of specified employment,provided the person demonstrates exposure during the employment to a known carcinogen, as defined, that is reasonably linked to the disabling cancer. This bill would include painters within those persons for whom canceroccurring during employment is deemed an injury under the workers’compensation law.  SB370: SECTION 1. Section 3212.8 is added to the Labor Code, to read: 3212.8. In the case of painters, the term “injury” as used in this division includes cancer that develops or manifests itself during a period while the employee is employed as a painter, if the employee demonstrates that he or she was exposed, while so employed, to a known carcinogen as defined by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, or as defined by the director, and the carcinogen is reasonably linked to the disabling cancer. Compensation awarded for that cancer shall include full hospital, surgical,medical treatment, disability indemnity, and death benefits, as provided bythis division. The cancer so developing or manifesting itself in these cases shall bepresumed to arise out of and in the course of the employment. Thispresumption is disputable and may be controverted by other evidence, butunless so controverted, the appeals board is bound to find in accordance withit. This presumption shall be extended to an employee following  termination of employment for a period of three calendar months for each full year of the requisite employment, but not to exceed 60 months in any circumstance, commencing with the last date actually worked as a painter. The presumption provided by this section shall not apply if theemployer requires that employees employed as painters be all of the following:

(a) A State Department of Health Services lead certified worker.    

(b) Hazardous material and communication certified.    

(c) Industrial first aid and CPR certified.    

(d) Respirator protection training and fit testing certified. 

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Article from Painters District Council#8 Newspaper The Voice Why Painters Should Wear Respirators and Skin Protection At All Times by Roland Sheppard

In our safety classes you are taught to read ‘MSDS sheets’.  For preventionof cancer, these sheets are of no value.  The reason is that NIOSH, thescientific part of OSHA, does not set the permissible legal (OSHA) limits of particles in the air while you are working.  From the following examples from the 1994 NIOSH Pocket Guide To Chemical Hazards, one can see what is wrongwith OSHA.

Substance                  NIOSH PEL                OSHA PEL   

Benzene                        .1ppm                              1ppm    

Ethylene Oxide              .1ppm                             1ppm   

Formaldehyde              0.016ppm                       0.75ppm 

From Page 342 of the Pocket Guide: NIOSH has not identified thresholdsthat will protect 100% of the population.  NIOSH usually recommends thatoccupational exposures to carcinogens be limited to the lowest feasible*concentration.From these facts about two known carcinogens and one probable carcinogen,common in paints, one can tell that OSHA can not prevent occupational cancer.Especially in painters who are exposed to over 150 known and suspectedcarcinogens and over 3000 hazardous substances daily.  As you can see people getting cancer are part of the equation; OSHA pel’s are at least ten times higher than NIOSH; therefore, the OSHA “feasible” risk for cancer is at least ten times higher.  (This is the usual difference between NIOSH and OSHA.) Cancer being a part of painting is guaranteed by OSHA.  Children and spouses of painters also have high rates for cancer.One must also remember that ethylene glycol is the base for most latex paintsand radiator fluid.  NIOSH recommends when working with ethylene glycol that you should prevent skin and eye contact, wash when contaminated and change clothes daily.  OSHA and MSDS sheets can not protect you from occupational diseases.  Work safe! Be smart! Wear respirators, gloves, goggles, and long sleeve shirts at all times when painting.  Protect yourself and your family from occupational diseases.OSHA tried to correct itself in the 1970s but with no success.  If, as OSHAadministrators estimated, during the Carter presidency, that their proposedlegislation would produce a 20 percent drop in cancer rates, then RonaldReagan was a carcinogen, and a potent one at that.  Today, one can addClinton to the list. *(In a video taped interview, Peter Infante, Director of Standards for OSHA,stated that NIOSH includes one more cancer per 1000 workers exposed asfeasible.)

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LATimes, Saturday, May 15, 1999 Home Edition Section: Metro Page: B-1:AQMD Adopts Tough New Rules for a Variety of Paints; Smog: Despite protests, panel slashes amount of pollutants that products may contain. A $6 rise for gallon of glossy paint is predicted.; By: Bettina Boxall, Times Staff Writer

(The folowing articles propose regulations that would eliminate known or suspected carcinogens from paints, unfortunately the Painters DistrictCouncil # 36, in L.A., is part of “ELRAP” which is opposing these regulations requiring safe paint!? — Roland Sheppard)

