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A Times Editorial

Work laws still needed

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 14, 2000

A federal judge this week meted out punishment to a Tarpon Springs company whose record shows an appalling disregard for the health and safety of its workers.

Damalos Inc., a bridge-painting company operated by Tony Damalos, will have to pay a criminal fine of $210,000 and submit to special scrutiny by regulators for three years, U.S. District Judge James D. Whittemore ruled.

Though it is good to see the Occupational Safety and Health Administration win one, the punishment hardly seems sufficient for the crime.

Damalos Inc. was charged with falsifying the blood tests of some employees who had been exposed to lead as they blasted old paint off bridges and repainted them.

Periodic blood tests are required when workers are exposed to lead on the job. Not only do companies and regulators use those results as a measure of workers' exposure to lead, but the workers themselves do, also. If a worker's blood test says everything is fine, he is likely to go on doing the job and doing it the same way he has in the past.

But an OSHA investigation determined that an associate of Damalos Inc. altered several workers' blood tests to show lead levels within federal safety standards. In fact, all those workers' blood levels exceeded the standard, one by more than 75 percent, according to regulators.

It is hard to imagine a worse betrayal of workers by their employer. Lead poisoning can damage the central nervous system and kidneys and cause sterility.

Procedures and equipment exist to protect workers from exposure to lead. But Damalos Inc. is notorious at OSHA for its disregard of such things. The company racked up 14 repeat and 38 serious violations between 1992 and 1999, according to OSHA.

The Damalos case is a good example of why this country still needs strong laws to protect workers and courts that will lower the boom when companies thumb their noses at the law.

Wallaby issue remains untamed

A judge came to the rescue on another recent case in Tarpon Springs.

The question before the court: When is a wallaby a wild animal and when is it a pet?

Mindy Greene and Tony Dirienzo had no doubt about the answer. Their wallabies, energetic marsupials that look like small kangaroos, are pets, they said.

They even thought that last September, when one of their wallabies, LaRoo, was running wild all over Tarpon Springs. LaRoo escaped from her backyard pen and spent several days bounding down streets, visiting the beach and grazing on people's lawns before she finally was collared after a two-hour chase by residents and police.

Not surprisingly, after all that, the city of Tarpon Springs decided that wallabies are wild animals and are not allowed on residential lots. Specifically, city codes say that only household pets are allowed in neighborhoods and define pets as animals that live in or about human homes. Wild animals, by city law, are animals that don't typically live around human homes.

The city's Code Enforcement Board hashed out the issue, met a wallaby and decreed this: Wallabies are pets.

City commissioners differed with that decree and allowed City Attorney John Hubbard to put the wallaby question to the courts.

Circuit Court Judge David Demers mulled it over and concluded that city codes just aren't clear on whether wallabies are wild animals or pets (which, of course, was the reason the issue was in court in the first place). Then, presumably, Demers turned his attention to weightier judicial matters.

So while the city figures out whether it should rewrite its ordinance, LaRoo can stay put. That is, as much as any wallaby can stay put.

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