The Insecticide At Fox News

By Brian 

It all started on Thursday, with an anonymous tip: “OSHA has launched an inquiry into reports that production and technical personnel at Fox News Channel were exposed to diazinon, a neurotoxin class insecticide banned by the EPA for indoor use since the year 2000 that FNC has been using to treat its facilities.” I thought it was ludicruous — until I called OSHA on Friday and learned that a complaint had been filed. (However, no “inquiry” has ever been launched.)

The anonymous tipster said that a technical employee was hospitalized for several days in March 2005 after untrained personnel sprayed the employee lounge with a pesticide. (Fox News says the person is now back at work and doing fine.) Several other Fox employees contacted the blog, anonymously, to confirm their concerns about the use of insecticide. And on Tuesday I confirmed another detail: That the New York City Health Department inquired into the use of a pesticide at Fox News headquarters two months ago, and verified that the spray contained diazinon and was not registered for use.

By Monday, several anonymous Fox employees had corroborated the initial report. “Management is lying when they say that the OSHA complaint is an isolated incident,” an anonymous staff member wrote. He declined to provide his name, for fear of retaliation. The staffer said he was sick in bed for three days last year because of the spraying.

Based on the reporting on this blog, other employees became aware of the spraying: “This story explains why I have headaches for the past several months too,” an employee told me over the weekend. “Now I can tell my doctor and see if the spraying was the cause.”

On Tuesday afternoon, I posted the comments of another anonymous employee, who accused management of keeping its staffers in the dark about the situation. “The mood around here is getting sort of hostile,” an insider said a couple hours later. “People want to know if they’ve been exposed to something dangerous.” The employees sent anonymous messages to this blog because they felt their concerns were not being addressed.

On Tuesday afternoon, Roger Ailes explained the situation to FNC employees. The transcript of his comments is online here.

“A couple of months ago we got a report about bugs in the tech lounge,” Ailes said. “And that night a maintenance guy went down and sprayed along the edges of the walls and we had one of the technicians a few days later said that they had gone out and sought medical attention for this. This person is fine and now back to work and that is the only complaint we received.”

Ailes said he resents the “anonymous crap” that was posted, and said the “young fellow that’s doing this website…wants to be a journalist,” but the information was “entirely unreliable.” Perhaps the concerns of the individual employees were unreliable, but it demonstrated the worries that some staff members had. I don’t think they were trying to “damage” FNC; I wasn’t, either.

So here are the facts, as we know them: An employee was hospitalized in March following the spraying of an insecticide; the insecticide contained diazinon, which was banned by the EPA; OSHA received a complaint and sent a letter to FNC; some employees are concerned that the spraying was more widespread; Roger Ailes refuted the worries and told employees to speak up if they have any future concerns.