Once again taking aim at the paint bucket, Southern California’s smogfighting agency adopted regulations Friday that will slash the amount ofpolluting chemicals allowed in a wide variety of industrial and householdpaints.The air pollution rules will force manufacturers to embark on expensivereformulations of nearly half the paint sold in the region, and, according toanalysts for the anti-smog agency, drive up retail prices for those productsby almost a third.The board of the South Coast Air Quality Management District approved the regulations on an 8-1 vote over the heated protests of paint industryrepresentatives, who crowded into the agency’s auditorium for 2 1/2 hours of testimony.Manufacturers, painting contractors and retailers complained that the newpollution limits are unrealistic, will lower the quality of water-basedpaints and will drive some small paint companies out of business.”This is, by many magnitudes, the most drastic and most expensive, ruinousamendment ever proposed” in the AQMD’s 22-year program of regulating paint, said Ray Robinson, executive director of a regional trade group called the Environmental, Legislative and Regulatory Advocacy Program (ELRAP).The rules substantially cut levels of volatile organic compounds, orhydrocarbons, permitted in various products. Emitted by petroleum-basedsolvents in paint, such compounds react in sunlight with nitrogen oxides toform ozone, a major component of smog.”There is no way to win the war on smog without addressing this pollutionsource,” AQMD Executive Officer Barry Wallerstein said in an interview this week.The agency has been tackling paint for years and has been sued various times by manufacturers. In fact, much of the paint addressed in this round of regulations was the subject of 1990 rules partly overturned in court for lack of an environmental assessment of certain issues. This version is eventougher than the earlier one.The new rules, to be phased in over the next seven years, deal with primersand sealers, industrial paint, household quick-dry enamels and glossy paintused on woodwork and in bathrooms and kitchens. Stains and various coatings — floor, roof and rust preventive — would also be affected.Reformulating the paint, most of which is water-based but still containspolluting solvents, to meet the new standards will cost the industry morethan $800 million and add $6 to the regional cost of a gallon of glossypaint, according to the AQMD. The cost of such paint can now vary from a low of about $13 a gallon to ashigh as $30 a gallon or more, depending on quality and brand. The price increase will be worth it, the agency says, because the reformulations will eliminate nearly 22 tons of volatile organic compounds emitted each day, or slightly more than 2% of all such compounds produced daily in the Los Angeles Basin by all sources, including cars and industry. As it dries, paint of all types used on structures sends 58 tons a day of volatile organic compounds into basin air. It would take 1.8 million cars toproduce the same amount of hydrocarbons. “This is a very large [pollution] source, and if we’re ever to get to cleanair, it has to be tackled,” Wallerstein said. In the past, the agency has turned its attention to auto paint, aerosol sprayand flat paint, which must meet lower pollution limits by 2002. AQMD paint pollution standards are already the strictest in the nation, and the rulesadopted Friday make them even tougher, pushing the envelope of painttechnology.Many in the paint industry contend that manufacturers are being asked to do the impossible.”These limits are so low that technology-minded people with years ofexperience can’t even begin to conceive of how they’re going to formulatecoatings to meet those limits. They haven’t got a clue,” said Jim Sell,senior counsel for the National Paint & Coatings Assn. The AQMD staff responds that it has been hearing that argument for years.Moreover, the paint industry is not entirely united against the standards.Co-owners of Dunn-Edwards Corp., the largest supplier of paint in SouthernCalifornia, testified Friday in favor of the new standards.It was a dramatic turnabout for the company, which in the past has been aleading AQMD adversary and taken the agency to court. But the last round of industry lawsuits, challenging the AQMD’s 1996 regulations on flat paint, have so far gotten nowhere. “The past didn’t work,” said Howard Berman, lobbyist for Dunn-Edwards. “Thelitigation was not achieving what Dunn-Edwards wanted.”He added that the new rules contain several “safety net” provisions that make them acceptable.One leaves room for a change in the rules as the compliance deadlinesapproach if the new paint formulations don’t yet seem feasible.Another clause allows companies to average the volatile organic compoundlevels of their products, so they could sell some kinds of paint with higheramounts if other products offset them.And Dunn-Edwards also hopes that research at a smog chamber now underconstruction at UC Riverside may prove that the volatile organic compounds in paint are not as reactive, and thus as polluting, as the AQMD staff believes they are.Ed Laird, president of Coatings Resource Corp. of Huntington Beach, isanother manufacturer who supports the new pollution limits. “I think it’s time now to work through the process of regulation and [get rid] of the lawyers and get some chemists employed and meet the regulatios,”he said this week. “It’s within the grasp of companies to reformulate.” Others disagree, insisting that the AQMD is effectively outlawing thousands of paint products, because the industry will be unable to come up withworkable formulas that meet the new standards.”It’s going to ban a lot of products we consider our best,” said Dave Leehy,a manager at Vista Paint Co. in Fullerton and chairman of the Environmental, Legislative and Regulatory Advocacy Program. Small regional manufacturers argue that they will be particularly hard hit,since many sell to niche markets and specialize in the paint types covered by the new rules.Many in the industry say previous mandates for reformulations have hurt the quality of oil-based paints, causing them to yellow and making them less durable. Now, they complain, the new regulations will diminish the quality of the best water-based paints.Not so, counters the AQMD. Based on lab testing of low-hydrocarbon paint, “Wedo not believe there are any major problems with the paint,” said agency spokesman Bill Kelly, adding that there are already products on the market that meet the new standards.Moreover, he said, the strictest limits will not go into effect until 2006,providing ample time for paint technology to meet the new challenges.Of the nine AQMD board members present for Friday’s vote, only Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich opposed the regulations. “Sell a can of paint, go to jail,” he said, arguing that the rules would cut a comparatively small amount of pollution and that the agency should instead go after bigger pollution sources.Descriptors: SOUTH COAST AIR QUALITY MANAGEMENT DISTRICT; PAINT; HAZARDOUSMATERIALS; AIR POLLUTION CONTROL; POLLUTION CONTROL; GOVERNMENT REGULATION; Copyright (c) 1999 Times Mirror CompanyNote: May not be reproduced or retransmitted without permission. To talk to our permissions department, call: (800) LATIMES, ext. 74564. Choose extension for other questions.

