HR Strange But True!
December 06, 2002

More strange workplace news from San Francisco, this time involving opera singers:

A singer is suing the San Francisco Opera Association, blaming her asthma attacks and other ailments on the ephemeral mist produced by the Opera's fog machines.

Alexandra Nehra, a member of the Opera's chorus for more than 17 years, said in her lawsuit that she had first fallen ill while performing Nov. 30, 1999. "She was onstage, and she had a severe allergic attack," her lawyer, Michael Papuc, told the San Francisco Chronicle. "She was coughing up a thick, black substance. It was pretty bad."

The Chronicle reports that several singers have long complained that the fog is a health risk. But theater and opera producers have long countered with studies showing that stage fog does not pose a significant health risk. In 1994, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health published a study of 224 Broadway actors that concluded fake fog was not a cause of asthma.

Nevertheless, the California Department of Health Services, responding to a complaint, surveyed San Francisco Opera employees in 2000 and found unusually high levels of respiratory problems. Fifteen employees, 24 percent of those surveyed, complained that their symptoms were triggered by theatrical fog, according to the Chronicle.

Opera officials declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying they hadn't seen it yet. In the past, they have insisted that the Opera's fog machines - which use a spoonful of mineral oil to create a performance's worth of cloudiness - are safe.

The health committee of the city's Board of Supervisors has scheduled a hearing on the matter, at the instigation of Supervisor Chris Daly. "I thought it was serious enough to warrant a hearing," Daly said.

Source: The San Francisco Chronicle

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