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Evaluation of low-VOC latex paints.  Chang JC, Fortmann R, Roache N, Lao HC Air Pollution Prevention and Control Division, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, USA. jchang at

Four commercially available low-volatile organic compound (VOC) latex paints were evaluated as substitutes for conventional latex paints by assessing both their emission characteristics and their performance as coatings. Bulk analysis indicated that the VOC contents of all four paints tested were considerably lower than those of conventional latex paints. Low VOC emissions were confirmed by small chamber emission tests. However, significant emissions of several aldehydes, especially formaldehyde which is a hazardous air pollutant, were detected in emissions from two of the four paints.American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) methods were used to evaluate the hiding power, scrub resistance, washability, dry to touch and yellowness index. The results indicated that one of the four low-VOC paintstested showed performance equivalent or superior to that of a conventionallatex paint used as control. It was concluded that low-VOC latex paint can be a viable option to replace conventional latex paints for prevention of indoor air pollution. However, paints marketed as “low-VOC” may still havesignificant emissions of some individual VOCs, and some may not haveperformance characteristics matching those of conventional latex paints.

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PMID: 10649858, UI: 20114118 : Int Arch Occup Environ Health 1999 Nov;72(8):507-15   Related Articles, Books,  LinkOut Inflammation markers in nasal lavage, and nasal symptoms in relation torelocation to a newly painted building: a longitudinal study. Wieslander G, Norback D, Walinder R, Erwall C, Venge PDepartment of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Uppsala University Hospital, S-751 85 Uppsala, Sweden. gunilla.wieslander at

INTRODUCTION: There is a need to evaluate possible health effects ofventilation improvements and emissions from new buildings, in longitudinal studies. New methods to study biological effects on the eyes and upperairways are now available. MATERIAL AND METHODS: A longitudinal study was performed on 83 trained social workers in two offices in Uppsala, Sweden. The exposed group (n = 57) moved to a newly redecorated building nearby. Lowemitting building material had been used, including a new type of solvent-free water-based paint. The control group (n = 26) worked in the sameoffice during the study period (November 1995 to February 1996). Hygiene management was carried out in both offices, at the beginning and the end ofthe investigation. Tear film stability (BUT) was measured. Nasal patency was measured by acoustic rhinometry, and eosinophilic cationic protein (ECP),myeloperoxidase (MPO), lysozyme and albumin were analyzed in nasal lavagefluid (NAL). RESULTS: The relocation resulted in an increase in the personal outdoor airflow rate from 11 to 22 l/s. Indoor concentrations of terpeneswere higher in the new building, and powdering of the new linoleum floor wasobserved. Measurements showed low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOC),formaldehyde, carbon dioxide (CO(2)), nitrogen dioxide, respirable dust, and microorganisms in the air of all buildings. The move resulted in an increasednasal patency and an increase of ECP and lysozyme in NAL, after adjusting forchanges in the control group. No changes were observed for nasal or ocular symptoms. A seasonal effect, with a decrease of ECP, was observed in thecontrol group. CONCLUSSION A well-ventilated office building can beredecorated without any major ocular or nasal effects, or measurable increaseof indoor air pollution if low-emitting building materials are selected. In agreement with previous evidence, the improved ventilation flow mayexplain the increase of nasal patency. The increase of ECP and lysozyme inNAL suggested an inflammatory effect in the new building. Since this building had increased ventilation flow, increased concentrations of terpenes, and powdering from the polish on the new linoleum floor, identification of causative agents was difficult. The hygiene measures did not give any evidence that emissions from the new type of solvent-free water-based paints or building dampness were responsible for the observed nasal effects.Considering the higher emissions of VOC reported from older types ofwater-based latex paints and solvent-based wall paints, the new type ofsolvent-free water-based paint seems to be a good choice from the hygienepoint of view.